Can’t Stand the Heat

Blog 20-08-25

My father loved poetry. He often had us learn poems that we four kids would recite in unison as we rode cross-country in the car to visit the grandparents. The title of one popped into my head as I sat down to write about toxic cultures – “It Isn’t the Church, It’s You.” It’s easy to blame the system and forget to question our part in it.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of us have experienced toxic work environments caused by a wide swath of reasons – leadership, policies, individuals, the bottom line…and the list goes on. The question becomes: What part can you play, if any, to improve it?

I took an external assignment to work on a project I was passionate about and found myself working for an individual who created a toxic culture because of his sole focus on the bottom line. With minimal people skills, he pushed and berated, set unrealistic goals, routinely expected 10 to 12-hour days and more. My enthusiasm and mental health devolved.

My “go to” is to observe and analyze before I take action. I focus on the long-term goal and choose the “battles” that I’m willing to engage in. So, in this assignment, I decided to let go of my “knee-jerk” responses and began to treat him as I wanted to be treated…modeling the behavior I wanted to see. Surprisingly, a gradual change started occurring in our relationship. It laid the way for a frank discussion on his unrealistic expectations about what one person could do. In the end, he shifted and external folks commented on the change in the environment.

I’m writing this not as the solution for how to change a toxic culture but rather as a suggestion to stop, look and listen. What is the cause? How can it be resolved? What role are you playing in it? What can you do to shift it? The benefits to you and the organization make it worth it.

This Week: Think about the last time you were in a toxic culture. What triggered you? How deep did you look below the surface to find the cause? When you reflect on the environment, what else was at play beyond what triggered you? What other action/reaction did you wish you had taken? What would you do differently now? Sometimes our learning comes well after the fact; no matter what the timing, it’s still valuable as something to take forward.

In Next Week’s Post: Dealing with conflict

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