Leading in a Multi-generational Workplace

It is conceivable today that one workplace could comprise five different generations of employees:

·       Silent Generation – Born before 1946

·       Baby Boomers – Born between 1946 – 1964

·       Generation X – Born between 1965 – 1980

·       Millennials (Gen Y) – Born between 1981 – 1998

·       Generation Z – Born after 1998[1]

Employing differing generations often means managing a wide variety of life experiences and workplace expectations. And while a diversity of age and experience is certainly a positive thing, it can be challenging to learn how to lead and motivate such a broad range of employees.

 Of course, labelling an entire generation of people with an all-encompassing array of shared characteristics is not useful. Even among members of the same generation, life experiences vary greatly. But acknowledging the cultural moments that shape entire generations – regardless of individual upbringing – will help inform, to a degree, the manner in which leaders go about managing a cross-generational workforce.[2]

 For example: 

·      The Silent Generation (born pre-1946) grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. So many members are now conservative and traditional in comparison to younger groups.

·      Boomers (born 1946-1964) witnessed the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King and were spurred to react to those events by fighting and speaking out.

·      Generation X (born 1965-1976) lived through events like Watergate and Operation Desert Storm. They were also the first generation for whom divorce became a common occurrence. Many reacted by becoming fiercely self-reliant and dubious of traditional values. 

·      Millennials, or Gen Y, (born 1977-1995) grew up with the advent of social media and experienced 9/11 as children or young adults. So members of Gen Y are broadly connected to a global community that can be legitimately terrifying.

·      Generation Z are today’s teens and young adults. Social media, homeland security, and exponentially greater awareness of racial, gender, and LGBTQ injustices (sometimes referred to as being “woke”) drive them to be continuously connected and to make a difference.

 All of the above cultural touchstones affect how members of each generation experience their workplaces and what their expectations are as they enter and move through the work force. Below are just a few of the issues that leaders of multi-generational workforces face, and how to deal with them.

 “Working to Live” v. “Living to Work.” Older and younger generations view their relationships with a company in drastically different ways. While older Gen Xers and Boomers tend to view their jobs more traditionally – i.e., stay with one company, work hard, sacrifice, get promoted – younger Gen Yers and Gen Zers feel they deserve a balance and are willing to move from job to job on a cross-company trajectory if necessary.

 By providing avenues for cross-training, and thus giving younger employees a chance to build transferable skills and older workers a chance to add value via their experience, leaders can appeal to a range of generations.

 Feedback vs. Fierce Independence

Of course, trusting an employee to do their job without being micro-managed is the most productive way to lead a team. So a certain level of independence is expected and, frankly, appreciated by employees. But older generations can view constant feedback as bordering on micro-managing, while younger generations appreciate guidance.

 Maintaining some flexibility here can satisfy a range of expectations. Just as a manager would adapt to different personalities on their team, simply being aware of this generational difference and accommodating it where feasible can help alleviate a great deal of frustration.

 Communication

While younger generations are more comfortable with e-mails and texting on a regular basis, older generations may prefer in-person meetings and phone calls. Certainly there are times when each type of communication is preferable, and the size of a workforce and the physical locations of various employees can dictate which communication form works best in a given situation.

 But no matter the generation, leaders need to communicate with their employees in a manner that engages them. This may mean acknowledging employee preferences and incorporating different communication channels at different times – using digital communication when necessary and in-person calls or meetings when appropriate.

 There is no way to mold generations of employees into one homogenous group. And a good leader would not want to. But by maintaining an awareness of the cultural and experiential differences among generations, leaders can adapt to their employees’ needs in a manner that motivates employees and makes them feel valued – regardless of the year in which they were born.

[1] Kardon, Brian. 3 Tips on Managing a Multigenerational Workforce (April 16, 2019) HR Technologist. Retrieved at:

https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/culture/3-tips-on-managing-a-multigenerational-workforce/

[2] Moments That Shape a Generation, The Center for Generational Kinetics. Retrieved at: https://genhq.com/moments-shape-generation/

The True Grit of a Summer Associate

THE TRUE GRIT OF A SUMMER ASSOCIATE

By: Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.

