How Leadership Influences Workplace Culture

Leadership can determine the success or failure of an organization. Anyone who has worked in any kind of organization has stories of good and bad leaders, and how those managers affected the morale, engagement, and productivity of the workplace environment.

Why is leadership style so important? Leadership sets the tone or the culture of the organization and is the difference between a happy, positive, sustainable workforce and one with miserable employees who fear making mistakes — and who may be secretly looking for an opportunity to leave the organization. Employees who are passionate about their jobs and enjoy the contributions they make will be more productive and innovative, leading to better profitability. Isn’t this the goal of every organization?

6 Ways to Promote a Positive Work Culture

There are many strategies that leaders can implement to promote a positive culture in the workplace.

  1. Avoid micromanaging. Leaders who micromanage might think they are motivating their employees by telling them what to do at every step of the task, yet it actually has the opposite effect of demotivating them. Leaders who support their staff but let them use their skills to do their jobs in the way they feel best are most effective.
  2. Involve workers in decisions. Employees who are involved in coming up with a solution for a workplace challenge will be more likely to buy into the solution and make it successful. This can be done informally with impromptu conversations, in large meetings, or by email survey.
  3. Lead from within the team. Working alongside the staff to accomplish goals establishes mutual respect so that when challenges arise, employees will be more willing to put in extra time and effort to see the project through.
  4. Use positive reinforcement. Studies of workers have shown that overall positive reinforcement is more effective at getting desired behavior, increasing productivity, and improving morale. Be aware that employees may respond to positive reinforcement motivators, like monetary or intrinsic rewards, differently.
  5. Foster a cooperative family environment. A family environment creates a more cooperative team atmosphere. When employees see each other as human beings and not competitors, they are more willing to protect and help each other.
  6. Focus on solutions, not problems. Leaders who assign blame fail to realize that it is demoralizing and unproductive. Effective leaders who care about the culture in their organization will aim to find solutions to problems instead of assigning blame. Understanding that mistakes are a part of being human fosters a culture where employees feel free to be creative and take risks without fear if something goes wrong.

How to Identify a Toxic Work Culture

How can leadership know if they are fostering a positive culture or have created a toxic, unproductive environment? Below are some symptoms of a toxic workplace:

Poor morale. The environment feels heavy and dark; few people smile or make light jokes and conversation. Employees watch the clock and leave the minute their shift ends.

Fear. Employees are afraid to make mistakes or afraid to speak up. Fear is a tell-tale sign of toxicity in the workplace.

Secrets. In toxic environments people keep secrets, and in a toxic workplace, the grapevine becomes the major source of communication.

High rate of turnover. The old adage is that “People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses.” Anyone who has worked for a bad boss knows they can affect a worker’s satisfaction with their job.

Bullying. Bullying involves abusive behavior and an imbalance of power. If the term “bullying” has been vocalized in the organization, it’s likely taking place.

Assessing One’s Effectiveness as a Manager

As a manager, it may be hard to self-assess how effective one’s management style is. There are a few simple tools that can help determine the sentiment among employees at an organization.

Suggestion box. Either a virtual or an actual box, if truly anonymous, is an effective tool for garnering honest and candid feedback. An actual suggestion box may be more effective if fear of retribution is prevalent, as employees may be afraid that their feedback can be traced back to them in an online form.

Surveys. A good time to survey how employees are feeling about the culture could be whenever new staff is hired or when someone leaves the organization. Additionally, a workplace culture survey provides a snapshot of what employees are feeling in the moment.

What Should Management Do to Repair a Toxic Work Environment?

A toxic work environment can, with effort and awareness, be turned into a positive culture. Here are steps to take to right the ship:

First, leadership must acknowledge that a problem exists and admit what is wrong. This makes employees instantly feel that they’ve been heard. It’s the first step toward healing the culture.

Second, the organization should bring in help from the outside. In a toxic culture, employees probably won’t trust the human resources department, let alone the leaders of the company. A trusted outside source to assess the issues, facilitate change, and coach managers is the quickest way to instituting necessary change.

Third, leaders must implement new policies and procedures. The leadership must be forthcoming about the plan, continuously reinforce the goals and objectives of the organization, and hold everyone accountable.

Fourth, leaders must be transparent and eliminate any secrecy to reestablish trust. For example, the turnaround plan should be posted where everyone has access. Leaders should emphasize the use of agendas and distribute them before meetings. Employee recognition programs should be created, and managers should openly reward good behavior.

Next Steps

The success of your business and your team depends on your leadership. But often it’s challenging for management to be self-aware enough to ensure they are fostering a positive work culture. KnowledgeCity provides a course called “Learning to Lead” to help leaders learn the skills that are essential to increasing the efficiency of their employees and fostering a culture that promotes the vision of the organization.

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