4 Keys To Creating a Healthy Culture That Naturally Resists Toxic People

toxic people

Guess what’s impacting your leadership more thank you think?

Culture.

Specifically, the culture you’re creating as a leader.

Often I hear leaders complain about the toxic people they have in their organization (staff, customers, volunteers, attendees). To be sure, that happens.

But if you always have toxic people in your culture, or you have a lot of toxic people in your culture, the problem may not be them nearly as much as the problem is your culture.

Here’s the truth about culture.

Create a healthy culture and toxic people will leave.

Let your culture go flat or get toxic, and the healthy people will depart.

Why? Because:

A healthy culture spits out toxic people.

A toxic culture spits out healthy people.

Here’s the surprise. No one gets kicked out. They just leave when they can’t get traction or validation.

A healthy culture spits out toxic people. And a toxic culture spits out healthy people. Here's the surprise. No one gets kicked out. They just leave when they can't get traction or validation. Click To Tweet

This truth runs deeper than you realize.

I agree that people who leave organizations quit their boss more than they quit their job. But people also quit cultures. Healthy people quit unhealthy cultures. And unhealthy people quit healthy cultures.

As a result, the staff, volunteer and overall culture you create as a leader has an awful lot to do with the long term success or failure of your organization.

Pick whatever cultural values you want, but fundamentally, your culture will either be healthy or slide into unhealthy or toxic.

You either decide to create an organization in which healthy people thrive, or you experience the inevitable slide into malaise, unhealthiness or toxicity. That’s just how human nature works.

You may be wondering what the difference is between an unhealthy person and a toxic person. While there are nuances, here’s the bottom line: unhealthy people want to get better. Toxic people don’t.

Your organization should always have room for unhealthy people on the road to recovery. Toxic people who resist all efforts to help are a whole other thing. And as Henry Cloud argues, you really don’t need to keep them around, unless you want them to destroy everything.

So what do you do about all this?

If you want to create a stellar organization culture that attracts and keeps healthy people, here are four keys:

People who leave organizations quit their boss more than they quit their job. But it's deeper than that. People also quit cultures. Click To Tweet

1. Focus on Your Personal Health

I have been in senior leadership for over two decades. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s still true: my organization will only ever be as healthy as I am.

Ditto for you. Fight it all you want, but your organization will only ever be as healthy as you are as the leader.

Even if you’re not the senior leader, that’s true of the team you lead, the department you run, or the crew you manage. The health of the leader tends to be the health of the team.

Your organization will only ever be as healthy as you are as the leader. Click To Tweet

I think of the health of a leader in five categories:

  • Spiritual
  • Emotional
  • Relational
  • Physical
  • Financial

While health in each category is nuanced (I write about the personal health of a leader in detail in my best selling book, Didn’t See It Coming), one thing is true: health in each category means margin in each category.

A healthy leader has a fairly full spiritual, emotional, relational and physical tank. They’re not exhausted all the time, or constantly irritable, or so consumed with giving to others that they’re almost bankrupt themselves.

You may wonder what being financially healthy looks like. It’s simple: living within your means. There are leaders who make $30,000 a year who have a bit of money in the bank and leaders who make $130,000 who are always strapped and out of money. When your personal financial situation causes you stress, that stress just leaks out all over the place.

Healthy leaders tend to lead healthy organizations because they end with reserves to help others get healthy, and they also have a lower tolerance for toxicity.

Finally, healthy people are attracted to healthy leaders.

Healthy people are attracted to healthy leaders. Toxic people aren't. Click To Tweet

2. Invest in People, Not Just Results

I’m naturally a results person.

But I’ve also come to realize this: that results-driven leaders focus over what they can get from their team. Healthy leaders obsess over what they can do for their team.

Strangely, if all you think about is what you can get from your team, you always end up with diminishing returns. People feel used, and they eventually lose heart, start going through the motions or leave.

But if you focus on what you can do for your team, people lean in and give you way more than you imagined.

