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Our lives and careers are simply a series of unexpected left turns that take us from one season to the next. At times, they can seem like insurmountable challenges while at other times, they may seem like golden opportunities. This post is the first of a two-part series that covers 10 of the most common unexpected left turns you may personally face along with some practical tools to help you grow as a leader.
TOXIC WORKPLACE CULTURE
No one joins an organization knowing it’s a toxic environment. Instead, most new hires eagerly anticipate a bright future, excited to transition beyond a typical 8-5 job into embracing a special rewarding career. Unfortunately, however, all too often after the honeymoon fades, the true nature of the company is revealed, and you uncover its cultural shortcomings. Elements of distrust, gossip, burnout, and fatigue are just a few examples of the behaviors that exist in a toxic workplace.
How to deal with a toxic workplace:
To more effectively navigate this unexpected challenge, actively probe and understand the facts of the situation. In other words, pause, take a step back and differentiate between if your workplace is indeed toxic, or if it is simply your closest professional surroundings. You may discover your immediate supervisor is not living out the core values of the company yet the companies remain strong in other executives, team members or departments.
You also need to consider — what are the facts? What organizational values are commended and rewarded? What leadership qualities are highlighted and encouraged? What do those around you stand for when no one’s looking? If the answers to these are nonexistent or worse, negative, it may be time to consider an exit strategy.
There are few words to describe the devastation that comes with a job loss. One day you’re in and the next day you’re out, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s during these unexpected challenges you may feel as though you’ve lost complete control. Due to circumstances outside of your purview, including company results or organizational mergers, sometimes a professional departure may actually have very little to do with you personally.
How to deal with job loss:
The quickest way to navigate through this terrain is to regain your balance, take back control and invest in yourself. This process begins with pursuing your next career opportunity, networking, going back to school or even equipping yourself with additional skills that are highly marketable through training or coaching.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing your values as an individual. When you have a core set of personal values, you have something that no one can take from you. You know what you stand for and demonstrate the values you expect a company to exhibit. For me, respect for the individual is a core principle. If a colleague mistreats another, or worse, a subordinate, I know respect is not a core part of their values.
How to deal with misaligned values:
First, do your homework if you haven’t already by researching the company’s core values. It’s important to really understand the heart of these principles and how the company expects them to play out in the day-to-day of the organization. The values could be extremely positive and written on every department wall. Still, if the behaviors are not at all consistent — that’s when you have misalignment.
Note, misaligned company values are different than having a bad boss with bad values, which I’ll address in the next point. When your boss’s values are off, you stay to determine a way to become the change you want see. When the entire company’s values are off, you transition out and take your skills where they will be most valued.
Having a bad boss doesn’t grant you a one-way ticket for leaving the company. Bad leaders come and go, but the way you choose to influence the situation will leave a lasting thumbprint. If I had bailed after my first bad boss, I would have missed a remarkable career. I would have missed the opportunity to make a difference.
How do deal with a bad boss:
Instead of leaving, choose to be the change. Figure out ways to help with the boss’s emotional intelligence, self-awareness, etc.
If time goes on and there is still no change or sign of improvement, find another place within the organization where you can actively use your gifts and skills. It’s important to remember not to compromise your behavior, but rather embody the shining example you desire to see in both your organization’s leadership and culture.
FAMILY ILLNESS OR LOSS
The need to manage family illnesses, or worse, a loss, can feel like a sudden jolt that can quickly consume your entire life. There is an immediate and automatic mental shift that takes place when taking care of a family member. This sudden shift requires you to balance more than you typically would, forcing you to reprioritize your schedule and expectations both personally and professionally.
When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my dad made the decision to be the caretaker the entire way through. In his mind, it was not even a choice to separate himself from the situation. The same is true for a loss; depending on the situation, you may not have the option as to how you will respond.
How to deal with a family illness or loss:
Dealing with family illness or loss starts with choosing to face into your responsibilities and having a clear understanding of what it will all require from you. This might mean putting your career on a temporary hold — for some, it’s a couple of weeks, in other cases, it could be years. Still, having the willingness to do that gracefully and appropriately for the circumstances will help tremendously.
One of the critical pieces to facing in is also finding a way to secure yourself. You have to find that way to protect yourself and not lose yourself. In other words, don’t give into the negativity and find a way to maintain your sense of self-awareness, find your peace and find your direction. This will help give you a better sense of direction throughout the process.