 

Every year, high performing law students compete for coveted Summer Associate positions at high caliber Am Law 100 firms in major cities around the country. Since the Great Recession of 2009, many major law firms have scaled back their summer associate programs.  In some cases, firms have eliminated the programs entirely and are focusing on lateral recruiting.  Law students that are fortunate enough to be selected for one of these prized summer associate positions have the advantage of being exposed to an elite level of talent in the legal industry. They work and learn alongside legal leaders in litigation, M&A and securities, capital markets, real estate, finance, technology and intellectual property.  However, earning a summer associate position does not guarantee a full time associate a position upon graduation from law school. 

 Now, more than ever, client demands and economic disruptions have impacted the legal industry. Law firms are focusing on becoming more efficient, increasing revenue, controlling costs and hiring highly skilled, resilient attorneys who demonstrate true grit and perseverance.  Law firms that are ahead of the curve are training attorneys, managers and staff to manage their time more effectively and work collaboratively in high functioning and productive environments.  Law firms want summer associates who adapt and perform at a high level, with selective supervision.  Meaning, when a summer associate is given an assignment by a partner or senior associate, the summer associate is expected to be understanding of the task, assert confidence, and take every measure to submit high quality work. 

 In an industry that is driven by the billable hour, partners and associates are extremely mindful of their time. They demand highly thought out and pre-edited drafts of briefs, memorandums, and agreements.  If a senior lawyer receives an inferior draft of a document, it will keep them from spending time on their higher-level tasks.

 To create a more effective and efficient environment, summer associates should collaborate with other summer associates or junior attorneys to review and revise documents before submitting it for review by a senior attorney.  Summer associates need to learn how to perform in a stressful and pressured environment, as high-profile law firms in large metropolises are seeking high potential associates to fill their staffing needs.

 By demonstrating true grit and resilience, a summer associate will distinguish him or herself above the rest.  A summer associate must have the ability to translate criticism into productive conversations, to work long hours, and to maintain a positive outlook, as these are the key traits of an associate that demonstrates grit.

 A summer associate possessing grit and resilience, will reflect on negative feedback and assess where improvements need to be made. They will consult with other summer associates and attorneys to discuss how to raise the quality of their work.  When a senior attorney does not see a steady progression in productivity and talent, they will often avoid that summer associate, and refrain from assigning new tasks.  Senior attorneys will seek out an associate that has demonstrated grit and resilience, rather than one that lacks those skills.

 Law firms that have long established summer associate programs will typically match a summer associate with a mid-level or senior associate, as well as a partner for mentorship and support.  Many firms provide training by utilizing external executive coaches and workshop facilitators to develop and build upon desired skill sets.  Summer associates should take advantage of these programs, as they can be vital in developing their career.

 For some, “grit” has a harsh or negative connotation.  However, “grit” can also include the practice of soft skills such as self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, and humility.  Soft skills, combined with grit and resilience, position a summer associate to work more effectively, both independently, and within a collaborative team.  A summer associate who knows how to channel their soft skills can identify conflict and move to resolve it.  If a summer associate lacks soft skills, chances are they will exhibit arrogance, selfishness, jealousy and will be poor listeners who resist collaboration. They will also not last through the summer. 

 True grit, resilience and soft skills are as distinguishing of characteristics as being in the top 10% of your class and on law review.  Being smart is not enough to excel as an associate and rise to leadership in the modern Big Law environment.  Augmenting intellectual IQ with emotional IQ helps a summer associate stand out, exhibit an agile mindset, and position themselves to be successful high performers.  These skills become more important as law firms utilize artificial intelligence and smart machines to increase their position in the industry.  As technology advances, fewer attorneys are needed to resolve problems and provide solutions.  The attorneys that will be most in demand are those that not only excelled academically, but those who also personify true grit and resilience.  

Information About the Authors:

 Natalie Loeb is the Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach.  She can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 Gordon Loeb is the President of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership.  He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com, 866-987- 4111.

Are You a Sponsor or a Mentor?

We talk a lot about the different ways in which leaders can improve their effectiveness. The ability to manage toxic employees, the focus required to ensure a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment and the capacity to deal appropriately with mistakes are just a few of the skills that strong leaders develop to help move their organizations forward and keep them competitive.

 But what about ‘one-on-one’ leadership? Ensuring that employees thrive frequently requires more than creating workspaces that are conducive to success.  Encouraging employees to engage directly with those who may be in a position to help them succeed, and vice versa, allows for a level of support that goes even deeper than valuable overall organizational leadership.