Results-driven leaders focus over what they can get from their team. Healthy leaders obsess over what they can do for their team. Click To Tweet

The longer I lead, the more I realize that if you have competent people,  the best thing you can do is care about the team as people.

I’ve found a few things really help:

  • Ask how they’re doing, not just what they’re doing. People want to know that you care.
  • Invest in their growth and development.
    • Do off-sites together.
    • Take them to conferences, events and seminars.
    • Invest in courses, books and resources that grow them and their skill set.
    • Get them coaching and counselling as needed.
  • Give them what they need to do the job. Everything from slow computers, to bad wifi, to a crappy work environment all demotivate people and create unnecessary barriers. Cheap is always more expensive in the long run anyway.

If you have little budget, start with free. There are literally hundreds of thousands of free articles, e-books, podcasts and courses you can do together to grow as leaders. I have a Leadership Podcast that’s free and comes with free show notes and transcripts, and I have free courses as well (select what your biggest leadership challenge is here and you’re in!)

Bottom line? Create the kind of environment where the people working for you become better people, not just employees. Grow them, not just their skills.

When your team grows personally, your progress grows exponentially.

When your team grows personally, your progress grows exponentially. Click To Tweet

3. Get Rid of Us and Them Thinking

In any health organization or church, there’s no us and them, there’s only we.

This can granular fast.

If you have multiple locations, it’s easy to talk about ‘those guys.” There’s no ‘those guys’. They’re you.

Ditto with departments, divisions, management, leadership team…whatever. As soon as someone begins to say that ‘they’ won’t let us or ‘they’ want something different, the end is near.

In a really unhealthy culture, organizations blame their customers or members.

They’re so demanding.

They just don’t get it.

How can they be so dumb?

Seriously—the very people you’re trying to serve/reach/encourage/engage are the brunt of your frustrations?

Trust me, as a leader, I would love to live in a world where I could blame people for everything. And on the inside, I still want to.

But I also know that ultimately, I’m responsible for everything I don’t like in our organization because I’m the leader.

That doesn’t mean you ignore real problems or put lip gloss over all the problems you encounter as a leader.

I love what Craig Groeschel frames it. When there’s a genuine problem that needs to be fixed, be that with teams, divisions, locations, departments on the people you serve, instead of blaming them, say:

We haven’t led them to be less demanding.

I haven’t been clear enough for them to understand the situation, so let me work harder.

I have to figure out what the real problem is and solve it.

If you eliminate ‘they’ and ‘them’ from your leadership vocabulary and replace it with “I’ or “we” great things start to happen.

First, you take responsibility. If you’re the leader, you’re responsible.

Second, your heart shifts. You no longer see others as the problem; you realize your job is to serve and help them.

Third, you’ll likely solve the problem.

Blame is the opposite of responsibility. When you stop blaming and making excuses, you start making progress, because you can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

Blame is the opposite of responsibility. When you stop blaming and making excuses, you start making progress, because you can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can't make both. Click To Tweet

4. Create Firm Boundaries

Once you have a healthy/ier organization, the key is to stay healthy at the top—at the senior leadership levels.

If you find yourself getting unhealthy, call it out and seek help. If someone else on the team gets into a bad season, come alongside them and see if they want to get well. If they do, embrace them and stand behind them. If they don’t, don’t let their negativity infect your organization.

And when you spot a toxic person, don’t let them step in. Don’t hire them. Don’t let them serve or volunteers. If they’re really toxic, you may not want them even in a group.

Before you push back, remember, the distinction between an unhealthy person and a toxic person is the desire to get well. If someone has no desire to get well, you won’t be able to help them.

Don’t let the ill-health of one person destroy the health of your team.

With a firm boundary in place, usually toxic people give up and go elsewhere. And in a healthy culture on the rare occasion you need to ask them to, that one awkward conversation and firm boundary is completely worth it—for them and for you.

