Dealing with ‘toxicity’ part 2: ‘transforming’ people at the beginning of their careers

Dealing with ‘toxicity’ part 2: ‘transforming’ people at the beginning of their careers

Have you ever employed someone who came with good references, sometimes from people you thought you could trust, only to discover that their behaviour in your workplace contradicted what you were told about them? In this article, leadership coach, CEO, and psychologist Greg Aldridge looks at the benefit of being committed to personal growth and how this can be used as a pathway to support staff members to grow through their ‘worst behaviours’ and build healthy, positive relationships.


Nov 06, 2022

5 mins read

In part 1, Dealing with ‘toxicity’: training effective managers for the future, I started speculating about where ’toxic bosses’ come from. Many likely began their careers with the same personal characteristics and were met by managers and supervisors who lacked the skill, confidence or care needed to deal effectively with negative behaviour in the workplace. This raises the question: what if we ‘transformed’ people at the beginning of their careers? Imagine if leaders were committed to their own personal growth. How beneficial would that be to supporting their team members from the get-go?

Ineffective behaviour results from ineffective responses

Employers and managers who consistently avoid acknowledging how breakdowns at work point directly to their own personal development needs – for example, by blaming others – don’t have many effective options for building a harmonious and productive workplace. They often end up with a ‘fair-weather team’, where things look okay on the surface and people appear to work together, but this only lasts until someone starts behaving in a way that is detrimental to the team. As people avoid communicating with their colleagues about their behaviour, they leave it to the boss, manager, or team leader, who is already known for ineffective management of these incidents.

The longer the employee experiences ineffective responses to their behaviour – which usually involves blaming someone else – the more entrenched these behaviours and supporting beliefs become. At some point, the employee may decide to look for a job elsewhere, allowing the employer to referee them out. They agree to provide a reference but deliberately say nothing about any aspect of the person’s behaviour or work performance that might prevent them from being offered the job. Suppose the next employer also lacks the necessary knowledge and skills to support staff when the problem behaviour re-establishes itself. In that case, the chances are that the employee will seek an escape from this unsatisfying employer too, who will subsequently referee them out, just as the previous employer did. When each new job is at a higher level than the last one, this is the evolutionary pathway of the ‘toxic boss’.

Commit to growth

Not long ago, after a few noteworthy experiences, I committed never to be one of those referees. Through this commitment, I suddenly felt the ownership of every ‘worst behaviour’ employee – the one or two already on the team and the ones that would inevitably come. The person, their behaviour and its impact on other people, and the personal history they brought to work all became mine to deal with. My challenge was to support them to grow through the way they relate to themselves and the people around them and become highly adept at the art of successful performance management.

I realised that the way to begin was to start on day one. Every employee, particularly those new to the community services sector, needs to be given tools and opportunities for personal growth on the job, regardless of whether they are aiming for leadership roles or want to focus on supporting clients. 

Focusing on personal growth has a two-fold effect:

  • Employees are supported in building a strong foundation.

A strong foundation enables employees to develop as team members and practitioners, contributing to their alignment with the organisation’s mission through shared values and purpose. 

  • ‘Critique discussions’ are made easier.

Having ‘critique discussions’ in the service of growth and development is far more effective than having ‘criticism conversations’ that shift the focus away from leadership’s responsibility for breakdowns and underperformance. We can then trust that people are being authentic when they say they have our backs.

Imagine what the world would be like if every employer focused on delivering the training, guidance and mentoring needed to support an employee and being a great boss from the very beginning of their employment, instead of allowing them to stagnate and become the ‘toxic’ variety through mismanagement and neglect. If we all authentically supported and trained managers, team leaders and team members to grow through the attitudes, behaviours and feelings that drive ‘worst behaviours’ instead, healthy growth, personal development and effective behaviour would be a natural outcome.

Finding value in transformational leadership

From time to time, I hear a question in my mind: why should our organisation invest so heavily in the support and development of employees who may one day leave us for work somewhere else? But this is just a smaller scope within a larger question: what’s the impact of having the whole workforce transformed? And the answer to this question is:

  • lower turnover,

  • an elevation of effectiveness in work performance,

  • increased personal aspirations to develop excellence in practice,

  • support for other staff,

  • higher levels of trust, ownership and accountability, and

  • effective communication, engagement and ambassadorship. 

If some staff leave now and then, the impact would be manageable because their colleagues are willing and able to provide the leadership and commitment needed to maintain the quality of service.   

Imagine if every workplace committed to delivering a culture of fostering personal growth and development for all of its staff, not only for the organisation itself but for the organisations where its staff may work in the future. When staff who have taken personal responsibility and grown as human beings leave, they take their transformed selves, with expanded capacities, understandings, expectations and stories, to their new colleagues and workplaces. Through their development as leaders and team members, they positively influence their new workplace cultures and those who work within them.

As community services organisations, we want to train our people to be outstanding at their jobs, but we also know that some will want to move on eventually. And most of us feel uncomfortable seeing our competitors (yes, that’s who other community service organisations often are) benefit from the technical knowledge and people skills employees have learned from us. However, if we knew that we could hire new staff for our next vacancy who had already learned to work through their ‘worst behaviours’ and support others to grow and develop as human beings so that they could have effective relationships with the people on their teams, would we still feel the same?

Where to start?

One way that supports me in accomplishing the above is to engage with other organisations about our success. This success is driven by coaching and related workplace culture development programs based on the Being Framework™ and organising shared training, cross-agency coaching and communities of practice involving management teams and front-line practitioners. I find that this approach works for me, but if you struggle to find a starting point to effect a positive transformation in your organisation, please reach out. Together we can bring about change and support your staff on their journey of personal growth, ideally from the beginning of their careers.

BusinessTechLeadershipPersonal GrowthHigh Performance Culture

Greg Aldridge
Greg Aldridge

About The Author

Greg is CEO of EveryMan Australia, a leader coach and psychologist with 44 years of community services sector experience in the front line and in organisational leadership. Specialising in programs delivering case management, counselling and family therapy for men (and other people) living with high and complex needs - mental health, disability, domestic and family violence, child abuse and neglect, brain injury, alcohol and other drugs. Greg understands the challenges organisations working with complex needs populations face, and how the contribution that empowered and effective front line leaders could make is often underused because workforce development gets focussed on client support, leaving personal growth to chance. Greg knows the value of aligning practices like coaching and team cultural development for transformational change, using the Engenesis Thrive Coach Training and Being Profile ® to powerfully engage staff in building self-awareness as a foundation for driving their own personal growth and effectiveness.

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