 One-on-one support is generally provided to employees in two ways: via mentors and via sponsors. It is important to understand the difference between the two roles, and how they each help foster success for the employees they benefit. While both mentors and sponsors are focused on helping those who are junior to them in their fields, they rely on different means of doing so.

 Mentors

First, let’s address the role of ‘mentor.’ A mentor is someone with experience who advises a less-experienced professional with respect to general career-related issues. While mentors are usually older than mentees, they do not necessarily have to be. They simply must have more experience in a particular area, industry or the business world than their mentees. In fact, a mentor may not even work in the same company, or industry, as their mentee.

What do mentors do?

·      Act as advisors with respect to day-to-day issues

·      Assist mentees in shaping professional goals

·      Help mentees build confidence

·      Help mentees navigate challenging work situations

·      Reduce feelings of isolation or solitude

·      Act as a sounding board

 Basically, mentors offer advice and wisdom gleaned from having years of experience the mentee cannot yet claim.

 So what is the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? As economist and Columbia professor Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes it: "Mentors advise. Sponsors act."[1]

 Sponsors

Sponsors are much more proactive and ‘hands-on’ than mentors. They do more than advise: they advocate. Not only are they in the same industry as their protégés, they work at the same company and take a direct role in their protégés’ careers and how they progress. A sponsor is someone who uses their position of influence and power in an organization to fight for a protégé’s professional prospects.

What do sponsors do?

·      Push for their protégés to receive raises and promotions

·      Use their connections to move their protégés forward

·      Ensure their protégés maintain or update the skills necessary to move ahead

·      Help protégés gain the experience required for upward mobility in their jobs

·      Put their reputations on the line to help protégés succeed

 Sponsorships in particular can have a remarkable influence on an organization, especially when it comes to fostering diversity. Often, unconscious bias can keep minority candidates from achieving a certain level of success. But intentionally ensuring that such employees have one-on-one sponsors actively looking out for their interests and taking ownership of their careers goes a long way toward countering and nullifying such biases.

 Good leaders will use all the tools in their arsenal when it comes to creating a work environment that cultivates success. Promoting mentorships and sponsorships within a firm or organization is one of the best tools available.

[1] Hewlett, Sylvia Ann (2013). Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career   Harvard Business Review Press.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in the Workplace

Most employers are by now keenly aware of the benefits derived from actively pursuing diversity in the workplace. Diversity among employees has been shown to result in a variety of different perspectives, increased creativity, higher innovation, faster problem-solving, better decision-making, higher employee engagement, reduced employee turnover, better company reputation, improved hiring results and increased profits.[1]

 If the above benefits are indeed real, then why do some firms and companies that vigorously – and successfully – strive for diversity often see little or no progress with respect to those benefits?

 The answer is likely that they do not supplement their diversity-in-hiring practices with the equally important practices of equity and inclusion.

Diversity

What is the difference among diversity, equity and inclusion? Let’s begin by discussing the term with which the majority of us are most familiar: diversity. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

So, companies that are focused on diversity in their hiring practices will try to hire a “diverse” mix of people – i.e., employees of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.

Diversity in hiring is the right first step. But what should companies do to ensure that their laudable hiring efforts result in the desired benefits to the company? First, company leadership needs to create an environment that fosters inclusion.

 Inclusion

Even if you have an astonishingly diverse team of talent, there is no guarantee that you will instantly begin seeing benefits like increased creativity, reduced employee turnover, and increased profits. Diversity is a bit like a seed that then needs to be nurtured. 

“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”[2]

Inclusion means creating an environment in which your diversity of talent will be respected, accepted, appreciated and able to thrive. Without inclusion, diversity efforts are practically pointless.[3] It seems obvious to state, but inclusion simply means that all employees are, in fact, included in every area of your business.

If you look around a meeting and notice that everyone in the room is strikingly similar in perspective based on race, gender, age, or otherwise, you are not being inclusive.

 Inclusion involves enthusiastically welcoming the input, perspectives and involvement of every team member, while avoiding tokenism (i.e., relying on one or two people to represent an entire community at your firm or company).

Equity

So, you’ve succeeded in maintaining diversity in your hiring and you’ve actually included that diverse group of employees across the scope of your business. Now what?

