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Toxic Work Culture Series: Stomping Out Toxic Work Culture

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Consultant Proficiency Resources (CPR) LLC leadership is pleased to announce the launch of non-toxic Tuesdays. Effective Tuesday, July 19th, 2022, CPR will feature an animated video on toxicity in the workplace. The goal is to spotlight a toxic work environment and provide guidance for leadership. Suffice it to say; that not every leader is aware of how they contribute to the organization's toxicity; however, if you are a leader, you must take the good with the bad. If you are responsible for its success or wins, you are also responsible for the poor and adverse conditions. Today, our attention is on simplifying organizational culture, defining cultural flags, and some tell-tale attributes of a toxic leader. Let's begin.

So, what is an organizational culture (OC)? The simplest way to define organizational culture is (Bernard, 1995) " the personality of an organization." If an organization has existed for more than ten years, the organization might have an amalgamation of personalities. On the other hand, if you are a small business owner, your organization's culture is likened to your personality, for better or worse. Today, I heard an "expert" maintain that a toxic OC is a feeling. If you feel your boss is mean, then it's possibly toxic. OC is likened to a personality, and a toxic OC is a state of condition, not a feeling. As a conqueror of workplace toxicity, I know the signs. As a researcher in the field of organization management with a specialty in leadership and organizational culture, I've researched the signs. The research is in; OC is not a feeling. It's a phenomenon likened to a distinct personality.

Heifetz and Linsky (1999) coined the term cultural flags and noted how an OC is easily determined by specific signals defined as cultural flags. Whether in the organization's choice of deco, how meetings are conducted, dress code, employees' professionalism or lack thereof, cultural flags transmit a message to the outside how your organization conducts business. To simplify one's understanding of OC and cultural flags, some scholars relegate cultural flags to red flags that should be warning signs for leadership. While red flags signal issues within an organization, red flags are typically yellow and orange before transitioning into red flags. This signifies warning signs exist and are ferociously flashing at the leader. At the end of this series, I hope individuals at the helm are more aware that a problem exists before becoming a red flag. Toxicity does not occur by happenstance; it is cultivated.

CPR contends a toxic leader begets a toxic culture. If you are a new leader, according to Schein (1951), you can either keep the culture the same, totally disrupt the organization from top to bottom, or evolve and keep an eye out for the cultural flags. CPR subscribes to evolving the organization to a positive, creative, and healthy work culture. The below leadership attributes are signals that your leadership style is cultivating a toxic work culture:

  1. Lack of faith and moral framework. A person operating from an immoral framework drives the organization to the ground. Decisions are solely made with one intent, to keep the leader on top. Conversely, decisions are not driven by self-serving ambitions when a leader exercises faith.

  2. Dishonesty=Pinocchio. Someone inconsistent. A pathological liar. A leader tells the truth regardless of the fallout. Integrity is key.

  3. Selective communicator. Selective dictates you are putting a higher value on one employee over the other. Typically, this lends to favoritism. A leader conveys messages to everyone on the team.

  4. Divide and conquer. This signifies a leader pitting team members against the other for the leader's ultimate victory. This is counterproductive. A leader does not divide a team if they are on the right path.

  5. Substance abuser. When you drill down further, a toxic leader leads a toxic lifestyle. The vice typically creeps into the leadership style, whether drugs, alcohol, sex, foul language, falsehoods, gambling, etc. A leader is not perfect but does not become dependent on any vice that impedes judgment.

  6. Arrogant. They are not confusing confidence with arrogance. Arrogance misleads individuals down a path of destruction. Confidence is the cornerstone of leadership. A confident leader understands the organization's mission, vision, and value. A confident leader integrates the necessary skill sets to achieve the organization's mission and selects a team of individuals that complements the team.

  7. Lack of self-awareness- A leader lacking self-awareness is unaware of how they contribute to the organization's toxicity. Conversely, a self-aware leader can seek help and improve.

  8. Intimidating. Leaders who bully and manipulate employees lead by fear. We all heard, "if you do not like it here, you can always leave." That behavior leads to a dictatorship that is "my way or off with your head." Yikes!!! In 21st-century business practice, many organizations leading with an iron fist will have staff jump ship.

  9. Encourages all forms of isms- Whether it is nepotism, favoritism, and racism, isms are perpetuated through cliques. Cliques are likely more homogenous giving way to no diversity in ideas, values, and thinking. This stymies creativity in the workplace.

  10. Toxic leaders are at times passive-aggressive. Such leaders fail to protect their employees by blocking access to vital information, embarrassing staff at meetings, throwing items across the room, shouting during meetings, making sexual advances, failing to assign worthy projects, and a host of other bad behavior unworthy of a leader.

The bottom line, the American culture is deep into self-preservation by any means necessary. The question is, how do we dismantle a toxic culture? We anticipate this series will be a conduit for honest and healthy workplace discussions on OC. Here at Consultant Proficiency Resources (CPR), we hope you will join us every Tuesday, now, Non-Toxic Tuesday, by typing on your social media page #stompingouttoxicworkplaceculture. Together we can Achieve a Healthy work culture one leader at a time.

Warm Regards,


Managing Partner

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