Leaders often are so focused on how to grow and improve. They put most of their attention on developing new strategies that will allow the organization to perform better. However, leaders want to also consider the damaging behaviors that are happening right now that keep the culture from its potential -- and this includes their own behavior. Higher impact when the focus is on what keeps company culture from a competitive advantage than investing in new ways to improve.
There are many signs of a toxic culture forming that can range from absenteeism to sexual harassment. One Harvard study examines over 50,000 workers across 11 different industries to document a variety of aspects of "toxic" behavior. Some of the time, toxic behavior is never reported due to fear. The cost of a toxic workplace is much more than just lower productivity -- an increase in legal liabilities will happen too if it's not addressed.
What I want to share with you are a few non-obvious ways leaders operate that contribute to a toxic workplace. These are likely things that you may "believe" that you should be doing as a leader. You likely had leaders who behaved like this as well and thus, you've adopted this style of thinking too.
To be transparent, I have made these same mistakes too in leading my teams and developing cultures in my companies.
1. Telling them how to do their jobs.
You may be well-intentioned and want to guide your team members as to how to do their work. The issue here comes when you create the feeling of micromanaging. If your employees feel pressure from you on "how" to do the work, you will start to see some of those toxic behaviors mentioned earlier.
Instead, you want to talk about the "outcome" or goal that you want with the project. Give them space to figure out how to do the work. You can also encourage them to reach out if they need to discuss the steps after they have considered the options on how to do the new work
Also, when you allow them to develop the process, they will feel more ownership to do the work and meet the goal itself. Leadership that inspires a feeling of ownership is critical to Inc 5000 leaders that I interviewed recently. In fact, 88 percent said it was important or very important to their overall fast growth.
The way you delegate new work begins to set a precedent for future work, too.
2. Asking them to work the same hours as you
Working hours is a big debate with nearly every leader I talk to. Of course, it varies depending on the industry and expectations of your customers. However, in today's workforce, one of the most important benefits for employees is flexibility. Most workers desire flexibility in hours and location of the work. In fact, it is huge to millennials in the organization. In conversations with leaders, they often get so frustrated with employees who desire to work different hours than the norm.
The hours you keep are likely best suited for you and how you work. I love to wake up super early and be at my computer before 7 a.m. I do my best work in the first few hours of the day -- I call this time my "genius hours." I also know that I can't expect others to work "my hours" just because it is best for me. You likely want them to find their best hours and encourage them to protect that time to do their most creative work.
If you want to reduce the effects of a toxic culture, you want to give flexibility to people so they can work in their hours of genius.
3. Making them experts in their field
This might throw you for a loop. Let me be clear that I believe people should be on a path of mastery and not chase shiny objects. However, when you have a young workforce, they value growth and learning a variety of skills instead of mastery of one area. They want to increase their own value to the organization -- a very good thing -- and they want to increase the market value in general.
When you invest time and money in the growth of your employees for new skills, you can see the benefit as they apply those new skills to their projects. They will also find themselves growing and talking about the opportunity with everyone. When they learn, they love to share with others how you made that possible.
The bottom line is that it is best to think about how to understand others and use empathy if you want to build trust and respect. Doing it poorly will lead to a toxic culture.