 The next step is to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities. The notion of equity accepts that biases and obstacles exist for many that do not exist for others. Essentially it means realizing that we don’t all begin on an even playing field and then working to compensate for that fact. Achieving equity in the workplace requires actively correcting for the disparity – or inequity – of advantages enjoyed by some and not others.

 To be clear, equity is not the same thing as equality.  “The goal of equality is to make sure that everyone has the same things to be successful. It is similar to equity in that it is seeking fairness for everyone, but it assumes that everyone starts equally as well.”[4]

 While employees should be treated equally when it comes to rewards based on merit and work, helping various employees get to the point at which they can do their best work may require the implementation of a variety of support systems.

 Thus, if your firm or company has implemented a diversity-in-hiring program but you feel that you are not seeing the anticipated benefits of that program, you are likely falling short in the areas of inclusion and equity. Focus on incorporating those elements into your workplace structure and you will create an environment that benefits your firm as a whole and each of your diverse array of employees.

[1] Martic, Kristina. “Top 10 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace.” Talent Lyft, 19 Dec 2018 www.talentlyft.com/en/blog/article/244/top-10-benefits-of-diversity-in-the-workplace-infographic-included

[2] Myers, Vernā. Retrieved May 20, 2019 at https://learning.vernamyers.com/

[3] Sherbin, Laura and Rashid, Ripa. “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Feb 2017 hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion

[4] Smiley, Leah. “Equality vs Equity.” The Society for Diversity, 17 Jul 2017 www.societyfordiversity.org/equality-vs-equity/

How to Handle Mistakes at Work – Yours and Others’

Most of us have experienced that sick feeling in our guts when we’ve realized that we made a mistake at work. And not just a little mistake, but a mistake that is going to take some work to fix. A mistake that we worry will forever affect our credibility going forward. One that we think at best will blow over in a little while or we decide at worst will cause our peers and our clients to lose trust in our judgment.

 Certainly some mistakes are quite serious. Some are the consequence of extreme carelessness or ineptitude and the results can be career-ending. But those are not the mistakes we are talking about here. We want to address the vast majority of mistakes: honest errors that can eventually be rectified. The real impact of an honest mistake is largely determined by how it is handled in the aftermath – whether the mistake is yours or a team member’s.

 So, what should you do when a mistake is made?

 Maintain Perspective.  The first thing to do is to keep things in perspective. Perfection is often expected in professional settings, but no one is infallible. Unless you or your colleague made an error while charged with the safety of human life, e.g., as a pharmacist or a bus driver or a nuclear power plant manager, the mistake was not deadly and can probably be corrected.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, don’t overreact. Don’t scream or lose your cool. Stoking fear is never the answer, especially if you hope to develop the employee and have them bounce back. “[Stoking fear is] counterproductive because humans don’t perform to their optimum level when the brain becomes preoccupied with fear and uncertainty,” says Don Rheem, a leadership expert and author of Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures. [1]

 So, once you’ve taken a breath and put things in perspective, what next?

Take Responsibility, Apologize and Correct.  Don’t make excuses or allow an employee to make them either. Accurately assigning responsibility for the error to the correct party not only allows them to own it and move on, it helps pinpoint how the mistake happened so similar mistakes can be avoided in the future.

·      If the mistake is yours, acknowledge it, sincerely and concisely apologize for it, whether to a co-worker or a client, and go about fixing it. Many times the reaction to a mistake will be the key to how others view the mistake in the first place. Don’t add unnecessary drama to the situation. Take care of it and move on. If you seem to have things under control, you will retain the trust of your colleagues.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, encourage them to take responsibility, apologize and correct as well. While in some instances you may need to apologize on behalf of your company or firm to a client, when possible you should allow the employee to do so directly. Giving the employee power over managing the aftermath of the mistake helps with accountability and fosters an environment of trust – i.e., if the employee feels that you trust them to make things right, they will be able to move forward productively without worrying about never-ending repercussions for their error.

