If you’re working in a toxic organizational culture, you already know what a struggle it can be to succeed—or even survive. You’re far from alone—many people find themselves doing a job they love in a workplace they hate.
You may not be able to single-handedly change the culture around you, but there are things you can do to advance your own success in a toxic environment. Here are some of the most important:
Maintain your boundaries
Learn to separate yourself from what others are doing and focus on what you stand for. Check yourself often to make sure the things you’re doing fit with your values and aren’t just going with the flow. Keep your distance from activities you don’t respect unless you feel your voice can make a difference, and don’t participate in gossip and backstabbing. Refuse to let the toxicity invade your sense of yourself and what you stand for.
Cultivate a positive mindset
One of the worst things you can do is to succumb to the negativity around you. Even if you’re opposing toxic behavior, it’s easy to be sucked into negative thinking that leaves you feeling demoralized. Cultivate a positive mindset by immersing yourself in your work to make the culture more bearable and keep your productivity high.
Anything is more difficult when you go through it alone. Look for others who view the world the same way you do so you can all be there for each other. Not only will you have someone it’s safe to vent with, but together you can mastermind ways to cope with upsetting situations.
Don’t compromise your values
Never let any situation undermine or weaken who you are and what you stand for. Don’t engage in unethical behavior, even to save your job. Nothing will erode your self-worth more than dishonoring who you are as a human being. If you lose your job because you stand by your values, you lose it for a good cause.
Focus on solutions, not the problem
Even when it’s entirely justified, complaining and grumbling contribute to the spread of toxicity. Whether it’s aimed at other employees, company leadership or specific policies, complaining feeds a mentality of defeat. When others are focused on the problems, devote your own energy to focusing on solutions. It will change up the conversation, and eventually it may even make a change in the culture.
Put it in writing
Especially if you’re working in a toxic culture, it’s a good idea to document the things that happen every day. Keep written or printed copies of your reviews, emails, correspondence, and meeting notes. Start a journal to record your noteworthy accomplishments as well as specifics of the dysfunction and the toxicity happening around you. Being able to speak to the work you do and what you have been able to achieve will help you manage what is happening around you. And if you’re ever called upon to recount workplace events in court or to senior management, you’ll be better prepared (and more credible) with notes and documentation.
Formulate an exit strategy
If you’re staying because you love your job but the culture is toxic, it’s never too soon to begin looking for better environments where you can do your best work in peace and truly thrive. When you do leave, whatever the circumstances, look back on it as a learning experience.
Lead from within
If you want to be successful in a toxic culture you have to be determined in your mindset, committed to your character and purposeful about your work. And if you’re still unhappy or unsuccessful, you need to leave.
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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. Now Daskal reveals her proven system, which leaders at any level can apply to dramatically improve their results. It begins with identifying your distinctive leadership archetype and recognizing its shadow:
- The Rebel, driven by confidence, becomes the Imposter, plagued by self-doubt.
- The Explorer, fueled by intuition, becomes the Exploiter, master of manipulation.
- The Truth Teller, who embraces candor, becomes the Deceiver, who creates suspicion.
- The Hero, embodying courage, becomes the Bystander, an outright coward.
- The Inventor, brimming with integrity, becomes the Destroyer, who is morally corrupt.
- The Navigator, trusts and is trusted, becomes the Fixer, endlessly arrogant.
- The Knight, for whom loyalty is everything, becomes the Mercenary, who is perpetually self-serving.