A large percentage of leaders create toxic workplaces and don’t even know it because it feels so normal. They go through their days behaving in ways that are detrimental to themselves and their employees because they’ve always done it that way. Workplace habits are hard to interrupt unless leaders consciously decide to do something else. Here are some leadership behaviors that are common in a toxic workplace:
- Shouting orders.
- Not listening to people.
- Not allowing people to have a voice.
- Underpaying employees.
- Not giving people time off to recharge or balance their lives.
- Behavior correction through punishment.
- Imposing strict hierarchy.
- Like it or there’s the door attitude.
- Getting angry or behaving disrespectfully.
- Putting employees under constant stress.
- Sticking people in boxes.
- Limiting creativity or self-expression.
The standard reaction when I point out these toxic behaviors is one of surprise or confusion because so many of our workplaces function based on these types of actions. The key to building a happy and productive workplace is being able to envision a workplace where empathic, positive practices are the norm. A healthy workplace would likely value these behaviors:
- Asking people to do things in a kind way.
- Encouraging people to use their voices.
- Paying a living wage.
- Giving people generous time off.
- Helping people find their own best behaviors.
- Creating a horizontal organizational structure.
- Helping people generate their own solutions to difficult issues.
- Behaving kindly, compassionately and respectfully.
- Building a workplace that doesn’t stress people out.
- Allowing people to use their talents and abilities.
- Welcoming creativity and individuality.
Many leaders are highly skeptical of this type of approach and don’t think it’s possible or practical; which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because, if you don’t believe you can create a healthy workplace, you won’t. It takes time, energy, self-awareness and commitment to design a work environment where leaders and employees behave positively but it feels great when you achieve it. What will you do to create a healthy workplace?
When you possess self-awareness you’re able to practice effective communication because you’re cognizant of how you come across to people. Leaders who don’t understand their own behavior, and how they’re perceived by others, create communication glitches like misunderstandings or hurt feelings. Here are some examples of the connection between self-awareness and effective communication:
- Self-awareness means that you know how your thoughts, emotions and behaviors affect others and you’re able to manage yourself so that the other person is an important part of the conversation.
- Self-awareness helps you be more comfortable with yourself so you can relate to others with genuine confidence and kindness.
- Self-awareness allows you to get out of the way and let people tell you what’s important to them without letting your stuff complicate the interaction.
- Self-awareness gives you the ability to shift from always having to talk (the result of ego) to listening to people instead.
- Self-awareness helps you communicate with others on a deeper level because you make them feel valued and important.
- Self-awareness helps you understand how others see you and how you can adapt to make more meaningful connections and build stronger relationships.
- Self-awareness helps you collaborate with others.
Many leaders burst into the room and start talking when all they really need to do is relax a bit and listen. Effective communication means that you understand how not to get in the way of meaningful conversations. Self-aware leaders understand that there’s more than one person in the room and that everyone’s input matters. How will you use self-awareness to practice effective communication?
Your leadership style reflects what you believe about the world: If you think change is undesirable, your workplace will reflect that perspective; if you believe that trying new things is advantageous, your workplace will move in that direction. Your beliefs impact how your organization functions and sends your employees distinct messages about their roles and importance. Let’s look at two leadership belief systems and the underlying messages they broadcast:
We’ve Always Done It this Way
Don’t rock the boat.
Do as you’re told.
Change is scary.
Keep things as they’ve always been.
Flexibility is weakness.
Follow the rules.
Know your place.
Keep your ideas to yourself.
There’s only one way to solve a problem, my way.
Self-awareness is discouraged.
Something New, Better or Different Is Possible
Shake things up.
Do things based on your own judgement.
Be open to trying new things.
Flexibility is agility.
There are no rules.
Design your own role.
Share your ideas freely.
There are many ways to solve a problem.
Self-awareness is valued.
When I describe these two leadership approaches in my workshops, someone will say something like, “There has to be order and someone has to be in charge, you can’t just let everyone do what they want,” to which I answer, “Why not?” Leaders can design any type of workplace they want. They can give their employees power by allowing them to think and act independently, develop new ideas and question current practices or they can keep making people toe the line and do what’s always been done. The only obstacle is what they believe is possible. Which approach will you choose and why?
There’s a big difference between letting life happen to you and consciously choosing what you think and do. You can live a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life at any time by deciding that you’re going to do it. If you’re not quite sure how to begin, here are ten ways to improve your life starting right now:
- Let go of the need to control events and other people.