Learn from the Mistake, Move On and Perform.  Once you’ve acknowledged the mistake and, when possible, corrected it, ask what can be learned from the mistake, let it go and move on. When you do move on, make sure you dependably generate stellar work product. A mistake once in a blue moon will likely be forgotten if it’s overshadowed by excellent performance 99% of the time.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, allow them to move on and give them the tools to excel. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the mistake and check for similar errors in the near future if needed, but don’t hold the error over the employee’s head forever. Foster a culture in which everyone is encouraged to learn from their mistakes, and then sincerely allow employees to do so. If you isolate them or cut them off, employees will never be able to put their learnings into practice. Either you trust them with their work, or you don’t. Most employees will remain well aware of their prior mistake(s) and try earnestly to avoid them in the future.

As noted earlier, there are certainly some mistakes that are nearly impossible to correct, let alone rebound from. But most errors at the office are correctable and, when handled with the right perspective, become opportunities to lead, learn, promote accountability and improve performance.

[1] Quoted in AdWeek, (August 22, 2017) What to Do When an Employee Makes a Mistake. Retrieved at https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/what-do-when-employee-makes-mistake.

Does a Lawyer’s High IQ Compensate for a Low EQ?

Emotional quotient (EQ), also known as emotional intelligence (EI), is defined as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”[1] This capacity is crucial to many leadership competencies, not the least of which is influence, something “essential to leadership as a social skill in order to make progress and get things done through – and with – others.”[2]

 “You can’t order people to do what you want, you must persuade or inspire them to put forth their best efforts toward the clear objective you have defined.” – Daniel Goleman[3]

 Most of us have heard the term EQ used in general discussions about work interactions, and perhaps you’ve even experienced the negative personal impact of a low EQ in coworkers – specifically, those who manage others. In fact, low EQ in senior management can result in high turnover, an antagonistic work atmosphere, and low morale. In addition to making for a miserable work environment, low EQ in senior management can give rise to high attrition, which, at a replacement recruiting cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per lawyer, is no small problem.[4]

 And, as if that’s not enough, you might be surprised to know that insurers have begun to suspect that low EQ on the part of lawyers results in higher risk of malpractice claims, just as it’s been shown to do with doctors.[5]

But lawyers are smart, right? One would think their high IQs would allow them to recognize this problem easily and nip it in the bud!

Not necessarily. Studies have shown that while attorneys do score high in intelligence, they generally score below average in emotional intelligence.[6] It’s a perception that is, frustratingly, borne out frequently in fictional portrayals of the legal culture. For every “Atticus Finch” there are a dozen “Phillip Stuckeys” (Jason Alexander in Pretty Woman) or “Thomas Hagens” (Robert Duvall in The Godfather films).

So we know there is a problem. However, can you really improve your or anyone else’s EQ? As it turns out, you can.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one’s EQ capacity is “firm”, but not necessarily “rigid.” [7] By receiving coaching on interpersonal skills and how to manage stress levels, attorneys can indeed increase their EQs. In fact, studies suggest that, “with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.” [8]

 As a bonus, it seems that EQ training for the workplace inescapably benefits the trainee’s personal life as well.

 So, it can be done! But how?

 Psychologists have broken down the concept of EQ into four separate skill sets. By consistently working on those skills, you and your colleagues can slowly but surely up your EQs.

  • Self-Awareness – i.e., the ability to grasp and understand your own emotional state. This requires you to acknowledge your triggers and realize when you are feeling angry or stressed. It sounds easy, but how often have you reacted to something in a way that was a tad over the top because you were stressed out about something else entirely? When you feel “off,” take a second and ask yourself why.

  • Self-Management – i.e., the ability to control your emotions. Once you’ve recognized your emotional state for what it is, you need to be able to manage it before it controls you. This is not complicated, but it can be challenging to have this kind of willpower. The old mantra “just take a deep breath” comes in handy here. If you can step back from yourself for even a second, you can gain perspective and more effectively manage your own emotions.

Combining the two skills above allows you to better manage stress by recognizing it for what it is. Once you have mastered that, you can separate your emotions from a problematic situation and calmly communicate possible solutions – whether to a fellow colleague or a client.

  • Empathy – i.e., the ability to identify emotions and reactions in others, regardless of how you feel. If you think you have trouble with this, focus on listening, observing, and asking questions. Look up from whatever document you are reviewing or case law you are trying to explain and zero in for a moment on the colleague or client with whom you are dealing. It’s easier than it seems and is often simply a matter of shifting focus for a short period. It’s highly important to be “present” when engaging with a colleague.

