Inclusive Leadership can avoid a Toxic Workplace

Toxic Workplace

On many occasions during an organisational review I have been told that the office has a  “toxic culture”. The term is often used as  a description to invoke a sense of chaos and people being treated badly by their supervisors and peers. In many cases the actual environment is indeed a problem, but more often it is a failure of management to demonstrate and require appropriate standards of behaviour in the workplace. 

Without the insistence on those standards matters invariably deteriorate to a point where disrespect and exclusion become commonplace and as a result not only does work quality decline but absenteeism and high staff turnover create even greater dysfunction. Usually the signs of these problems emerging are apparent to everyone else in the organisation, except the leader whose lack of self awareness is the root cause.

Managers don’t set out to deliberately cause these issues, but do so by their own blindness to the basic principles of working with an inclusive approach to all those under their authority. An inclusive leader is one who values each individual contributing to the organisation’s goals, regardless of rank or skill level. That valuing is demonstrated by inviting everyone (not just chosen favourites) to share ideas, views and opinions on how the workplace can continually improve and by acknowledging that the desired outcomes are dependent of everyone participating and collaborating.

A recent article by Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson identified the following hallmarks of an inclusive leader:

  • Openness to divergent ideas, perspectives and processes.
  • Flexibility to change opinions, plans or decisions based on those ideas.
  • Curiosity to seek out the perspectives of many others, not simply a select few.
  • Humility to acknowledge one’s limitations, vulnerabilities and tendencies.
  • Active self-management of one’s biases.
  • Empathy to seek to understand others’ thoughts, feelings and experiences.

The absence of these qualities in a leader will often be reflected in those they influence as supervisors and the terrible spiral of organisational culture decay progresses to where observers will use the “toxic culture” term to describe it.

Regular self-reflection and genuinely seeking feedback from a variety of sources will help any leader maintain appropriate perspective on their own approach to inclusion.

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