3… 2… 1… Reboot.

Every device needs to reboot every once in a while in order to install all updates and run smoothly afterwards. Same is true for human beings. Whatever your days are filled with – there need to be times when the routine stops and your body, soul and mind can reboot.

But how does an update for you look like?

Body – Often a change of location will support detaching from the daily hustle. Bringing your body physically to a different place will automatically give you new things to see, different smells to encounter and new sounds to hear. Whether that is the noise of a vibrant city, the calmness of the mountains or the fresh air in a park nearby – your senses will work with something new. Same is true for sporting activities – especially those where you have to learn something new. Get yourself out there!

Soul – Let’s call it “emotions” for simplification. Take some time and check on your emotions. What are you feeling when you are in your daily routine? Do you like what you are feeling? Do you want to continue to feel that way? Take some time to think about these questions and become honest with yourself. Even if you don’t like the “emotion-stuff” – as a human being it is part of who you are. Emotions are an indicator whether you are in a healthy state and whether you need change.

Mind – Everyone knows the moments when thoughts are just running through your mind and you can hardly find peace. The open to dos on the list, that upcoming meeting and the next deal ahead – they all require attention. Your mind is constantly powering. During a reboot find yourself some time to stop that rollercoaster in your head.

Here is an inspiration on how to do that: Start by writing down the most important things that you don’t want to forget. That helps you to get at ease to relax. Those things will not be forgotten – they are safe on a piece of paper. Then start in a meditation session. There are tons of apps out there to help you.

At first it might feel weird to actively go into reboot – especially for soul and mind. But by training relaxation and meditation you will soon feel how much pressure is lifting off – and how much more effective you will be when returning into your daily life.

How aristotle can help with sexual harassment

He lays his hand on her knee. “Well, sweetie, we should work on this together”, he speaks with a broad smile – leaving open whether he is referring to the content on the desktop or the interhuman relationship. She freezes. Unable to move or speak. Her heart is bumping, in her head thousands of thoughts – “Should I speak up?”, “Is this already sexual harassment?”, “Am I too upright?”, “We need to work for at least half a year together…”, “He will rate me at the end of the project…”, “Speak now or never…” … tic toc, the seconds elapse.

What would you do? How do you react when you are witness of such a moment?

Situations like these need one thing for sure: Courage. Courage to make a decision. Courage to speak up. Courage in this sense is not an extreme in which one person leaning. It is not about being an extremist on a scale. It is rather acting based on a virtue.

According to the greek philosophers aligning the daily actions with a set of virtues lead to a fulfilled life – simply set – to happiness. Therefore lets see how ancient philosophy can help us today.

Aristotle describes courage as a balanced state – a “mean” – between two extremes. Courage lies between cowardliness and rashness. A coward will never step up. Fear is holding him so intensely that he is not willing or able to overcome the barrier. Fear of rejection is so powerful that a lot of people never act how they want to. They always assume the worst reaction of their environment – and so they rather stay silent than speaking up. The other extreme are people acting in rashness – without considering consequences. They are not afraid, but overconfidence can lead to unhealthy decisions, too.

Courage is a mean with regard to fear and confidence.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.6

Therefore, courage is action in confidence despite fear. An action that is rooted in a virtue that drives behaviour. Courageous people know that feeling of fear. That bumping of the heart. That moment when you know that it is up to you to make that decision. Mixed in that emotion is a deep confidence that for some reason it is the right thing to do. And right there it is – courage!

Coming back to the hand-on-the-knee-story. As you have guessed correctly – it is a real story. What happened back then?

She actively takes the hand of him off her knee telling him clearly: Never put your hand on this spot again! She sets a healthy boundary. They still can work together. But touching the other person is out of line.

Small stuff matters

“Unconditional kindness is the glue that sticks your team together.” If you react with cynicism towards this statement, you might be in the middle of a toxic environment.

Do you know the good feeling when someone does something nice to you that you didn’t expect? The free coffee sponsored by a colleague or that heartwarming compliment given by the cashier!?

As human beings we are wired to feel loved and valued when we receive unconditional and unexpected help. We are more open to bond with someone that has seen a need or wish of us and responded unasked. And that human glue strengthens our teams at work and intensifies the joy of working together.

Knowing this principle we are capable of forming our own comforting environment by investing into our fellow human beings. Their emotional-well-being will increase. And with them feeling better the overall atmosphere will turn positive.

Let me give you some examples of what you can do:

Offer a hand or a ride

Recently, I met some clients in a remote area in the suburbs of my hometown. By the end of the meeting some participants needed to go to the headquarter that is 20 min away by bus. Since I had my car with me I offered them a ride – although I just had met them for the first time. We had a really good talk, I got to know whom they meet next and it was a valuable exchange for both sides.

