First start with yourself…
As a leader it’s important to role model the behaviour we want for our teams, so our predominant behaviours need to be those that inspire, engage and empower the people around us. However, knowing that life in business is not all sunshine and unicorns, finding ways to let off steam that don’t involve any drama in front of our teams is key.
Find ways that help you bounce back from setbacks that don’t involve acting out in front of your co-workers. In leading a high-performing team, you must not throw tantrums, gossip, sulk or put your colleagues down behind their backs or in public.
A high-performing culture requires a base of trust and supportiveness, so our behaviour needs to be congruent with this. It can be tempting to react in the moment when you believe that someone has made a bad decision, you have an ‘unreasonable’ customer or you (or your team) have been judged unfairly. How you react in front of your team sets the standard for everyone in terms of how they act when things don’t go their way. As leaders we need to find constructive ways to release the pressure valve, or manage our state, when adversity hits.
The good news is there are plenty of strategies to master your state – you can try exercise, meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, take yourself for a 5 minute walk, talk to people outside of the business about how they decompress, or hire a coach to help you effectively manage your state in any situation. Practice these strategies to see what works for you, or it’s likely to be a combination depending on the situation – personally I use regular exercise, meditation and coaching to help me stay in a responsive rather than reactive space.
…then you can help others
Once we have ourselves under control, we can then find ways to lead our teams away from toxic behaviours. It can be tempting to ‘go in hard’ and directly confront individuals who are behaving counter to where you want the team to be (and in some instances this will be required – there will be more on this in part 4 of this blog series), however, starting with this can have the effect of pushing their behaviour underground rather than removing it. It may still be happening; it’s just not happening in front of you.
Begin by gently supporting and encouraging your team to adopt positive behaviours – see who will come with you and who resists the change. Become skilled at turning a ‘whinge-fest’ into optimism so the team becomes more focused and productive.
To change behaviour, you will need to decide to be brave, step up and have the courage to be a true leader. When the next opportunity presents itself, steer the conversation in a positive direction. Here’s are a few examples I have utilised to start turning the toxic behaviours around:
1. If your team are complaining or gossiping about a 3rd party who is not present, think of something positive about the person.
e.g. If they were to say “I can’t believe that guy expects us to deliver that process change in 48 hours – what an idiot”, reply with something like “I know, it’s going to very tight to deliver but he is usually very reasonable so it must be important”. If in fact they are unreasonable and you can’t think of anything positive, then be supportive: “If we work on it together it won’t take as long – I will help/ another colleague will help”.
2. If the person is complaining more broadly, try responding more positively and address any generalisation.
e.g. If they say “This place is so depressing” use “I sometimes feel like that too, but there are things I really like about working here: (i.e.) I really like variety in my work/ I enjoy the pace/ it’s worth it because I’m learning about x / we get to work with some great people.
3. If the individual is frustrated with clients or colleagues, draw their attention back to the positive aspects of their role.
e.g. If they blurt out “All our customers are so rude/ I’m sick of dealing with everyone in Finance” instead of leaping in to agree (even if you do agree!) steer them towards better experiences “I understand, but I saw you getting on well with another client/colleague earlier, so is it really everyone or was that just a specific incident?”
Responding in this way consistently will help the person realise you’re not going to join them in their pity-party and over time this reduces their negative impact on you and the team. They will realise they no longer receive the attention they are used to from negative behaviour. There will come a moment where you realise that the dynamic has shifted and become more energised, more positive and productive.
Next Week: How to step away from being the ‘behaviour prefect’ – empowering your team to moderate their own behaviour
Note: This is Part Two in a series of articles on removing toxic behaviour from your workplace. See Part One to understand how critical it is to address and remove negative behaviour from your business or team if you want to work in or develop a high-performance team and culture.