Here’s how leaders can unknowingly cause a toxic workplace

Leaders play a crucial role in defining and articulating the values, practices and beliefs that will support the corporate cultures they aim to create.

And leaders can fail to maintain these cultures for a variety of reasons. Maybe they have a case of unchecked narcissism – they put their personal needs for attention, admiration, and acceptance above their employees and the company’s mission.

Or maybe their leadership style is fear instilling – they lead with interactions that make people feel unsafe and fearful at work. These leaders tend to feel big by making others feel small.

“Fear of competitors, market shifts and obsolescence can be motivating,” says Chris Evans, CEO of Barefoot, a brand experience agency on a mission to end insignificant moments between consumers and consumers. brands, “but if one is going to profile a common enemy, it should be outside of the organization and something that is ultimately motivating for the achievement of the mission.”

Other traits that signal a toxic leader may include arrogance, not listening and not receiving feedback, or self-interested decision making.

Here are four ways leaders can, intentionally or unintentionally, poison a company’s culture.

1. They ignore the problem.

Toxic leaders will avoid addressing employees who act against the company culture. You will see them slipping certain behaviors over and over again. Or maybe they are just naive and oblivious. Either way, keeping an eye on this behavior will help you identify a misaligned leader.

When you see this happening, brush them off and tell them what you noticed. If they don’t know, gently bring their attention to their behavior. If they know, ask them why they let things get out of hand and think about how they can reach out to employees and fix problems before they escalate. Often leaders may feel ill-equipped to solve a problem and need guidance on resolving conflict.

2. They create a culture of cronyism.

If you notice an atmosphere of exclusivity, you may have a toxic leader. Sometimes leaders can feel comfortable with some employees more than others and consciously (or unconsciously) contribute to cliques and exclusivity. Some leaders even use corporate values ​​to create “groups” and “outgroups,” which is never acceptable.

“Even with stated values, beliefs, and practices, there should be plenty of room for diverse backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints,” says Evans.

When leaders value hierarchy and promote their friends or former colleagues above others who are equally qualified, it creates an “in-group/out-group” cycle of behavior and exclusivity. As a result, the “in group” often receives preferential treatment and is subject to different standards. This is never healthy, even for the people in the “group”.

Positive work cultures seek out diverse voices and perspectives, promoting openness and fairness. If you notice the opposite of what is happening in your workplace, report this behavior to your boss and remind them why inclusivity is important not only for people, but also for the overall health of the workplace. Give them specific action steps to take moving forward, like encouraging one-on-ones with new hires or sparking conversation with less talkative employees at work events.

3. They allow workplace bullying.

When leaders allow exclusive behavior, bullying can occur. Workplace bullying is the mistreatment of one or more employees by another employee.

Examples may include not inviting certain people to a happy hour at work, deliberately assigning mundane tasks to someone repeatedly, unfairly changing deadlines, or denying people access to certain programs for no reason.

If you see this happening or hear complaints, always speak directly to the person responsible. Consider group trainings on what is and is not acceptable in the workplace and how to deal with bullying. This will give your employees more freedom to draw your attention to this behavior so you can stop it sooner.

4. They micromanage.

How to spot a micromanager? Their workers suffer from burnout and distress.

Micromanagers are leaders who try to control every aspect, no matter how small, of the business, project, activity or whatever. Worker burnout and high emotions are likely to increase when bullying, micromanaging, and exclusivity occurs. With toxic leaders, they can unknowingly create unmanageable and unsustainable workloads for employees. These unhealthy workloads can also contribute to disengagement and burnout.

If you think a leader is micromanaging, there may be a trust or control issue at play. Ask them why they have trouble trusting their employees and start at the root.

The truth is that all organizations will encounter leaders who exhibit toxic behavior at some point, it’s almost a given. The key is to establish accountability now so you can ultimately help these leaders grow, develop, and change for the better.

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