Sponsor that coffee

I love coffee. And having a deep conversation with a tasty cup of coffee makes my day. I assume that others around me are quite similar. Therefore I never hesitate to invite people for coffee. Usually that behavior is mirrored back at me quite often – so I also get invited for a coffee a lot. Just last week one of my team members smiled at me and said: today’s coffee is on me. What happened with me? A huge smiling “free coffees are the best”. That relationship grew that day. It was a great investment into the team glue.

Thank everyone

Make it a habit to thank people – even for little things like holding the door for you or taking your cup to the cleaning counter. Even if that means a short interruption in the conversation. Your spoken “thank you” signals the other person that you noticed and that you care for what they just did. It is a very small thing – but each time you add some glue to your relationship. Same is true for emails – you are probably never too busy to respond with a short “thx”.

Appreciate people

Especially when you are a team lead make sure to appreciate your people on a regular basis. Despite the cleverness of your team mates, it never gets old to hear a “well done”, “I appreciate your time invest” or “thanks for giving your creativity to the company”. For sure you must ensure to be precise in your appreciation and specify what you mean. Just handing out “appreciated” as a standard answer won’t do the trick.

Personally, I like to write an email or handwritten note to my team members in order to appreciate their investment into the company and our team. It takes some time to think of specific situations and the strengths of each one displayed but the result that I am seeing in my team is worth the invest.

Is there a downside?

Yes. Sadly there is. Since these actions work more or less independent from the intention behind it, a lot of managers have used them as “leadership tools” to grow their own career instead of relationships around them. For a while that works well. Until people realize that they are being manipulated. And then they close down emotionally. Instead of feeling joy when getting a compliment, they react with disbelief and cynicism.

In turn, when these people become leaders themselves they are not capable to do “the small stuff” because they believe that everything in this area is manipulation. Consequently a culture evolves in which people don’t lend a hand, you won’t hear a “Thank you” or get true appreciation.

So, what do you believe: Does small stuff matter?

Toxic! I hate working for you!

Toxic working environment evolve slowly. Weak, self-centered leaders lay the foundation and from there it only takes a few years until people are running away and the P&L is impacted. Check on yourself if you are in the middle of it.

Do you know that boss who never wants to hear your ideas? Do you remember that colleague that doesn’t share all information but rather wants to get ahead alone? What about that team lead that mainly leads by cynicism?

How do you feel when you are around those people?

People do not quit on jobs, they quit on toxic work cultures.

When you don’t like to work for your leaders anymore chances are high that there is an aspect of a toxic work environment involved. Meaning: over time an atmosphere evolved in which people don’t feel valued, welcomed or important. In a more extreme way people would also feel bullied and mistreated. In consequence, they will lose engagement and eventually leave the company. Unluckily, the toxic air creates such a distrust that leavers will not tell you the truth for their exit.

Let’s examine this topic a bit further. How does “toxic” look like? How has it been created?

Your feedback is not welcome

Honestly, no one would really give that statement in a company’s brochure. Not even in the worst of all companies. Yet, people might fear to express what they really think. They might have expressed their ideas in the past but learned by the reaction of their superiors that their ideas are not welcome.

How would you know whether that might be true in your working environment? Check on your own vocabulary whether you have ever used the following sentences: “We already considered that aspect. It never worked in the past.” “Why are you even bothering!? ” “It’s none of your business.” “Don’t you have more important stuff to do?” “Get into my age … then you will see the matter differently.” “Why are you asking this question?”

Even if you think, you have every right to react that way, you must be aware that the underlying message is: your feedback/question is not welcome. And your staff will learn. Quickly.

In addition, if you never hear feedback or troubling questions from your staff, you might be in the middle of a toxic environment. Your staff already is silent. Ouch! Too honest? Too bold?

I am convinced, if your staff consists of young professionals with an academic degree, you should hear questions, opinions and feedback all the time. This is the environment where they are coming from. It’s their natural behavior within university. And if they turn silent in your team and projects, you are in trouble!

Be honest to yourself: Do you still discuss with your young teammates or are they already silent?

To backbite somebody is the primary conflict solution

How are conflicts addressed in your team/company? How often do you go to someone and give direct feedback? It is so much easier to talk about people instead of addressing them directly, right?

And yet, if we as team heads model such behaviour, the team will automatically copy it. In the beginning it might be unimportant topics like someone’s vacation destination or project situation. But quite quickly information regarding failure, bad behaviour or even sicknesses join the conversation. And soon it isn’t only about the share of information but also the expression of opinions. Judgement joins the talk – and soon everyone in the room knows that no one is safe of bad talk behind their backs.

