I once failed to live out promise # 6 of a leader. I will provide a healthy work environment. I deeply regret it ever happened, yet I learned some valuable lessons.

I don’t believe a leader wakes up and says, “I’m going to create an unhealthy work environment for my team.” Usually it’s the result of 1) an unhealthy leader who doesn’t know how to treat people well or 2), it creeps up unexpectedly, usually because of misplaced trust. My story is the latter.

Cindy was unbelievably talented, and we connected instantly in our first interview. Things went well for several years, during which she had many successes. I trusted her and she always delivered. In the fourth year we began a project she was responsible for, one that put her in the spotlight and there was significant pressure. During the year, I noticed more people from her team leaving, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Whenever I asked, there was always a good reason, or so it seemed. I regularly met with anyone who had resigned to learn what I could as I wanted to be open to hearing about problems and about people. No one ever said she was a problem, yet I sensed tension.

Lesson # 1 – when you sense something might not be right, don’t ignore your senses.

It all came crashing down when a member of her team spoke to someone outside of our division about her and what was happening. When I heard about it, I met with them and asked why they didn’t talk with me. The response was that since Cindy always talked about her good relationship with me, no one felt they could speak with me. So, they kept quiet and suffered.

Lesson # 2 – make certain your team knows they can speak with you about anything, that you are willing to hear bad news.

As I began speaking to others, I learned things I wished I had realized. Sadly, Cindy was toxic and could be abusive to her team, not something I believed was appropriate. She set unrealistic deadlines, was harsh and critical, often acting like a bully. I learned it even happened with vendors we worked with. My trust was misplaced.

Lesson # 3 – trust but find ways to verify you can continue to trust.

Cindy left the organization and I believe we successfully repaired relationships with my team. There was a significant cost paid by them, and by me, for allowing it to happen.

Lesson # 4 – admit when you were wrong.

A healthy work environment is critical if you care about your team and want them to flourish. The environment they work in is like the soil of a garden. If you have unhealthy soil, nothing will grow the way it should. Team members won’t thrive if they are constantly living in fear of how they will be treated by a leader, or even a team member.

Too often we experience an unhealthy environment, or an unhealthy leader and think that’s the way it should be. It’s not. God wants the best for us, so reject it.

As a leader, make certain you provide a healthy environment.

Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.  Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night. They are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up. They succeed in everything they do. Psalm 1:1-3

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