  • Ability to Build Relationships. This skill is essentially a combination of the previous three. Once you understand your own emotions and how to manage them and are aware of what’s going on with your colleague or client, you’ll be able to build a rapport with them that will allow them to trust you and your judgment. Be the person you would feel comfortable taking advice from.

Again, building your EQ is not complicated, but it does take persistence and dedication. Try to hone the above skills each day, and before you know it you will be a better leader and lawyer – not to mention friend, partner, and family member – for it.

[1] Emotional intelligence (noun). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/emotional_intelligence

[2] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.keystepmedia.com/influence-emotional-intelligence/

[3] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Quoting Influence: A Primer. Retrieved from https://www.keystepmedia.com/influence-emotional-intelligence/

[4] Juetten, Mary (2017, August 14) Attorney Well-Being: Start with Emotional Intelligence, Law Practice Today. Retrieved from https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/attorney-well-being-emotional-intelligence/

[5] Muir, Rhonda (2015, June 13) The Psychology of Malpractice, Law People. Retrieved from https://www.lawpeopleblog.com/2015/06/the-psychology-of-malpractice/

[6] (2017, September 26) How emotional intelligence makes you a better lawyer, YourABA. Retrieved from

https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2017/october-2017/how-successful-lawyers-use-emotional-intelligence-to-their-advan/

[7] Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2013, May 29) Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em

[8] Ibid.

Building a Legacy

Last year I was offered the opportunity to be the keynote presenter at New York City’s Association of Legal Administrators’ (ALA) annual symposium, whose theme was Embracing Change: Building Stronger Leaders for Tomorrow. 

Preparing for the presentation, I reflected on some major milestones in my life and what I had to do to embrace each one successfully as I traveled along my leadership journey. I then had the privilege of sharing the following six actions with a large group of ALA members and sponsors. We started with a few laughs, shared a few tears and, most importantly, took the time to commit to one action we could each actively do on that day to “embrace change and become a stronger leader.” 

As I transitioned from college to work, I had to LEARN as much as I could. 

As I honed my skills in my career, I had to LEAN IN and DEEPEN my expertise. 

Later in my career, I had to lift my head and LOOK AROUND to see what I was missing and what trends were on the horizon. 

When my first child was born, I had to LOOK INSIDE and clarify my personal values so I could integrate my professional and personal lives in ways that would satisfy me. 

As I transitioned into a business owner, I had to learn how to coach and LIFT UP others so both they and we could be as successful and satisfied as possible. 


My last transition is still happening as I think about the LEGACY I want to leave. This frames my thinking and my approach to how we lead our business. The loss of my beloved mother and the legacy she left reminds me every day of the power of relationships and the lasting impact we have on others—both professionally and personally—when we think not only of the work we do together but how we care about each other and make each other feel along the way. 

I am grateful every day for how the content from The Leadership Challenge® helps me to be the leader of my own life. Two years before my mother died, for example, I gave serious thought to our relationship. I re-visited my values and decided to prioritize time with my mother. I live a busy life, travel frequently but am home on weekends. So, I asked my mother if we could have breakfast together every Sunday. She happily agreed and we set a goal to try every diner and breakfast place in mid- and southern-New Jersey. We loved our Sunday breakfasts together, learning more and more about each other. Often our morning breakfasts would turn into afternoon shopping and movies. On March 8th, 2017 while grabbing my luggage from a carousel at Newark airport, I got a call from my brother. My mother had suffered a brain aneurism. She never woke up and was removed from life support a week later. What I know for sure, is that I will never regret and instead am extremely grateful for our Sunday morning breakfasts together. 

As I strive to live my values, I am confident I am Modeling the Way as I want the world to see me. Each day as I think about my legacy, both professionally and personally, I become a bit clearer on the actions I can take every day to get there. 

Natalie Loeb is founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership, a certified women-owned business and a Global Training Partner of The Leadership Challenge®. With over 25 years of experience in executive coaching and known as an innovative business leader and strategic partner to her clients, Natalie leads her firm in the creation and realization of its vision: to help build high-trust cultures that inspire employees to change, collaborate, grow, and perform at their best—creating a positive impact on themselves, those around them, and their organizations and communities. She can be reached at natalie@loebleadership.com.