And at that point the atmosphere is toxic. If your teammates don’t feel safe, they will start to protect themselves – by sharing less of themselves. And of what they know. Which leads to the next major aspect of a toxic working environment.

Don’t share your information

Information is like love and laughter – if you share it, everyone has more. Imagine, you share an idea and someone in the group adds a certain aspect and all of a sudden your team develops a new product or service. Only because you add all the puzzle pieces in your heads. Amazing!

At the same time sharing information makes you vulnerable. People might oppose your shared knowledge – or even judge you for sharing that piece of information. Others might use the information to get ahead of you – or even against you.

Depending on the environment you are in, you will feel free and happy to share your information or you will hide and hold onto your piece of knowledge as long as possible.

Unluckily, if you are already in a toxic environment, ‘information hiding’ will be totally natural for you. You will read books and articles of company’s success factors and the key role of sharing information – but you cannot even think of how this could be done in your working environment. You might even think that you are sharing information – considering the 5% given in the last team meeting. But you think everyone who is promoting total transparency must be a total fool.

Considering the environment you are in: you are right. You are doing everything to survive. And you do it well. Congrats. But look around you: your team isn’t growing. In your team meetings is no laughter.

So What!?

You might think “So what!?” – even if I am working in the a similar culture as described… I work in it every day. It pays my bills. I get along. Why even bother!?

The downside of a toxic working environment is that the poison never stops spreading. You probably start with a slightly bad atmosphere but without an antidote it will progress and influence your team and company. Over time you will see the effects in your attrition rate, then in your online reviews as an employer and at it worst it will be played back by your customers. And then it has true impact on your P&L.

If your teammates don’t trust each other, don’t even like each other, you will have weak customer interaction. The client will realize quickly whether your staff values one another. And why should the customer buy from you, if you wouldn’t even buy from yourself!?

What is the antidote?

Truth is: You cannot change people around you, you can only change yourselves.

So let me ask you this: Would you like to work for yourself?

Take your time. And think.

Reflect.

[these questions might support the reflection: Do you think that you promote an atmosphere of trust and respect? What behaviour of teammates let you believe that your answer is correct? What evidence do you have that you create a working environment in which your team thrives?]

I am convinced: You are the antidote. You can be the leader that creates that working environment people want to work in. But it needs your boldness to check on the status quo and the willingness to change if you see behaviour in yourself that is creating a toxic environment. As much as you are the solution – if your team/company is struggling, you also might be the problem.

UNFAIR!

Unfair, screams the heart! Move on, says the head! Leave resentment behind and use your energy in a more productive way.

Last day before bank holiday. Everything needs to be set until end of business. One call rushes the next, stress increases, words get louder. Not only is everyone looking forward to the offsite but also everyone is stressed out from not having had a few days off for months. In this heated environment it happens – my boss treats me unfair. Having invested night after night into a presentation, some questions are still unanswered – rightly so. Now, all of this seems to be my fault. Uff. Unfair.

Do you know these situations? You worked your a** off but all the work is not being recognized? You invested time, heart and brain to reach the 95% – and damn are they good! – but the feedback focuses the 5% that could be enhanced? What do you do?

Just recently I read a book on leadership and how a leader should position herself in order to forster each team member. In this context the author Simon Sinek is changing the perspective to an interesting angle. Leaders are human beings, too. They react under pressure pretty much the same like everyone else.

So when our boss comes down hard on us and we don’t know the reason, it is equally our responsibility to express concern for their well-being.

Simon Sinek, LEADERS EAT LAST

I highly favour the emphasize of responsibility in this perspective. Instead of complaining to be treated unfairly changing the perception by considering the situation in which my boss is stuck. This requires and trains real leadership skills in you! Complaining is easy. You don’t even need a degree to tell everyone how unfair you have been treated. But to decide to leave your hurt, puts your ego aside – and that requires strength.

So what did I do in the mentioned situation?

I would lie if I tell you, I wasn’t mad. As you can read, the situation made it into an article. Nevertheless, considering the overall situation with tons of calls, stress and tight timelines I asked myself if my boss is a great boss in general – and yes he is! And he is a human being who gets stressed out, too. And that is fine. In addition, he was right – there were open points to be clarified. So we got back to business, found solutions and turned in the result by end of business – without wasting any minute on discussing fairness-issues.

Which situation of unfairness is still in your mind?

Let me guess: these situations of unfairness cost you way more energy in rethinking them than it adds value to your life, right? And if you don’t see this aspect, ask your spouse or colleagues whether they want to hear that old unfairness story again. They might not.

It is about time for you to leave the resentment behind. Find an explanation why someone has been unfair to you if you need to. Forgive what happened.

And move on.