Five Ways Leaders Survive A Culture Misfit

If you have been looking for a job in the past few years, the term “culture fit” probably came up in your search. Whether it was expressed by an interviewer or discussed by an individual at a particular firm, it seems that everyone is finally grasping the importance of matching people to cultures of organizations.

What’s the big deal about “culture fit”? When leaders land in workplaces that are consistent with their values and vision, they are more likely to contribute in meaningful ways. Being part of a community where we feel we belong and is representative of what we stand for will usually lead to greater success and longevity.

The kicker is that doesn’t always happen! Sometimes we find ourselves in work environments that don’t mesh with our professional or personal leadership styles. In fact, this culture misfit can happen many times throughout our careers. But just because the culture is not our number one choice, can we lead through it successfully?

Here are five ways leaders survive a culture misfit:


When we find ourselves in a work situation that doesn’t reflect who we are, then we need to decide quickly what actions or behaviors are not worth compromising. For example, if you are very people-focused and you end up on a team that is all about the end results, then think how you can add some humanity. Volunteer to organize coffees or happy hours to help the team members get to know one another better. Alternatively, if you need more independent time and the team is very social, suggest ways to build in space for yourself. If we try to keep an open mind we may be able to tweak some livable changes.


A great way to feel more comfortable working with a culture misfit is to locate co-workers who may be more like yourself. No matter where you work, there will usually be team members who you can better relate and seem to possess similar values. Connect with them as they can often be wonderful sounding boards and advocates.


Whatever our job, it is important to grow ourselves and learn new skills and knowledge. Even if the culture isn’t our “cup of tea”, we can still survive and add worthwhile experiences.

  • Ask your boss for different responsibilities to learn something new
  • Offer to work on projects that team members are struggling to meet deadlines
  • Talk to individuals in different departments that may interest you
  • Commit to creating and achieving “stretch goals”


Be open to sharing your alternative approaches in a respectful but confident way. Let’s say you are frustrated in how customer connections are handled and know that learning about customer interests can develop relationships. Then suggest your ideas and share a story of a successful customer experience that helped you develop a deeper connection. The team just might follow your lead.


As with all things in life, sometimes our best intentions and actions don’t pan out. If that happens and you sense that you have tried to fit in as best as possible but it still isn’t working, then it may be best to move on. Look at this experience as helping you grow into the leader you ultimately want to be.

How have you survived a “culture misfit”? What strategies helped you overcome a mismatched work environment?

6 thoughts on “Five Ways Leaders Survive A Culture Misfit

  1. I’ve seen first hand how important “culture” can be in ensuring the success of an organization. The FBI hires people based on an applicants values and personality. Once the hire is made, several months are spent training the new agents to do the job for which they were hired. The philosophy is this: people can be trained to do the job, but only if they share the same values of the FBI: Fidelity Bravery Integrity.

  2. Twice I landed in companies that were a culture misfit. I found my people, tried to stay grounded in my creativity, passion, and purpose, and reached out to leadership for mentoring and support and in both cases, I left (one much sooner than the other. The other people who were culture misfits ultimately left too. I don’t think that leaving is always the answer as you point out here. We shouldn’t jump ship without trying to stay afloat and thrive. It is possible to stay, find your pocket and make a remarkable impact.

    Will share, Terri!


  3. I love the philosophy: People can be trained to do the job, but only if they share the same values..”! Once organizations understand that it is far better to hire people who embrace a similar vision and belief system than possessing all the required skills initially, the stronger their bench strength will be. I have worked with many leaders who actually have the requisite skill set but fail because they can’t fit into the norms or behaviors of a workplace culture.

    Thanks so much LaRae for sharing your insider FBI strategies!

  4. I agree that jumping ship doesn’t always work for our career goals. Sometimes there are lessons we need to learn first. When I initially worked in a competitive banking culture I knew I wasn’t a great fit culturally but I also knew there were a great amount of financial skills I could learn. It can be frustrating at times if we feel we don’t belong so ultimately we probably end up finding a better culture fit in our next work experiences.

    Thanks Alli and as always I appreciate your insights!

  5. Great Advice Terri!

    The cultural fit has become more and more important as I’ve grown. But without some very challenging cultures – I would never have appreciated the best ones.

    There is so much to learn from both a bad fit and a dream fit.

  6. Excellent point Chery! Sometimes we are not aware of the best fit culture for ourselves and it is not until we experience different types of workplaces that we can make that decision. That is why no matter where we land, leaders empower themselves to explore, test the waters and try to stay open-minded to different perspectives. I originally thought a financial position in a banking culture could work but soon realized that my best fit was working with the internal people piece on a less cut throat team.

    Thanks Chery for adding to the dialogue! I so appreciate your thoughts!

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