Leadership culture is the largest determining factor to a toxic work environment. The people around the leader give the rest of the workers the largest cues as to what kind of environment they are living in. Surrounded by sycophants? Then this workplace is not open to new ideas. Surrounded by bullies? Then the workplace values process over personality. Surrounded by individuals who can speak their mind? That’s the kind of workplace we would all welcome.
If your leaders cannot handle any kind of dissenting ideas that signals are larger problem in the leadership. Being surrounded by ‘yes’ all day leads to an inflated sense of self worth. Leaders begin to think of themselves as infallible and any issues with their decisions become the result of employee incompetence. These are leaders who will never grow, never get better at their job, because they will never have cause to reflect back on mistakes or missteps. Further, this will lead to political toxicity in the workplace as employees go into survival mode.
The leaders who value process over personality are similarly disadvantaged. If bureaucracy is their joie-de-vivre, everyone in the workplace becomes mired in red-tape and instability. Committees form and meetings to plan the next meeting for the planning committee become a nightmarish reality. New ideas are similarly stuck behind processes that are overly developed and would cause systemic chaos if changed. And again we fall back into toxicity as employees point out discrepancies in each other’s work.
But if the leadership culture is open, employees begin to relax. Creativity and innovation can flourish. These leaders do not see new ideas as a challenge to authority. In fact, innovation is rewarded. This kind of workplace can shift and pivot and reinvent itself. The constant evolution makes finding success that much more attainable. Respectful discussion and multiple perspectives become the norm. It’s very difficult for this kind of structure to fall into toxicity. The worst case scenario is that you lose some employees who prefer the above kind of environments. As a result, the workplace becomes self-cleaning and innovative.
Above all, it is important to have openness in the workplace. Yes, leaders need to maintain a specific vision or purpose, but valuing the employees and their perspectives will only help the workplace to succeed.