A Look in the Mirror

The last post identified the cost of having a toxic workplace. Leaders who think they might have a difficult or toxic workplace can refer to expert Christine Porath, author of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It. Porath suggests that leaders look to themselves first.

This approach intuitively makes sense, yet without a bit more it is hard to know what to do.

Porath writes:

Begin by evaluating your own actions.

She goes on to list five questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I behave respectfully to all employees?
  2. Do I treat individuals on whom I rely, or who can do good things for me, better than others? 
  3. Do I keep a steady temper regardless of the pressures I’m facing?
  4. Do I take out my frustrations on employees who have less power than I do?
  5. Do I assume that I am omnipotent?

The key to looking in the mirror is to check the image a person sees. We have blind spots about our own behavior. Sources for feedback include peers, and asking for feedback from direct reports. When asking for feedback, you as the leader need to be willing to acknowledge the response. Always thank people for feedback and explain that you would like time to think about how to incorporate the feedback into your work. Once you have applied the feedback you can check back again. This provides an excellent model for candor and civility.

A good resource for the this process is Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  When we work with organizational leaders it is a book and a process that we utilize to support leadership development.


Graphic of CultivateSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We cultivate conversations about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.




The Cost of Bad Behavior at Work

The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, by Chirstine Pearson and Christine Porath was published in 2009.  The book details results of research from Pearson and Porath in their work with business leaders. Since 2009 the number of people that report rudeness at work has risen. In a recent article by business journalist Anna Robaton, she writes that Porath acknowledges 62% of workers in 2016 report that they experience rudeness at least once a month. That is up from the 48% mentioned at the time the book was written.

It is easy to blame others for incivility but that is like blaming someone who has a cold. There is an underlying reason for rudeness and it is easy to pass rudeness on to others. An analogy is like a cold, our immune system is compromised when we experience rudeness. We are more easily bothered by rude behavior when we are under stress.

Leaders in organizations can apply the top ten suggestions offered in Chapter 13 to create a civil workplace.

  1. Set Zero-Tolerance Expectations
  2. Look in the Mirror
  3. Weed out Trouble Before it Enters the Organization
  4. Teach Civility
  5. Train Employees and Managers how to Recognize and Respond to Signals
  6. Put Your Ear to the Ground and Listen Carefully
  7. When Incivility Occurs, Hammer It
  8. Take Complaints Seriously
  9. Don’t Make Excuses for Powerful Instigators
  10. Invest In Post Departure Interviews

These ten steps are not easy. They require constant vigilance.

A case study presented in Chapter 3 outlines the cost in terms of lost productivity, employee turnover, cost of managing incivility by the human resource department and absenteeism. For a healthcare organization with  annual gross income of $999,856,000 they calculated the cost of incivility in estimated loss to be $70,911,390.

The worksheets presented in the book show leaders that there are dollars to be captured by putting together a focused effort to increase civility. This book is extremely helpful to those who want to present a business case for applying the 10 suggestions.

Gather Tips and ToolsThe Wallace Centers of Iowa provides tips and tools for leading with civility in the workplace.



Leading with Wisdom – Book Review

Jann Freed, a leadership speaker at our recent Women and Leadership Lunch, is the author of Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts. Dr. Freed interviewed over 100 leadership experts, also referred to as sages, and distilled their advice into the following eight leadership practices. She writes that leaders:wisdom

Know who they are

The bottom line is that it’s hard to be an inspiring leader and breathe life into people if you are not clear on your own purpose, vision, mission, and values.

Don’t let ego win

Leaders don’t arrive at being the perfect leader — or even person for that matter. As leaders, if we discover our strengths, are aware of our dark side (and we each have one), and consistently think about the legacy we are leaving with our decisions and behaviors, then we should be creating an environment where people want to work.

Here is a chart from this chapter that reminds us about a healthy ego, the one we typically don’t think about but worth analyzing when we strive to overcome the dark side of our ego:

Healthy Ego Neurotic Ego
Observes Denies or dissects
Assesses Judges and blames
Learns from mistakes Repeats old mistakes
Lives in the present Lives in the past or the future
Is free from compulsions Is compulsive and obsessive

Connect with empathy and compassion

While it sounds trite, it’s true, ‘the only constant is change’ — and change is accelerating daily.

Because of this nature of change, leaders find themselves in situations where people fear change or grieve what has already changed. Recognizing that communicating with those in the process of change is needed. There are exercise at the end of this chapter that help people come to terms with their own fear of death so they can truly find compassion and empathy.

Admit mistakes fearlessly-

Leaders face times when they must admit to not knowing the answers. Admitting this and seeking others’ input requires humility, and it’s an important milestone in a leaders development. In fact, I think one of the greatest strengths of a leader is to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness if someone has been hurt unnecessarily.

Freed continues:

When I asked the sages how to best prepare leaders in these uncertain times, a strong theme in the responses was learning to forgive ourselves as a pathway to greater empathy and compassion. Without an example of forgiveness from the top, workplaces become toxic as grudges, resentment, anger, and bitterness trickle down and snuff out positive emotions in the workplace.

Embrace Community-

The word community highlights its meaning of being one in unity. Effective leaders think of those in their organization or department or team as a family or group holding onto the same rope. When someone pulls on the rope, all people holding on are affected.

This chapter includes exercises for building community such as asking questions to get people to know one another better or meeting with people one at a time.

Leaders Model Resilience-

One of the characteristics of sages is staying power. A sage has endured obstacles and recognizes the importance of coping mechanisms and ways of being resilient.

When Dr. Freed probed the sages for how to model resilience and five suggestions emerged:

  • Go on a retreat
  • Get creative
  • Keep learning
  • Celebrate small wins
  • Develop a practice

The chapter lists some specific details like books to read, a list called the “Stop-Doing List,” and seeking out a role model to keep learning.

Leaders Create Healthy Work Environments-

There are three important activities for promoting a positive climate among employees—compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. Kim Cameron, author of Positive Leadership reported research that ‘companies that scored higher on these activities were found to have performed significantly better than others in a study across 16 different industry groups.

Suggestions for healthy work environments include reviewing the way rewards are aligned with the intentions of the company. For example if the company wants to have long-term growth but rewards for quarterly earnings there is a mismatch.  Another suggestion from this chapter includes embracing the power of storytelling to build a culture of community.

Live their Legacy-

As leaders, whether you realize it or not, you are leaving a legacy with every decision or action you take.

Storytelling shows up in this chapter too as a way for leaders to connect actions to purpose.

As you can see by reading quotes from each chapter, this book is loaded with wisdom. We hope you’ll take time to read the book for yourself.

Graphic of CultivateSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We cultivate conversations about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.