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Creating healthy leaders to combat toxic workplaces

Evolved leaders that embody collaboration and inclusivity will have a competitive advantage in the workplace.

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Sep 18, 2023

In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, the emphasis of culture and employee well-being is rapidly compelling organizations to reassess their interconnection and their roles as critical business imperatives.

One of the key factors that influence culture, and the overall health of an organization is the style and approach of its leaders. 

As rates of employee burnout, mental health issues, and harassment and/or microaggressions felt by women in the workplace continue to rise, traditional models of business-first and transactional leadership, often viewed as toxic, must evolve. 

They need to transform into collaborative and inclusive leadership styles that empower employees and foster innovation. 

Leaders who evolve in this way will have a competitive advantage in the workplace as they will embody health leadership.

By nurturing and developing a new generation of “healthy leaders,” organizations can effectively combat toxic workplace environments and foster a culture of productivity, innovation, well-being and thriving for all.

Understanding Toxic Workplaces

Toxic workplaces, characterized by stress, low morale, and poor mental health, have devastating effects on both employees and the company's bottom line. 

They carry an array of negative attributes, such as high levels of stress, constant conflicts, lack of communication, and a general feeling of dissatisfaction among employees that don't feel seen, heard, or recognized. 

These environments not only hinder personal growth and job satisfaction but also hamper overall organizational success. 

Data from the American Psychological Association reveals, “…19% of workers say their workplace is very or somewhat toxic, and those who reported a toxic workplace were more than three times as likely to have said they have experienced harm to their mental health at work than those who report a healthy workplace (52% vs. 15%).”

While a toxic workplace can be the result of toxic leaders, it's not solely limited to leadership behavior. 

Other factors contribute to a toxic workplace such as: organizational culture, ineffective HR policies, lack of accountability, failure to address issues, and inadequate leadership training.

Healthy Leadership: The Key to Combatting Toxicity

Healthy leaders play a pivotal role in transforming toxic workplaces into thriving and dynamic ecosystems because foundationally, they emphasize an employee as a human rather than a transaction.

This important distinction allows a leader and team member to forge an authentic relationship and partnership in creating value both for the business and their careers.

Healthy leaders prioritize employee empowerment and well-being as cornerstones of engagement and innovation, possessing strong inner skills to help navigate employee uncertainty and drive positive change in a new way.

These leadership qualities and actions contribute to the creation of a healthier work environment through:

  1. Promoting Health & Well-being: Healthy leaders recognize the importance of a person’s health and well-being, and they lead by example. They encourage employees to take breaks, collaborate with others, and remove unnecessary meetings to allow for a focus on work. This approach not only improves job satisfaction but also enhances overall well-being.

  1. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Healthy leaders understand that employees are not transactions, but humans with needs and aspirations. They practice empathy and exhibit emotional intelligence by recognizing and responding to their team members' emotions. This fosters trust and enhances team cohesion.

  1. Psychological Safety: Healthy leaders foster psychological safety by actively listening to and acknowledging each team member’s problems, wants, needs, and desires. Psychologically safe communication aids people to advocate for their needs, address conflicts promptly, and ensures that all team members are on the same page.

  1. Continuous Learning and Growth: Healthy leaders are committed to their own professional growth and encourage the same for their team members. They provide opportunities for coaching, skill development and career advancement, fostering a sense of purpose and motivation among employees.

  1. Recognition and Appreciation: Healthy leaders build relationships with their people to understand how each team member feels appreciation and celebrates wins (words of affirmation, gifts, etc.,). They celebrate all achievements, no matter how big or small, boosting morale and motivation. 

Creating Healthy Leaders

An imperative to create healthy leadership in the workplace has not been prioritized since the inception of the eight-hour workday in 1866. 

With today’s shifting market dynamics, Executives can now make a choice – invest in building healthy leaders to grow people and the business or not – and risk skyrocketing health insurance claims, low productivity, and slow business and professional growth.

Developing healthy leaders is a multi-faceted process that requires a combination of training, coaching, and organizational support. 

Here are 10 ways your organization can invest in creating healthy leaders:

  1. Leadership Training: At the event when an employee is promoted from Individual Contributor (IC) to Manager, it’s imperative to provide leadership training to begin the creation of a healthy leader. Focus on building core inner skills – emotional intelligence, effective communication, conflict resolution, and other essential skills – to help leaders manage effectively and create healthy work environments.

  1. Coaching: At the Individual Contributor (IC) to Manager event, pairing these emerging leaders with experienced Coaches (e.g., Executive, Business) will accelerate their overall development. Coaching provides a safe space to learn and receive guidance on taking responsibility for managing people, their needs, and handling challenging situations.

  1. Regular Feedback: An open feedback loop with a regular cadence from peers, subordinates, and superiors helps healthy leaders identify blind spots, document areas for improvement, and work on them. This fosters personal growth and healthier leadership practices.

  1. Inclusive Training: Creating healthy leaders means promoting inclusive leadership by educating leaders on inclusion, diversity, and equity principles and practices. This training is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for organizations to have healthy leaders who foster cultures of respect, empathy, and collaboration. This leads to improved performance, talent retention, and a positive impact on the broader community.

  1. Leadership Rotation Programs: Provide opportunities for leaders to gain experience in different roles and departments to broaden their perspective and learn to foster a more collaborative and innovative environment. This promotes adaptability and empathy, contributing to a healthier leadership culture within the organization.

Benefits of Healthy Leadership

The ability to combat toxic workplaces through the creation of healthy leaders is a business imperative that yields numerous benefits for both employees and organizations:

  1. Improved Employee Engagement: Healthy leaders inspire loyalty and commitment among their team members. Engaged employees are more likely to contribute their best work, leading to increased productivity and innovation.

  1. Reduced Turnover: A toxic work environment often leads to high turnover rates. Healthy leaders promote a sense of belonging and job satisfaction, reducing employee turnover and the associated costs.

  1. Increased Creativity and Innovation: Healthy leaders create a safe space for employees to express their ideas and take calculated risks. This fosters a culture of innovation and creativity, as employees feel empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.

  1. Better Decision-Making: Healthy leaders who prioritize well-being and ethical conduct tend to make more balanced and thoughtful decisions on behalf of themselves, their people, and the business.

  1. Positive Organizational Culture: Healthy leadership contributes to the development of a thriving organizational culture, attracting and retaining top talent and enhancing the employer brand.

In summary, the role of healthy leaders in combatting toxic workplaces cannot be overstated. 

Their leadership qualities, rooted in a foundation of inner skills such as effective communication, empathy, psychological safety, and promoting well-being, are crucial for transforming a toxic work environment into a thriving, productive, and innovative one. 

By investing in the development of healthy leaders, organizations can create a positive ripple effect that benefits employees, the organization, and the broader community. 

Through self-awareness, training, and ongoing coaching support, organizations can shape leaders who not only drive success but also foster a culture of well-being and collaboration.

Want to learn more or partner with Sonia? Connect on LinkedIn or on SoniaHunt.com.

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