Leaders don’t always get it right. In fact, sometimes they get it all wrong. In his Harvard Business Review Article Three Ways Senior Leaders Create at Toxic Culture, Ron Carucci cites from his own observations ways in which leaders undermine organizational success. As change practitioners, we know that the challenges he describes often become even more visible, and problematic, during periods of uncertainty.

  • Scattered Priorities: Carucci cites an RHR International study finding that “among high-performing leadership teams, 93% are able to prioritize the most important issues and 96% focus on the right issues. By contrast, in low-performing leadership teams, only 62% prioritize well and 53% are seen as being focused on the right issues.” Very simply, when leaders are not aligned on priorities, neither are others. People focus on what they believe, or want the priorities to be. They, rather than leadership, decides where their energy is invested.
  • Unhealthy Rivalries: Big change brings changes in leadership influence. Unhealthy rivalries become more unhealthy. The competitiveness that may have been healthy in the past can become unhealthy as leaders vie for power.
  • Unproductive Conflict: “The RHR study showed that 87% of high-performing leadership teams handled conflict effectively and were transparent and open with information, and 82% exchanged constructive feedback with each other. Only 44% of low-performing leadership teams handled conflict effectively and 52% exchanged feedback and were transparent with information. The difference in performance is profound: Among the high-performing teams, employee engagement averaged 87%, while among lower-performing teams it dropped to 45%.”

In your role as a change practitioner you are a trained observer. You see each of these toxic behaviors in real time. The challenge is, what do you do about it? You cannot fix it. You cannot work around it. Which means you avoid it, and contribute to the likelihood of change failure. Or, you raise the alarm with the initiating sponsor, or with a change team member who can do so. Only in calling out toxic behavior to those who can manage it are you fully meeting your responsibility to support change success.

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