I started my coaching career helping individuals deal with toxic office politics on a case-by-case basis. I realized that I could make it so much easier for individuals to navigate by working with leaders (bosses) who have the power to change workplace culture.
As noted in the previous section, I was brought in to change workplace culture, but first had to overcome being the target of toxic behavior. The three direct reports who had applied for the position I earned periodically challenged me directly or indirectly. One said that he could sabotage me by doing exactly what I asked him to do. On other occasions, they provided incomplete information. That is why it was so important for me to build relationships with people from custodians to board members. Building relationships is time-intensive but well worth the investment.
It took twelve to eighteen months to change the culture from that of my predecessor; that person’s managerial/leadership style was very different from mine. The previous administrator did a lot of things well, and I built on them. However, other areas needed attention. More specifically, the department was fiscally sound, but there was a degree of in-fighting among the units in the department which needed to be addressed.
Some believe that a leader creates an organization in his/her image. The statement sounds a bit sacrilegious, but there is a degree of validity because a leader sets the tone for the organization’s culture.
I draw inspiration from memes found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. I have read many that conclude employees don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. Conversely, employees stay because they are heard, appreciated, mentored, challenged, and have promotional opportunities. Money will attract talent, but employees stayed because of intrinsic rewards and positive relationships.
Leaders are responsible for laying the foundation and modeling the behavior they’d like employees to emulate. Steve Jobs is a leader who would know. He said: “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” That is the inspiration for creating win-win work relationships. In essence, to conquer toxic behavior in the workplace, leaders have to be intentional.