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What if you are leading in a toxic environment?

I recently received an email from an ex-military colleague. He was expressing his frustration with some aspects of leading in a corporate environment; poor culture, inadequate support and a focus on profit over purpose.

It's true that leading in the military had definite advantages. We were generally well resourced, and if you were lucky enough to be serving in a top tier unit, the people around you were all super focused and motivated.

The reality of the corporate world is that motivated leaders will often find their optimism crushed. Well intended plans to improve the organisation will frequently be rejected by managers exercising tight control over their own budgets, knowing their performance is largely judged on fiscal metrics.

What to do about this?

To help us navigate an imperfect world as individuals, Marcus Aurelius would offer the following guidance: “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength". I think this stoic axiom can also be of use in guiding us as leaders of groups.

We have very little control over circumstances outside our team, no matter how big or small. But, within that team environment, we own EVERYTHING. We have immense power and influence over the wellbeing of our team members, far above what would first be apparent looking at the corporate wire diagram or at our job statement. Our leadership directly affects the wellbeing of our staff, and will influence their home lives too. Sometimes we forget that this is our real power as leaders.

So, there is no easy solution to changing a large, dysfunctional organisation. That job belongs to the one at the top of the tree. We can remember that the stoics ask us to look inwards, to focus on only that in our control which for us, as leaders, is our own team environment.

As leaders, we have a powerful impact on our staff's wellbeing. By aiming to be exceptional leaders, we can ensure our impact is positive.

I can't think of a higher purpose for 'work'.

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