- Think and behave positively.
- Love yourself and others unconditionally.
- Heal your hurts, especially the ones you don’t want to look at.
- Help others without expecting anything in return.
- Discover what you really want to do in life and take daily small steps to make it happen.
- Experience all your feelings and learn how to guide them in a positive direction.
- Spend time doing the things that matter in life; like working on your dreams or hugging your significant other.
- Surround yourself with people who appreciate the real you.
- Be open to increasing your self-awareness throughout your life.
- Be yourself.
Improving your life requires commitment and effort. Try these ideas and, over time, you’ll improve your quality of life because you’ll be thinking and behaving in ways that lead to deeper happiness. You don’t have to everything at once, start with one item and then move on to the next. What will you do right now to improve your life?
You’ve probably met people, even very successful ones, who behave like they’re clueless or unbalanced in some part of their lives. Perhaps they don’t deal with others very positively, can’t get past some childhood trauma or have ideas about the world that aren’t grounded in reality. What they’re often missing is self-awareness, the ability to understand how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors affect them and others.
People avoid looking at themselves because they’re afraid of what they might find. It takes courage to admit that they’re not perfect, that they’ve made mistakes, that they’ve been wrong in the past or that there are areas that need improvement in their lives. Those who do decide to take a candid look at themselves soon discover that they can live deeply satisfying, meaningful, healthy and balanced lives.
Self-awareness matters because you’re worth it. You deserve to live a fully conscious life that reflects the real you rather than doing all the other garbage that makes you (and the people around you) unhappy. When you understand who you are and why you think and behave the way you do, you get to live an authentic life being yourself rather than trying to be someone you’re not or relying on outside sources for your happiness.
Increasing your self-awareness gives you the opportunity to live the life you were meant to live without restrictions. It’s a journey that begins with your willingness to look at yourself honestly and become the most healthy, balanced you possible. How will you start building your self-awareness?
One of the comments that comes up when I talk with leaders about diversity training is that they don’t want to dredge up the past, bring up difficult subjects or rock the boat. Diversity training sometimes gets a bad rap for stirring up conflict but there are some practical things you can do to make it much easier:
Focus on Things People Have in Common
So much diversity training has to do with highlighting the differences between people that everyone forgets how much they have in common. Create a positive diversity training program where people get to share their stories and learn about each other in a safe environment. Emphasize commonalities so people can build bridges instead of walls.
Help People Acquire Skills to Get Along with Each Other
Teach your staff how to listen actively, communicate effectively, increase self-awareness, lead inspirationally, resolve conflicts, and build cohesive teams. Teaching your leaders and employees these core skills will help them get along with others and bring people together.
Make Diversity Part of Your Company Culture
When you make it clear that your organization values diversity, from the top down, then your employees will start moving in that direction as well. A one-time diversity workshop has very little effect. Plan on offering ongoing training that continues to help people understand and value diversity.
Focus on these areas and you’ll find that diversity becomes less of a charged issue. Diversity training doesn’t have to be difficult, you can make it easier by creating an ongoing, positive program that helps people get along with and value each other. What will you do to support diversity training in your workplace?
Many leaders are in a position where they tell employees what to do and that’s the end of the thinking process. A less-explored approach involves critical thinking, which is where you give employees the opportunity to arrive at their own insights rather than being dependent on you. Here are some ideas on how
to practice both leadership approaches, with and without critical thinking:
How to Practice Leadership without Thinking
- Tell people what to do.
- Supervise them constantly.
- Micromanage them.
- Dole out information only in small amounts.
- Give a lot of orders.
- Take the lead on everything.
- Ask for employees’ input but always go with your ideas.
- Remind people that you make all the decisions.
- Criticize instead of praise.
- Marvel at what a wonderful leader you are.
How to Practice Leadership that Encourages Critical Thinking
- Encourage your employees to decide where to start working on any given project.
- Assume people are smart enough to do it.
- Let them know you’re available if they have any questions or need any resources.
- Encourage them to come up with their own approach to completing the project.
- Allow people to share their insights about how the project went and make adjustments.
Inspirational leadership is about allowing people to think creatively and autonomously rather than being dependent on you. Employees who think for themselves are better prepared to deal with workplace challenges and contribute to building a healthy workplace. What will you do to encourage more critical thinking in your organization?