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Endless Possibilities Blog

How To Be An Effective Female Leader In A Toxic Workplace

January 19th, 2016

Dealing with toxicity in the workplace, as a leader, and more specifically as a woman in a leadership role, is a tremendous challenge! This blog explores two types of leadership authority first and then proposes some strategies to help you begin to deal with a toxic workplace.

Two Categories of Leadership Authority: Formal and Informal.shutterstock_193984787_(Team_tree).jpg

Formal leaders are those who hold titles and are recognized through positional authority within the hierarchy. These leaders are responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organization and they also play a formal and informal role in creating the culture of the organization as well. These leaders act with formal authority.

However, women are largely unrepresented at the heads of companies. Recent data shows that women make up only 4.4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 Companies.

Informal leaders are individuals that do not hold titles or positional authority within a company or organization, but they have considerable influence nonetheless. The influence of informal leaders can be felt as a result of the strong relationships that they have built throughout their workplace, with peers, superiors, and subordinates. The trust, respect, and rapport that they have with their colleagues may often be greater and more influential than that of those in formal leadership roles. These leaders act with informal authority.

Women often hold a tremendous amount of informal leadership power, although they do not always recognize it nor choose to exercise it to address challenges in the workplace.

While male and female leaders may share similar skills and knowledge, in dealing with the root causes of toxicity in the workplace it is often the expertise in relationship skills that women hold which can tip the balance in these situations. Their innate ability to listen to hear, to hone in on the heart of the issue, and to show empathy is often a key factor in discovering, exploring, and shifting the underlying causes of the toxicity.

If you find yourself in the midst of an unhealthy work environment and are wondering where to start, try the following:

Leveraging your innate leadership strengths to effect change in a toxic environment:  

  • Identify the toxic behaviors that are occurring. Utilize your relationship skills of listening to  hear and asking curious questions to notice and explore common themes and emerging patterns when developing a plan to address the toxicity. 
  • Recognize and leverage your scope of influence within your current role to affect positive change to the situation.
  • Consult with your immediate superior as to next steps in addressing the issue. If they might be the source of the toxic behaviours, seek the confidential counsel of an HR advisor in your organization.
  • Consider working with an Executive Coach as an additional source of support for yourself.

As a female leader in a toxic workplace, you have capacity within yourself to explore solutions and to get your workplace onto a healthy track!