It’s the time of year where my thoughts go flying out into the world, seeking out our former employees and alumni. As we get closer to our annual graduation celebration on the 13 of July, the topic of where everyone is now and how they are doing is top of mind. Lots of LinkedIn messages, old school SMS (no WhatsApp for me), emails and phone calls from people wanting to check in and sometimes “come home”.
Sometimes these conversations are hard for me. I’m quite good at listening, being present and asking questions. What I am not good at is hearing when people are struggling in their work cultures because of the actions and words of others. Particularly when it comes to leadership and power dynamics, group culture and not supporting the growth of someone. All of these things are triggers for me, they are all closely related to my inner five year old saying “it’s not fair”.
The five year old also wants justice, as soon as possible. That’s what is prompting me to write this today. There are so many articles about how to get more out of your career, how to do X better so you will achieve Y, how to develop a superpower, etc. This puts the burden of unhealthy work cultures on the people who are impacted by them and not on the organizations and individuals that are enabling these cultures.
I’m going to do my part to start addressing that imbalance here. Brace yourself, most of what I have to say is going to be more direct than people like. When we are talking about the damage that happens to people, then you can’t be direct enough. If you have anything to do with other people, whether you lead a team, division or organization, ask yourself the following questions:
- In my team, who has the power to speak?
- What actions do I take in deciding who speaks and who is listened to?
- Who makes the decisions in the team and why do they?
- How do I treat people who are a “good fit” for the team? How do I treat those who are not?
- What does a “good fit” mean in my team? How is this connected to my personal values?
- What actions do I take every day to build trust within my team?
- What actions do I take every day that break down trust within my team?
- How do I benefit from a team that does not trust each other?
- When someone raises concerns on my team, what’s my first gut level response to the person?
- How often do I ask myself what I could do differently?
- How often do I take responsibility for the actions of the team I lead?
Then I want to you give these same questions to your team and let them answer anonymously. Genuinely anonymously, no trying to track logins or decipher handwriting. Sit down with their answers and yours and have a good reading session. Take the answers and compare them. If all your answers match, you have a problem – in the machine learning world, we would call that “overfitting”! If your answers don’t match, then you have been given the chance to start digging deeper and discovering which is the reality you want to go for, the way you are perceived or the way others perceive you.
Now that you have this knowledge, what are you going to do with it? This is key. No one can change us but ourselves. Just this week in our Power Skills class, I made a point of this with our participants that were coming up with all the reasons not to change negative behaviours. My point to them was if they don’t actually want to change the behaviour and they don’t find it important enough to change, they never will. It’s their life and their choices to make. The same applies to all of us, regardless of where we are in our careers.
This applies to you too, as a leader. What kind of leader are you? Is that the leader that you want to be? Are you taking the best care of the people on your team? All of the people on your team, not just the ones that you like the most or that resemble you.
If you are not taking care of your people, then you need to step away until you can. Too many of our workplaces are toxic ones because leadership either doesn’t step in until it becomes a public issue or leadership stimulates the toxic behaviour by tolerating or even worse encouraging it. You aren’t a better human being because you have some version of manager or director in your title. You still have to put your pants on one leg at a time or sit down to put both legs on at once. Just like most of your employees.
I’ll leave you with this. Ask yourself throughout the day if you would want to be treated the way you are treating others? If you cannot immediately and whole-heartedly say “Yes” then consider that your warning system that you need to do something differently then and there. Practice that often. If you do this with enough honesty and compassion for yourself and others, you’ll find an entirely different world will open for you, your teams will do better and so will your organization. Be the exception, be the one that is known as the leader that everyone wants to work for because that is where people grow and excel. You’ll be glad you did.