Insects are very slowly removing the center of one of the trees in our backyard. The inside is rotting away.

But it’s still alive, leafy, with branches that shade a large portion of our backyard. And it’s huge. My arms barely reach a third of the way around it. I’m not good at estimating height but my guess is that it’s at least 75 feet high.

My husband thinks it may need to come down. First on my to-do list tomorrow is a call to a tree service to get an expert opinion on its continued viability. We want to be proactive and avoid any major catastrophe that could happen later.

My hope is that there’s still hope for our tree. But although it looks healthy on the outside, on the inside, it’s dying.

Sometimes organizations are like our tree: seemingly successful by outward measures, internally diseased. Typically, organizations experience a slow decline, barely imperceptible to outsiders but obvious to people on the inside. Like our tree, they may be able to stand for decades to come. Or, a sudden storm could topple them.

Have you ever worked in an organization where the culture was sick?

If so, you probably felt disillusioned and demotivated, especially if the reality you experienced was far removed from your idea of how things could – or should – be.

If you loved the organization, the way we love our tree, you may have held out hope that the organization could change. As a leader in the organization, you may have worked to bring it back to life, turn it around.

Those of us who read and study about best leadership practices are most likely to recognize the early symptoms of organizational disease. We may also be more likely to experience the frustration, disappointment, or despair that comes when we see unhealthy patterns emerge in our organizations.

We may feel helpless, powerless. Because even if you are the CEO of the company, you alone cannot change the organization’s culture.

What can you change?


You can change your behavior, incorporating best leadership practices.

If you work in an organization where people fail to share important information with those who need to know it, you can choose to share information freely. If you work in an organization where people are not valued and appreciated for their contributions, you can work hard to express appreciation to others and treat them with kindness and respect. 

You are the only one you can change.

You can be the thriving branch on the sick tree, bringing shade and refreshment to those around you.

Join the conversation!

What ideas do you have about how someone could cope with the disappointment or disillusionment that comes from working in an unhealthy environment?

What other ways can one person bring about change in their organization? 

Credit to Jim Collins, whose presentation at the Global Leadership Summit inspired this post.

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is reposted with permission. 

Filed As:  environment, change

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Good post, Becky. I heard Jim Collins speak at the Willow Creek Summit too. I read in another book that getting others to change is like the formula x + y = z, where we are “x”, they (or a culture) is “y” and the combination is “z”. If we change, people and culture changes around us. It all starts with the person looking back at us in the mirror!

  • The tree analogy is very powerful and so true! I have seen the perseverance of one or a few breath life back into the branches of an organization, spread to other branches within and without the organization, and even in some cases change the main roots or upper leadership and management. Unfortunately as a realist, I have seen where sometimes the roots are too entrenched in their diseases of control, ego, and fear that they refuse to change to the eventual detriment of the organization. Regardless, the option in the now to change ourself is always the best course of action imho.
    Great article!

  • While it is true the only one you can change is yourself, the branch cannot survive forever without the roots and trunk being healthy. In fact, when the employee acts in a healthy way, that often threatens the insecure (or just plain sick) leader and the branch is lopped off. I used to think that only nursing was plagued with poor leadership; now that I am in the DEL, I know so much better! I think the only hope lies in the development of the discipline of leadership. Being qualified for a leadership position is not enough, leaders must be educated, developed, and emotionally healthy enough to be successful. Yes, you have to be healthy, yes, you have to practice good leadership and be good to people, but you also have to refuse to tolerate personal abuse, dysfunctional, and unethical behavior that threatens you personally. Unfortunately, if the culture is too sick, all you can do is walk away.

  • FABULOUS post, Becky! I love the analogy and the call to action! Indeed, it must start with us!! We have to be the one to start the change! Keep up your great work!!

  • Yes Becky, excellent post. I’ve been there, worn the T-shirt, and will wear it again gladly. I believe, as you do, that transformation starts from the inside and it DOES have the power to influence and bring positive change.
    If you’re in the place you’re at for the right reasons, and the fundamental core values align with yours, you can bring change.
    Believe it.

  • Great post from you again!I really appreciate your words and I think change is very necessary in someone’s attitude, behavior and anything else.And surely we should be the one to change first and should not wait for others first…

  • Thanks for posting. I truly agree with you in this respect that to bring or to see change in the world around us, we have to first change ourselves i.e our mindset, behavior, thinking etc and that too always for the better. Only then can we incorporate that sort of a change in others.

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