As self proclaimed Queen of Culture at SK Chase I was feeling rather smug when I arrived for Julie Grieve’s recent talk on How to Avoid Toxic Teams. “It’s not really relevant for us” was my remark to Steph as we made our way to the Morton Fraser Business Women’s Network event. After all our culture is our core asset; we’ve invested our hearts and souls into creating an environment that inspires, supports and promotes personal and professional growth.  I’m fascinated by the psychology of business; the feelings within business and how they contribute to our successes (and failures); and I am in love with creating a space for amazing opportunities enabling people to live their purpose.

So I was surprised when I felt my smugness evaporate only for alertness and discomfort to take its place as I listened to Julie and recognised small but significant signs of toxicity that I had created in recent days.

Under pressure

Our system rebuild project has reached a climax and we are at the critical stage of implementation. As with any big project, it requires all hands on deck and interdependence within the team. We are being tested in many areas of our business; functionality, capability, capacity and of course whether we can truly live our values when the going gets tough.

A few days ago I sent a long (for me) detailed (for me) and angry (for me) email to the project team (made even more frustrating due to typing it with one finger on a smart phone whilst being driven to the airport). The email was thinly veiled as ‘sharing my truth’, though in reality it was a bollocking. So when Julie touched upon how management by email simply doesn’t work, my sideways glance at Steph was met with a knowing smile.

Julie reminded me that one person’s unacknowledged and unfair behaviour gives permission to others to show up the same way. So when I act out of alignment with our core values (which for us are to be true, courageous and fair to all) I’m saying to others that it’s okay. And it’s not.


I’m reminded of Jim Collins observations on Leadership in his fabulous book Great by Choice; he explains (paraphrased) that it’s only possible to tell how great a leader is when the going gets tough. In good times it’s difficult to distinguish an average leader from a great leader, it’s only when the business is faced with big challenges that the true leader prevails.

I believe the same is true of a company’s values – it’s easy being true courageous and fair when everything is flowing along nicely. Can I still consciously choose to be true, courageous and fair when we are in the midst of a pressure point?

I wasn’t being the best version of me when I sent out that email to our team and had I taken a step back and used our values as a context, I would have chosen an alternative route.


I’m at an interesting stage in my career right now as Steph and I have visions for our ‘next phase’ and we’re encouraging our team to step up and run our business.

So Julie’s final point rang so true for me; if your team can’t perform without you, it’s impossible to get promoted. That applies to Steph and me too. Unless our team has the capability and confidence to perform without us, we won’t get to be the fullest expression of ourselves and realise our big vision.

In other words, I have to get out of the way (my own way AND the team’s way!).

We have the most amazing people in our business and when I do remember to sit back and consider what we’ve created together I feel huge pride and immense gratitude towards every single person that has contributed to making SK Chase the great place to work that it is. We have all the right people on the bus – and they’re nearly all sitting in the right seat (that’s another story for another blog post). Thank you, Steph, Kate, Heather, Dani, Jan, Ben, Catharine, Jon and Linda for being who you are and accepting me as I am and being committed to creating the culture we love.

Ben inspired me the other evening when he shared with Steph and me “‘I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and show myself what I’m truly capable of”. Well, Ben, so am I!

It’s time to embrace it all – and live the lives our dreams are made of.



P.S. I admire women (and men) who have the courage to stand up in front of an audience and share their personal experiences in business; thank you, Julie, for taking time out of your diary to prepare and give the talk; it was a great reminder that when I think I know it all, I really don’t!

Julie can be found on Twitter @juliegrieve