Even if you love the type of work you do, the industry you've chosen, or the people you serve on the daily, a difficult work culture can make you miserable and burn you out fast.
When we're not the "big boss," a challenging work culture can feel hopeless; there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but it's probably an oncoming train, right? So, how do you cope in such a situation?
You can look for another job, of course. But, what if with just a few behavior and mindset shifts, you can improve your situation, outlook, and relationships at work, as well as perhaps shifting the way your department functions even a little bit?
I call this practice Stealth Management. Stealth Management means enacting ethical change in the workplace when you're not the big boss.
I'm Leah Murtagh, #thework4joycoach, and I help my career coaching clients hone their Stealth Management skills to a fine art and create more fulfilling work cultures at every level of leadership.
Fill out my contact form today, and I'll be in touch to hear your work culture story. Let's see if we can help you create some joyful change at work!
If you have a good salary, decent benefits package, and you like your role except for the culture, it's worth a try to see what kind of boots-on-the-ground power you have as an employee.
Bonus: you may improve work-life for other members of your team too. And, if you ultimately end up leaving the company, you'll take your Stealth Management skills with you to your next job where you can put them in action for a fulfilling work culture immediately.
Challenging work culture examples
How do you know if you're in a toxic culture? Just like Yoda says repeatedly in every Star Wars movie, "trust your feelings." If every Monday morning is a harrowing journey of dread and anxiety, your work culture may suck.
Let's unpack it. Here are some challenging elements in any work cultur
Leadership=dictatorship: When the company leadership gives directives without input from department heads or individual staff.
Power-hungry supervisors: Your boss is a leader in title only, he or she gives orders, speaks disrespectfully to their employees, or behaves as if everyone is out to steal their job.
Internal bias: Company culture and leadership exclude people from leadership, advancement, or employement based on gender, ethnicity, religion, ability, etc. Of course, it's against the law to do this, but behaviors of bias can be subtle and pervasive, coloring company culture in a more covert way.
Harassment: Yep, still against the law. And, it happens all the time anyway. Gender and ethnic harassment can still be prevalent at work, and if you're in such a culture, this can be a soul-sucking environment in which to work.
Lack of good communication: Even if coworkers and leadership are unbiased and friendly, a lack of good communication effects teams and orgs deeply. When you know things could be so much better, but no one really talks to each other, you can feel isolated, frustrated, and defeated.
*If your work culture feels unsafe, as could be the case with harassment or bias, Stealth Management skills may not be enough to overcome this challenge. If you can report bad behavior to HR, do it. If you need to leave a job because you don't feel safe, that's never a failure and always in your best interest. I support my clients in putting themselves first here, always.
How can I use Stealth Management to create change?
Stealth Management means harnessing the power and choice you have as an "underling." And, it also means you act transparently and with integrity. You're trying to improve your own situation in your immediate area or department, not steal the bosses job or co-opt their leadership.
So, how do we do that? Here are a few things to try:
1. Invite people over. One former client of mine got really sick of the so-quiet-you-could-hear-a-pin-drop atmosphere in his workplace cubicle farm. So, he printed off a picture of a water cooler and posted it on the exterior wall of his cube. Pretty soon, more people began to stop by for quick chats, idea exchanges, and TV show discussions. He still got the same amount of work done (perhaps even at a better quality) and made his workplace more friendly.
2. Find out how your closest coworkers tick. Once you get to know a few people on the surface, start asking a few well-placed questions. Watch your pacing here--nobody loves a stalker. A question or two each week is great. One great question is "what time of day are you most focused?" (In other words, if I have a question or need some help, when should I NOT bother you?)
3. Check in with other people's challenges, and collaborate. "How's that big project going for you this week? Anything getting you down? I know I'm struggling with _________." Sharing a small amount of vulnerability can build bridges at work. And, you might find areas where you can share strengths to improve project or service outcomes. It feels good to create success together.
Though some people might view such behavior initially with suspicion, if you continue to champion your coworkers and help them succeed with no ulterior motive, you'll build trust over time, as well as a group of allies on whom you can also rely when you need them.
4. Get to know your supervisor. Asking your supervisor about their challenges or priorities may help break down leadership walls and improve work culture. Again, sometimes supervisors are simply suspicious or apathetic by nature. However, good leaders know it's wise to build trust with staff by opening up a bit.
You can use a few get-to-know-you questions to discover whether your boss will be a supportive force for you, or if you'll have to go it alone with your attempts at culture change.
Baby steps work best
Stealth Management is all about baby steps to change. It's about honing your own leadership skills at a grass roots level. It's about gaining ethical influence and clout as a de-facto leader, regardless of your job title.
This is a slow and steady process. If you try to make change from the bottom up quickly and with too much assumed authority, it will backfire quicker than a rusty car from 1973.
Make friends. Be genuine. Set good boundaries. Build bridges with as many colleagues as you can. Help others and ask for help when you need it. Be kind, and speak well of your co-workers honestly and publicly where they can overhear you doing it.
Really, Stealth Management is pretty similar to good management, the only thing missing is the title. And, when you're a good Stealth Manager, you just may find yourself an actual manager soon.
Customized Stealth Management for every employee
When you want help crafting a unique Stealth Management strategy for your situation, I can help. I'm Leah Murtagh, the #work4joycoach, and I help people find and do the work they love every week. Contact me today for a free phone chat, and find out about my affordable sliding fee scale. It's an easy yes. You've done what you should, now do what you want.