8 CHARACTERISTICS OF A TOXIC CULTURE

Leadership has many responsibilities, and a leader’s response to them determine success for the leader, the team around the leader, and the organization as a whole. One primary responsibility is to set a culture that promotes the intended vision, values, and mission of the organization. Culture plays a major role in the interactions among team leaders, team members, and is a key factor in employee attitude, function, and health.

One of the best books on ‘culture’ is a book from Samuel R. Chand called Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision & Inspiration.  In this book, Dr. Chand discusses different types of culture and their characteristics along with many other amazing insights for today’s leader. It is a must read for leaders of both churches and business organizations; the principles in the book apply to all types of organizations.  Here is a list of 8 characteristics of a Toxic Culture taken from the book:

1/ Leaders create a “closed system,” so any advice and creative ideas from the outside are suspect from the start.

This creates a valueless culture where input from team members is not seen as integral to success. The leader who creates this type of system is insecure and fears motives of individuals around them. Sharing of ideas and feedback creates not instability, but stability in a team which strengthens the organization posturing it for success. Creatively is a shared process and can be beneficial and rewarding when allowed to operate. Closed systems limit the creative process and can create frustration

2/ Individual rights and the dignity of staff members are surrendered to the powerful elite. People are expected to do as they are told – nothing less and nothing else. The organization’s leaders believe they “own” every employee. They have exceptionally high expectations of workers, but they offer them little or no autonomy to make decisions.

Leaders who function in this way value themselves above others in the organization. They don’t serve the team or the organization and expect to be served. They see an employees value based on what they can do for them. Input from the team members is rare with micro-management as the prominent philosophy. A title is important, and power is often exercised. This leader is not afraid to tell you who is the boss.

3/ Fear becomes the dominating motivational factor of the organization and those who choose to stay meekly comply – most of the time. Many, though, are too afraid to leave. They’ve noticed that when people even think about leaving, they’re severely criticized for being “disloyal.”

How would you like to work in constant fear? This type of environment is one of the worst to be a part of. Fear is never alone. When fear is used as motivation, it often is accompanied by insecurity, doubt, and instability.

Intimidation and manipulation are tactics used by leaders who want to get production and efficiency from team members and individuals. A leader who uses fear to their advantage is nothing more than a bully and doesn’t understand the nature of leadership. This type of leadership is also one of the most dangerous. It creates in people authority and self-reflection issues that affect the emotional health of the person.

4/ Turf battles are the accepted sport of the organization, and open warfare becomes normal. Suspicion and resentment poison lines of communication, so even the simplest directive becomes a weapon.

There are certain tensions that should be a part of every organization. It helps team members and leaders grow and interact creating success. However, this is controlled and comes with certain operational considerations and rules. Turf battles will discourage teamwork and collaboration. The success of the individual becomes more important than the success of the organization. Performance is rewarded and never shared. Open warfare creates weak teams and brings animosity among members. Prolonged heightened emotions are never good or healthy but are common in this environment. Communication is minimal. Acceptance of responsibility is celebrated when something good happens, and when something bad happens, it becomes critical and judgmental. Fear of disapproval and job loss result from this type of sport.

5/ Leaders delegate responsibility but fail to give authority to people to fulfill their roles.

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to accomplish something and being met with resistance. When leaders delegate with no authority, resistance is inevitable. People want to do a good job and feel good about what they do when empowered for success. Delegation is never enough and doesn’t mean you trust and individual to succeed. All you do is limit the success of someone based on lack of faith, or worse, fear of losing control or power. As a leader, your leadership is solidified when you can empower others to accomplish their tasks and by removing roadblocks.

6/ Creativity and risk-taking hang long vanished, and in fact, these traits threaten the status of the bosses as the only ones who know anything. In this environment, pathology is reward and health are punished.

Failure is imminent is this type of culture. Without risk, there can be no reward. Safety and complacency are more important. Decision making can be slow and an arduous process. Vision is limited, and the status quo is rewarded. Tradition is more important that new ways of doing things.

7/ Ethical, financial, or sexual lapses may occur, but staff members are expected to turn a blind eye. The leader may constantly look over their shoulders to see if they’ve been caught.

Leaders are above the system and have different expectations for the people who work for them. A leader’s character is not seen as a priority for the leader to develop. Leaders will also isolate themselves and rely on their wisdom, talents, and knowledge. Again, the vision and values of the organization are not seen as a priority.

8/ These organizations run off good people, and they attract only the naïve or truly desperate.

Desperate is not a negative trait. However, desperate with no working knowledge of a critical job can be disastrous. Positions are filled with warm bodies, and not necessarily the best person for the job because that person left. This type of job is not uplifting but is a drain on your energy and strength. The job comes with enough challenges, so why make it worse by creating an environment where people are not valued, expected to be in constant conflict, robotic, no empowerment, and motivated by fear. Good people will stay if they are valued, and their input is accepted.

Toxic leaders produce toxic culture. Toxic cultures don’t become healthy without major change and a major shift in operational principles. This type of culture will cycle through people with no respect for people’s emotional or physical health. People are seen as replaceable and effort to develop them is not important or seen as valuable. The responsibility of professional development is put on the employee and not the leader. Success in this type of environment is difficult.

The key to understanding when it comes to culture is that whatever culture is present within your church or organization, it will at some point filter to your customers or the people attending your church. Organizational cultures are not just limited to operational procedures but permeate everything you do, how you interact with people, and will ultimately determine success or failure.