What kind of culture does your organization have? Is it built on a sense of scarcity or abundance? Is there a feeling of love and generosity, or of withholding and punishment? Do people compete or cooperate? Can you learn from mistakes or do you fear doing something wrong?

It’s very disempowering to work in a place that operates with the scarcity consciousness. Even saying “consciousness” is oxymoronic, for “scarcity” usually applies also to one’s level of awareness of how people work best.

While it’s true that fear and punishment motivate people to produce results, it only works for a short period of time. Everyone I know who is seeking new work is fleeing a fear-based, dictatorial, secretive, and unforgiving workplace.

And everyone seeks a place where they are respected, informed, allowed to participate and collaborate, and able to think and act somewhat independently. I call this a culture of “abundance.” In such a culture, there is enough for everyone, and there will be more when people work together openly, generously and kindly.

Literally every single person I talk to wants the same thing. Sadly, almost every single person doubts that such a place exists.

One person wrote so eloquently about her current workplace, from which she longs to escape:

I am noticing here that there is an undercurrent of hunger here. Many smart people all looking to prove themselves. Everyone wants to comment on everything. Folks seeking attention, acknowledgment and to prove how smart and capable they are. At the same time as people are somewhat protective of their own turf – it is a weird and draining mix.

Clearly, the “scarcity model” is operating in this workplace. When people perceive that there is a limited pie, they think they need to hang on to what they have; otherwise they won’t be able to get any more. For that matter, it makes sense that one might denigrate others – “let me get some of their pie!”

The environment wounds everyone in some way. Obviously, it harms those who are criticized and denigrated, excluded and not respected. Those doing the denigrating also are harmed if only because they are operating from fear – fear that they will lose what they have. Also, on some level they fear the same thing happening to them. How difficult it is to maintain the defenses needed to protect oneself from possible attack! It drains one’s energy from other endeavors.

If everyone is hungry and operating within scarcity, then it’s so much more difficult for any one person to own her own abilities and power – especially someone who is naturally generous. It’s far easier to recognize other people’s abilities than one’s own – feels like taking away from another person. “If I get a slice of pie, someone else won’t get any.”

“Abundance” cultures do exist, and perhaps are becoming more common as leaders grow in awareness of how to get the best out of their people.

I created and maintained such a culture, to the best of my ability, while at City Harvest. By definition, I did not do it alone. Everyone at the organization had to buy into the culture and do their best to support it. And it was a challenge.

For example, there was constant pressure to protect information or “package” it so it “protected” employees who “couldn’t handle it.” Rather than cave in to the fear that motivated such urging, I chose to welcome the input and then use the information as part of an open discussion process with my leadership team. We became more thoughtful and aware of the impact information has on people.

In the end, we shared more information in order to provide context and reasons for certain decisions. The culture of openness and abundance was partly built by exposing fear and then working with it constructively.

Fundamentally, that culture depended largely on my willingness to recognize my own fear-based behavior and use it as a sign that more openness was needed. From there, I could find information and tools to help me create a team that would help develop the abundance culture we all sought. If a leader does not want to create an abundance culture, it will not happen.

For someone working in such a place, it’s difficult to escape. When seeking another job, you have to be confident in your own abilities and goals. Yet in the scarcity culture, it’s extremely difficult to develop and maintain such confidence. Perhaps the way out of the conundrum is to step outside the construct, either literally (a vacation, any new job) or conceptually (recognizing the behavior of “scarcity” and ceasing to behave that way).

As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see.” If I want to work someplace that is open, generous, fun, and abundant, I need to be those things to the best of my ability. Once I have left behind the old behavior, new opportunities will appear to me.

Is it easy to maintain “abundant” behavior and attitudes in a “scarcity” environment? No. But it is doable. Do the opportunities appear instantly. No. But they do appear.

I know, because I experienced it. It took me two years of misery at the NYC Department of Employment before I got my dream job of Executive Director at City Harvest. During those two years, I was the “boss of choice” for many people, because I no longer operated with fear as manifested by unreasonable demands on, impatience with, and criticism, disgust, and contempt for my staff.

Overnight, I had shifted my behavior after my secretary had an asthma attack that put her in a coma and eventually killed her. I came to realize that what really mattered was the quality of my relationships with other people, not getting things done. Things would get done – and done very well – if I had great relationships. The focus needed to be on people, not the work. My focus shifted to supporting people working together to get things done.

The change was so substantial that word got around that I was great to work for, and people applied. Not just any people, but the best people. This made me very unpopular with my peers. As I once heard, “the knives came out and I have the scars to prove it.”

Many a night I cried wondering why this was happening and despairing of ever getting a different job. For I was looking. Nothing came to fruition.

I see now that it was part of my learning process, for me to learn how to maintain my attitude and behavior under stress and duress. That muscle had to be strong for me to succeed at City Harvest.

So while I cried at night, I focused on doing great work and having fun during the day. I learned how to withstand outside pressure, maintain my integrity, treat my staff well and protect them from attack and unreasonable demands. I became the buffer between them and the surrounding organization. When I was strong enough, the City Harvest job came along – and I was ready for it.

Building that internal strength can be done in any environment. And I know positively that when one adopts and then lives the “abundance” model, you will attract abundance-based opportunities.