"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Toxicity in the Workplace

Recently I have been working with a team of people who found themselves in a toxic work environment over several years. They are all passionate about the mission of the organization and fully endorse its cause and business line.

However, there were critical negative issues with management, leadership, and communication throughout the company. The senior staff belittled people, micromanaged them, second-guessed everything, were dishonest, and kept secrets -- even from each other, Because of their deep belief and commitment to the work and care for their co-workers, most employees stayed despite the problems, believing that if that they just work hard enough, they can make things better and continue their good work.

Unfortunately, the toxicity of the environment overtook and overshadowed the company's work. It also manifested in serious degradation of the workforce. A number of employees became complacent, non-productive, and even detrimental to the organization. Worse yet, several employees become ill, some even requiring professional therapeutic assistance. A few who ultimately left the company had a difficult time committing to a new company or were not able to face starting a new job altogether.

Most of the workers were intent on not giving up on the company and its mission. What they did not fully understand is that correcting deeply embedded toxicity like this takes more than just their determination and loyalty, and that the solution lies in EVERYONE being on board. Each cog in the wheel of a workplace must be in place to consciously work to make things better, more effective, and healthier. If the entire team, including every employee, senior leadership, and management at all levels, do not make this a priority the resulting side effects will ultimately destroy and bury, not only the work and the success of the company but the mental and physical health of the workers.

Through his social media "Leadership First" sites, Gifford Thomas, author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible, has this to say about the impact of toxic leadership: "Our workplace has virtually become a second home; however, when the workplace becomes a source of stress for people, that stress can take a more substantial toll on our health than we realize.”

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Jean Kim, leadership can be one of the significant causes of this stress, and when a leader displays certain behaviors and characteristics that contribute to a negative, even hostile working environment, it’s a warning sign that the environment is dangerous to your mental health.

Leaders' misuse of their influence can quickly trickle down into their employees’ psyches, causing incredible distress, betrayal, anger, and can even lead to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and even trauma. Look out for the following traits and behaviors. This list will help you identify toxic leadership and work environments to avoid. 

Note the overwhelming theme of communication here. Almost all of these can be illuminated by looking through the lens of communication. How are leaders communicating with people, and what are they communicating with their words and actions?

Only open, honest, inclusive communication can help reduce the potential for toxicity.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Coffee, Tea, or Leadership?

Not too long ago, my wife and I participated in a local flea market in the parking lot of an antique shop.  As requested, we arrived at 6:00 a.m. to set up for the event, which was to start at 8:00. While we were setting up, other vendors pulled in and began to get their own goods in order. All of us were tired, cold, and working hard to meet our deadline to be set up. 

Soon a young girl came around to all the booths, offering free banana bread muffins to the vendors and letting us know that there was free hot coffee and tea in the shop. She made several passes, always with a quick and warm smile. When someone said “thank you,” her response was always an enthusiastic “you’re welcome!”

A little later in the day, this same young lady stopped by to look at a couple of things we had available at our booth. First, she noticed an antique camera. She didn’t even know what it was (film and flashbulbs!), but she knew that her mother likes cameras. With a few dollar bills in her hand, she asked how much it was. My wife said gently explained that although our prices are negotiable, "it’s probably still out of your range.”  The girl thanked my wife and walked away.  We were to find out later that she went straight to her father to ask how one negotiated for something they wanted. Her father explained how it worked, but persuaded her that as thoughtful a gift as a camera would be, her mom would be just as happy knowing that the girl had thought of her.

Later she came back and was transfixed by a doll we had at our booth.  She asked how much it cost.  I said, $10, but for you, we’ll take $8.  She thanked me and again walked away.  Several times throughout the day, we saw her walking around the flea market with her two younger brothers in tow.  She came back periodically to tell my wife about her progress in trying to sell a few things in order to afford the doll.  Her last report was, “I just need to sell two more things and I can get the doll!”

Interestingly, the doll was Emily the Entrepreneur. How appropriate!

About an hour after that final report we saw our little would-be customer with her two younger brothers, both clutching ice cream cones. We thought, “Well, there goes our sale!” Later we were to learn so much more about this little entrepreneur with a heart of gold…

We decided that since she was working so hard and had been so caring about everyone other than herself, we wanted to give the girl the doll she had so admired as a gift. We couldn’t find her, so we put out the word to others. Soon a man approached us. It was the young lady’s father, who wanted to thank us.  He told us about how he tries to instill in his children, the importance of being considerate of others, and explained how proud he is that his daughter is always thinking of her brothers, parents, and others before herself.  He said that she denied herself the pleasure of the doll because her brothers wanted ice cream and had no money of their own to buy it.

He came back later he told us something that really struck a chord. He said that when he got home and surprised his daughter with the doll, he explained that she received it as a reward, not because she was successful in selling things that day, but because she had been recognized as a GOOD PERSON, and had made people happy by her words and actions.  He said (with a proud tear in his eye) that his daughter looked up at him and said, “I’m just trying to be like you, dad.”

We teared up, too.

And so it goes… being a leader (whether it be of a family, of a company, of a team or troop), your actions and how you represent yourself matters and has a ripple effect on those around you.  From father to daughter to brothers, this family unit shows us that by sharing your beliefs, communicating their importance, and acknowledging others’ accomplishments, you can light the TORCH in others, encouraging them to share their own passion with those around them. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

It's Employee Appreciation Day -- and it should be every day

National Employee Appreciation Day, the 1st Friday in March each year, focuses on one of an organization’s greatest assets – its people.

Recognition and appreciation are known as some of the key motivational factors in the workplace. It demonstrates how much leaders value their employees and keeps morale high. Employers who express appreciation tend to increase employee job satisfaction as well, and that usually leads to even better performance.

As important as it is to show your employees how much you appreciate them, it’s equally important to do so on a personal level. Receiving a reward that isn’t useful, doesn’t suit an employee’s lifestyle, or doesn’t show that you truly understand the achievement can have the complete opposite effect and actually eliminate all positivity. Let them know that you are not just celebrating a day on the calendar, but that you are celebrating THEM -- because they, and what they do, matter.

Even though people’s personalities differ, most employees are goal-driven. Earning an award, a thank you or other recognition motivates them to reach even higher goals. 

Need some ideas to get you started? Here are just a few: 
  • Offer flexibility in the work schedule to show that you understand their need to balance their professional and personal lives. If possible, allowing a little flexibility can reap huge benefits in a recharged workforce.
  • A simple thank you note can make someone’s day. Think of the last time someone took the time to acknowledge you, your hard work, or your thoughtfulness in a simple note. Didn’t those few words make you feel like you could fly? 
  • Celebrate a team effort – if a team pulled together to make a miracle happen, reward them with an office pizza party, casual dress day, or even close the office early so they can spend some well-earned time with family. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive… just a timely reward to show your unsolicited appreciation.
  • Cultivate, maintain and encourage an environment of creativity around the office. Employees who are allowed to stretch their minds, try new things, and feel listened to can increase productivity with their energy and new skills. They will feel empowered to pass their energy onto others, developing strong, collaborative teams. 

What can you think of that would work well in your organization to show your employees how much you value them? And remember, appreciation of your colleagues doesn’t have to be limited to just one day or even one week. Imagine the outcome of a workforce that feels understood and appreciated when their accomplishments in the workplace are regularly acknowledged and celebrated all year round! As confidence and pride grow, so does determination, loyalty, and productivity, not to mention a more healthy workplace!