I know I write a lot of blogs that mention Julian Stodd and his work, but very often what he is working on gets me thinking enough that I have to do what I think of as “writing through” it. I try to get down on paper what I’m thinking before I lose that particular train of thought. Fair warning: today’s blog is no different.
In Julian’s blog on November 21, he talks about shifts in power. This sentence really caught my attention.
Historically, organisations managed change through restructuring, with a recognition that some good people will leave early, but the baseline assumption was that the community was there to be reshaped as desired: fear of redundancy or rejection kept people glued into the system.
The word that stood out for me was “fear,” and I started thinking about what drives us. Wherever we are in our employment situations, it’s important for us to think about why we’re staying where we are.Even if we really enjoy what we do, it’s healthy to ask ourselves this question now and then. Why? Because if we stay where we are out of fear, we should probably reevaluate our position.
Merriam-Webster online defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” A culture that is based on fear produces an environment is toxic, and while those who foster that culture most likely do so with what they believe to be altruistic motives it’s up to us to challenge that belief. Anything other than questioning such a culture is irresponsible.
Sometimes that challenge is more overt than others. Sometimes, we have to ask outright why leadership (and I use that term with some trepedation in this context) feels the need to use fear to keep employees in place. This can become a circular argument, however, because approaching leadership and challenging them on an established pattern of behavior can put an employee at risk of losing the confidence of his or her superiors at best and losing their job at worst.
A less risky approach is a series of small disruptions, effected at the level of influence of the employee. Social leadership plays a crucial role in challenging a culture of fear in an organization by enabling smaller teams, or tribes, to develop trust. Once trust is established, these tribes can become adept at disrupting the status quo.
The bottom line is that employees should recognize when they are working in a toxic environment, and find ways to develop trust within their own teams in order to effect change from within the organization.