Dealing with a Toxic Colleague

No matter your industry, you’ve likely had the unfortunate experience of trying to cope with  negative or otherwise toxic colleagues. You know who they are. They’re the coworkers who backbite, gossip, bully, undermine, complain, and generally suck the energy from you and your team. They’re selfish and exhausting. Some are truly unethical or corrupt. They change the tenor of a room the moment they enter. When a toxic colleague’s name appears on an incoming call, you think twice before answering – if you answer at all.

 While dealing with toxic colleagues can be a daily challenge on a personal level, according to a recent Harvard Business School Study,[1] “even relatively modest levels of toxic behavior can cause major organizational cost, including customer loss, loss of employee morale, increased turnover, and loss of legitimacy among important external stakeholders.”

 If you’re like most people, you’d be astonished to know how much time you waste even thinking about toxic people at work, let alone dealing with the repercussions of their poisonous conduct. So it’s well worth understanding how to deal with, and eradicate where possible, such destructive behavior.

 If you are not in a position to terminate a toxic employee yourself and must contend with him or her as a colleague, there are some ways you can respond and set boundaries that will allow you to remain productive and diminish personal strain.

·      Keep your distance. Create physical and emotional space between you and your toxic coworker.[2] Engage with them as little as you are able, depending upon your job. Toxic people are often just seeking attention, so keeping it from them may serve to minimize their provocative conduct.

·      Counter negativity. If you feel comfortable defending a colleague who’s being undermined or gossiped about, or supporting a team member’s decision or action, do so tactfully. Letting a toxic coworker know that you find their comments off-base might cause them to think twice before sharing them further.

·      Respond with brevity or even silence. If you don’t feel comfortable countering negativity, then don’t. Simply don’t engage in caustic conversation and avoid responding at all to inappropriate comments – particularly those made via text or e-mail. Even a smile and a hurried “Excuse me, I have a meeting” can get you out of an unwanted breakroom interaction if necessary.

·      Reward positive behavior. If, by chance, the ordinarily offensive coworker behaves in a supportive or positive manner, acknowledge it genuinely.

·      Don’t stoop to their level. You won’t be happy if you roll around in the mud, so to speak, with a toxic person. Maintain your own high, personal standards when dealing with them, and with the rest of your colleagues, that serve as an example.

Of course, some colleagues are so toxic that the only way to decontaminate a workspace entirely is to eliminate the poison. If you have tried as best you can to improve your relationship with a particular colleague, or at least minimized your engagement, but have had little success, seek the advice of an HR professional. Leaving your job to get away from a toxic coworker should be a remedy of last resort.

If you are in a position to make an employment decision about such a person, don’t wait until they’ve caused irreparable damage – including the loss of valuable team members – before you take action. Regardless of a toxic employee’s skill set or experience, behavior that negatively impacts an entire team of people is bad for business.

Ridding your team of a toxic employee, as you might suspect, has its challenges. Be as detailed as possible when documenting the events justifying the termination. It’s relatively straightforward to justify termination for provable ethical violations or corruption. But what about less egregious behavior? Avoid vague claims like “you have a bad attitude” or “you’re too negative.” Rather, cite real examples of toxic behavior – e.g., “you screamed at Susan in a meeting” or “you claimed Dave’s work as your own”, etc.

 Sadly, the conduct that has made the employee toxic to begin with can make terminating their employment a more delicate undertaking than usual. In today’s ruthless online world, unhappy, insecure ex-employees seeking revenge can do a lot of damage to individuals and former employers on company sites and across social media. (This can be more immediately damaging than an eventual legal action by the employee.) So, in addition to the standard practice of managing the termination in the presence of an HR representative, you should request from the employee a legally binding separation agreement that protects the company from slander.

 The above are a few ways you can manage the unfortunately all-too-common presence of toxic colleagues in your office. The list is not exhaustive, but will hopefully serve as a starting point to help make your team as healthy and mutually supportive as possible.

[1] Housman, Michael and Minor, Dylan (2015) Toxic Workers. Harvard Business School Paper No. 16-057. Available at: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/16-057_d45c0b4f-fa19-49de-8f1b-4b12fe054fea.pdf.

[2] Burkus, David (2018, November 2) How to Deal with Toxic Coworkers, Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-leadership/201811/how-deal-toxic-coworkers.