3 Signs Your Senior Employees Are Creating a Toxic Company Culture

Mad boss


Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas866
July 21, 2024 at 8:19AM UTC

Employees in senior-level positions within a company have a proven influence over employees below them. They are viewed a company's role models and leaders. They are looked to for answers on how to act in and outside of work.

Author, TED-talker, and Navalent co-founder Ron Carucci has worked with CEOs and leadership teams for over 30 years, helping implement necessary change and improve company efficiency. He has a theory on how company cultures thrive – or fail. And it all starts with senior employees.

“At their best, leadership teams synchronize their organizations into cohesive powerhouses,” Carucci wrote for Harvard Business Review. “At their worst, they set an example that some of the worst habits will be tolerated — and perhaps even rewarded.”

Carucci outlined his best advice for combating the three negative habits of senior employees that cause company cultures to crumble. 

1. They Have Scattered Priorities

Effective leadership teams have clearly defined characters. They narrowly focus on the most strategic priorities and don’t detour from them,” Carucci wrote. “They stick to well-articulated decision-making processes. And they intentionally transfer their disciplined focus down through the organization.”

One of the biggest mistakes senior leadership can make is neglecting to maximize the efficiency of meetings. They carelessly create agendas, and they allow conversations to drift off topic. Team members leave meetings having not addressed what they came to accomplish.

“The implications for an organization whose leadership team is poorly focused are serious: Wasted resources, wasted effort, and widespread confusion become the norm,” Carucci wrote.

2. They Have Unhealthy Rivalries

“Leadership teams must operate as a unified force,” Carucci advised, adding, “Shared goals must be accompanied by shared accountability.”

Unhealthy competition can cause an issue of trust within the company. Employees will begin to question the motives of team members and leaders. They will blame others if something goes awry, refusing to take accountability. And making team decisions will become virtually impossible. While rivalries are common, they can sometimes be taken too far.

“Rivalry should be saved for external competition.”

3. They Have Unproductive Conflicts

Mishandled conflict at the top of a company leads to mishandled conflict at every other level. Conflict can mean anything from simple badmouthing to unethical decision making to a lack of simple honesty.

Carucci believes companies should create their own written rules for handling conflicts.

“Leadership teams should have written norms that they won’t engage in these behaviors, and they should share those norms with the rest of the organization, asking others to hold them accountable,” he said. “I’ve seen the best leadership teams handcraft these behavioral norms themselves, publish them to the rest of the organization, and regularly assess performance against them.”

Carucci believes if employees know the company is paying attention, they are less likely to engage in behaviors that go against protocol. And he stresses the importance of serving on a leadership team, even referring to it as a privilege.

“And along with that privilege comes a responsibility to behave in ways you would be proud to have the rest of the organization emulate.”

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