Don't let the ill-health of one person destroy the health of your team. Click To Tweet

How A Healthy Culture Perpetuates Itself

While there’s a lot more to creating a healthy culture, I find that even focusing on these three produces huge gains.

First, when the culture is healthy, unhealthy people who want to get well find that they do.

Because so many workplaces have an unhealthy culture—and so many families do as well—people first are startled by health, but eventually, a healthy organization becomes a magnet for people who get healthy or want to get well.

And for toxic people? Well, because they can’t seem to get a toe-hold, and the culture won’t change to meet their dysfunction, they move on looking for less healthy places to belong to.

This virtuous cycle will keep going as long as you stay healthy as a leader and surround yourself with a healthy, growing team.

If You’re Ready to Get Healthy…

So how do you get to a place where you even have the time to get healthy?

I’d love to show you how to carve out time, create space and eliminate distractions in your life so you can focus on what matters most and get healthy.

If you’re trying to find the time for what matters most in life, my High Impact Leader course, is my online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – First Priority, Clayton County, North Carolina

“Carey’s course was the perfect way for our team to prepare for the new year. Our team, both collectively and individually, took a fresh look at maximizing our time and leadership gifts for the year ahead. I highly recommend this leadership development resource for you and your team.” Jeff Henderson, Gwinnett Church, Atlanta Georgia

“A lot of books and programs make big promises and cannot deliver but this is not one of them. I have read so many books and watched videos on productivity but the way you approach it and teach is helpful and has changed my work week in ministry in amazing ways.” Chris Sloan, Tanglewood Church, Kingston, North Carolina

“Just wow.  Thank you, thank you.” Dave Campbell, Invitation Church, Sioux Falls South Dakota

A game changer.” Pam Perkins, Red Rock Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm and have the time to reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

What Do You Think?

I realize this isn’t an easy post, but what do you think? What do you see as the key to a healthy culture?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

12 Comments

  1. gnosnoring on May 25, 2019 at 5:06 am

    Great blog. I will definitely be coming back here for more information. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.

  2. MSMcReynolds on May 1, 2019 at 5:00 am

    Great article! Sharing with our team.

    PS: I’m already subscribed and I sure wish the obnoxious banner would disappear!

  3. Kevin on April 30, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Romans 16:17- supports this article well. Carey shares some hardcore truth here that can help us all if we pay attention. Healthy cultures do not happen by accident and they are not easy to form but oh how it is worth it!
    Proverbs 17:1- better a dry morsel and quietness, therewith, than a house full of sacrifices with strife.

  4. son on April 29, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    This site censors any critical feedback that doesn’t agree with its self-serving rhetoric. What a joke!

    • Dennis on April 30, 2019 at 7:43 am

      Well, this site (like every other website in existence) has a mission and a purpose and is owned by a team with a certain set of values. If you’re idea of “critical feedback” is simply trolling or contains profanity or other offensive language, your comments may be “censored.” That’s how things work in cyber-world. It’s no “joke.”
      The site does present sound information to help leaders lead better. I hope you’ll continue to read the posts as encouragement for your life and not worry so much about offering “critical feedback.”

      • son on April 30, 2019 at 9:53 am

        Thanks, Dennis, for acknowledging my comment. I attended a church for months, thinking and hoping I would find true Christian fellowship in the spirit of Jesus there. I left because the pastor began attempting to deceive the congregation into tithing because it was scriptural to do so. There is no scripture in the NT that commands us to tithe. Wolf among the sheep. Look, I have come to realize that church is a business and that’s all. Opiate for the masses. We need to seek and commune with Jesus on a personal level. God doesn’t need our money.
        His peace to you, brother.

        • Dennis on April 30, 2019 at 11:54 am

          Sorry to hear you have had a bad experience. I believe we all have at some point in our walk.
          “The tithe” is a concept we find in the Hebrew bible (aka “Old Testament”) which is mainly the covenant between God and the nation of Israel. While it sets the stage for Jesus, it all happened in another time and place way before Jesus walked the earth. It is good for inspiration and affirmation, but not so much for practical application in the 21st century.
          Practically speaking no, God doesn’t need our money. But churches do if they are going to exist. Some churches seem to be much better stewards of the funds they receive than others. That’s just a fact of life. I’m so glad to hear you have a personal relationship with Jesus, and hope you can one day find a gathering of like minded folks to connect with. It may or may not be a “church” and that is perfectly fine.
          Blessings!

