The Best Way to Change a Toxic Culture

The best way to change a toxic culture is to remove the toxic leader.

This may sound harsh, but in my experience as a leadership coach working with countless boards, HR departments, and executives, I’ve learned that culture starts from the top—so the top is the best place to start turning things around.

Reversing a toxic culture requires a leader who brings a certain set of attributes:

A leader must have a foundational plan. Great leaders know that before you try to determine what needs to change, it’s usually best to understand what’s being done well. Then you’re ready to begin making the high-impact changes, both large and small, that can drive change for the better. Great cultures have a leader with foundational vision.

A leader must have well-defined values. A great culture is based on a strong set of core values—values that are understandable and relatable, so people can show up every day knowing what to do and how to do it. The organization’s values need to translate into action for employees at every level—from support staff to middle management to top executives.

A leader must embody soft skills. Many people still think of culture as a mushy, fuzzy concept, but research shows that people really do care about the culture where they spend their work lives. Similarly, soft skills are too often sold short. Any organization or team that wants a great culture needs a leader with strong soft skills—one who knows how to listen and understand, who empathizes and connects with others.

A leader must always be accountable. Working in a toxic culture is demanding, and it’s easy, especially in difficult times, for people to be caught up in self-preservation and lose track of the guiding principles of the organization in the needs of the moment. But when leadership holds every level accountable for living out the mission and core values, you have a strong foundation on which to begin building better outcomes.

A leader must have patience. The best leaders know how to go slowly, because things that are worth doing take time. Changing a culture isn’t something that can be rushed but a long game, one that can take months or even years. It means identifying and closing the gap between the culture you have and the culture you need, starting at the top and working through every level. It’s a huge task, one that requires a leader with both purpose and patience.

Those who can lead an organization out of a toxic culture understand that people don’t come to their jobs just to work—they come because they believe they have value to add to a mission they believe in. The best leader to serve as their guide is able to bring out the purpose and greatness that allow a productive culture to flourish, the people to be happy, and the organization to thrive.

Lead from within: Great leaders know that if they lead by example others will follow; great workplace cultures start at the top and ripple out to the entire organization.

 


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What Gets Between You and Your Greatness


After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

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