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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Who’s responsible for work culture toxicity? 4 things leaders must do

I was at an industry conference recently when I heard the strangest thing. [Read on or watch the video.] It was at a session on the financial indicators organisational leaders pay attention to: "EBITDA, PEM, organic revenue growth and shareholder value" The speaker was clearly informed as a very experienced management consultant who had the ear of half of the FTSE 100 CEOs. Someone in the audience (not me) asked why leaders didn’t pay more attention to workforce wellbeing (over and above financial indicators). The response was that the economic system doesn’t allow for that, and that current organisational incentives trapped leaders in toxic behaviours… Err, what? Leaders are victims of the system? What are leaders for? I could see his point to some extent. Yes, human behaviour is shaped by the environment. But… …if organisational leaders aren’t responsible for their behaviour and for what happens in their organisation, then who is?!! This may sound crazy, but I believe in this: leaders must lead. Otherwise, what are they doing? Are millennials lazy? Toxic narratives. A couple of weeks later, I was asked what I thought of millennials’ reputation for being “lazy”. My short answer was: I don’t think they’re “lazy” and: - millennials are questioning the assumptions made by older generations about productivity and purpose. They’re not interested in exploitation or alienation. - rather than taking the millennial push back as an affront, it might be useful to see it as an enquiry that could lead to improvements in work culture. - millennials seem to be putting their finger on the difference between purposeful productivity and meaningless exploitation. Read the full post on LinkedIn here. I imagine that leaders who focus on profit rather than people (which is not uncommon apparently…) might struggle to understand the difference but that shouldn’t let them off the hook. And I can’t help but raise two eyebrows at the nonsensical narrative of a toxic work culture where organisational leaders are painted as victims of unfortunate economic incentives while millennial protests against the ensuing exploitation are tarnished as “lazy”. Is this a case of the blind leading the clairvoyant? So much is written about leadership with innumerable frameworks and models available to draw from. Entire departments and schools are built on leadership theory… I’m a big fan of the servant-leader model although I don’t think it applies to women very well. Transformational Leadership (as opposed to Transactional Leadership) would probably be my poster-model. But what is leadership really? Isn’t it just about being responsible with the power you have? Of course, some people are irredeemable. But for what it’s worth, here’s are 4 things I’d like to see leaders do more of: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke / John F Kennedy 1) Go against the grain of the prevailing culture when the culture is exploitative of those they’re responsible for. 2) Take action in alignment with what they know to be true to protect and serve the teams they’re responsible for, within the context of a greater, agreed vision.

3) Take responsibility for the consequences of their actions (and stop blaming the “system”).

4) If they can’t be of service, bow out because they know it’s the right thing to do.

I work with people who feel an enormous amount of responsibility for their teams and for delivering excellent results. They’re well intentioned leaders. Many of them don’t get just reward because they don’t play the “politics” or other unhinged “leaders” make their lives miserable because they see them as a threat. But by doing the necessary self-awareness work, understanding their deeper motivation and sourcing power and presence from within, they can look after themselves, their teams and their dreams. I don’t know about you but I think now is a great time for change, even if it’s just one person at a time.

Have a great week,


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Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi is an international Career and Leadership Consultant and Coach. If you're ready to get off the hamster wheel and create the career and life you truly want, book an introductory call at

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