          • son on April 30, 2019 at 2:00 pm

            Dennis, my experiences with church organizations/”churches” has led me to nothing but contempt and suspicion. Joel Osteen is filthy rich, thanks to the blessing of God (I think, but perhaps not really), so why doesn’t he obey Jesus and sell everything he has and give it to the poor? MATTHEW 19:16-23
            Sorry, but I see the whole church deal as a hustle. A living relationship with our Lord and Savior is ANYTHING BUT a hustle.
            I do what “the church” is supposed to be doing, on my own, everyday. I witness for Jesus to both friends and strangers. I encourage and give money, help or both, when appropriate, to the heartbroken and needy when I encounter them. I exhort my brethren in His Spirit to keep their hope, faith and love, in His name.
            Jesus told me that my life is in His Hands and that I shall live in accordance with His Perfect Will. So, why should I put up with pastors that disturb my peace and my relationship with Jesus as they deliberately lie to me and browbeat me (and the rest of the congregation) about the need for us to “tithe”, just because I happen to attend their church in search of the true spirit of God? Why don’t they call up Joel Osteen and ask him for a piece of his $40 million or so, at last count?
            If Corey believes he is truly serving The Most High with his internet ministry, God bless him and may he succeed in his mission. Unfortunately, I have reached the point where I feel that it is futile and pointless to encourage organized religion (i.e., “The church”). I ain’t buyin’ in anymore, brother. It’s a fool’s game, if you ask me. All honor, blessing, praise, glory and power to the one and only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!



  5. Ross Bowerman on April 29, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    Carey, if points 3 and 4 are implemented, here are some extra benefits achieved by the combination. If your people see themselves as a “we” (point 3) and everyone on the team knows the cultural standards (point 4), they they will finally feel that they are in an empowered position to say to transgressors among them, “we don’t do that around here”. This positive peer pressure is powerful. For the good-hearted people, it will be the reminder that is all that they need (don’t we all need reminding sometimes?). For the toxic people, it creates the feeling of exclusion that causes them to conform or, if that is not enough, it let’s them to know that they will be unable to sway the staff in their direction and need to move to more fertile fields in another organisation. Another benefit of achieving a cultural unity is that that staff and management are more likely to work together to correct or exclude those that are seen (in a healthy way) as “outsiders”.

  6. theartist on April 29, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    AMEN. Jesus didn’t use a Lear Jet, a Bentley, Rose Royce nor a Church “Coluseium” for His God ordained ministry. Our Lord did not live in a “Compound”, wear $5K suits, a Rolex (or two) nor was a mansion necessary because He has “Gone to prepare a place for us…” SIMPLE CHURCH was the method our Lord used. Jesus himself said “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”(Matthew 8:20).
    Toxic leadership is leading God’s people astray. “Itching ears” ultimately renders God’s people unfit for service.
    Thank you to the late Dr. Billy Graham, the late Pastor Derrick Prince and Dr. A.W. Tozer AND Carey
    (among others) whom God used to help us “engage the culture” as The Lord would have it- and not become overwhelmed by the toxicity of others to our own detriment as witnesses for Christ.

  7. Kyeyune Ronald on April 29, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Praise the Lord brother for this lesson about toxic people , unhealthy and healthy ones,I think as leaders we tend to blame so much instead of looking for ways of improving our Co workers,thanks so much

  8. Adam Desmond on April 29, 2019 at 10:44 am

    I think you’ll get pushback from people on eliminating toxic people, but I think this is a biblical approach. “Toxic” is a good way to describe someone who is willfully sinning, and the bible tells us not to associate with such people.

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