At the beginning of a new session or a new year it is common to ask clients the question, "If we were talking one year from now, what would you want to be talking about that you are over the top proud of that you achieved this year?" In several such conversations over the past few weeks a few executives have talked about their struggle with trying to lead positively in a toxic environment. "How do I show up with a positive attitude when I encounter so many others in my workplace that are negative and quick to blame other departments for their issues?"
Toxicity and resentment in the workplace appear to be prevalent nowadays and that type of culture has a powerful impact. A survey by EVERFI, Inc. has showed that “53% (of workplaces) say that they do not address toxicity issues, 48% say they do not allocate funding to promote a healthy workplace, and 40% say they will not increase their emphasis on addressing toxicity in the coming years.”
They go on to share that a toxic environment has far reaching impact in the organization…“Toxic cultures and harassment can lead to turnover, absenteeism, lost productivity, inability to recruit top talent, and the like, so the stakes are high for organizations to act to prevent these damaging behaviors from happening in their workplace.”
Their top piece of advice on how to address this issue?
- Focus on the Leader: only 38% of respondents said the leaders take proactive steps to create a positive workplace culture, and far fewer agree that their leaders are good at preventing problems before they begin (20%); Providing skills training in conflict management, critical conversations, coaching, and bystander intervention techniques is critical.
Leader’s create the culture in an organization. By their words and actions, they communicate to others what are acceptable and non-acceptable types of behaviors. If leaders are seen being disrespectful or blaming other leaders or departments that essentially gives permission for their direct reports to behave in the same way.
“But I am only one leader among many,” one client said, “Can I really have an influence in the company?”
Focusing on a few key messages has the power to shift a culture
So how does one leader create a ripple effect to shift to a less toxic, more positive culture?
- Know who you are and how you want to be seen as a leader, regardless of the environment. Identify 3-5 key attributes/values you want to convey in your words and actions.
- From those values, identify 2-3 key messages you want to continually communicate in your interactions with others. For example, if Collaboration is one of your key values, when you encounter the ‘blame game’ what’s your response? Do you collude with the person or do you offer up another perspective?
(i.e.“So how did we contribute to that failure?”, “What could we have done differently to support the success of that department?”, “What can we put in place to ensure that doesn’t happen again?” )
- Being a broken record with your key messages. Your response needs to be the same every time you encounter that same toxicity. Look for every opportunity to consistently repeat your messaging in your interactions with everyone, your senior leadership team, your peers, your direct reports, other departments.
You can blame your culture for the way you currently lead, or you can shift your focus and show up as the leader you want to be. By walking your talk, you can create movement in a toxic culture and have a positive impact.
We would love to hear your success stories on how you created a positive movement in your organization!