Toxic work cultures truly rot from the head

I think we all know this, but we still like to clarify and repeat it. Leaders are the main reason that places get toxic.

Ted Bauer
4 min readOct 25, 2022


I got the chart above from this Stowe Boyd newsletter, which is in turn from here via MIT. It’s funny because MIT has apparently developed a little chubby for discussing toxic workplaces; I wrote about another study they did re: “The Great Resignation.” Breaking news: toxic work cultures are, uh, bad.

But what’s happening in the above chart? I’ll tell you, friend. In the above chart, you’re seeing correlates with toxic culture. What’s the big one? You got it: senior leadership. It’s funny because then they quote Ed Schein, who is a big name in these organizational development spaces, and he says this:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.

Now we come to the first problem

Leaders — sorry, “leaders” — absolutely do not believe that the “only thing of real importance” they do is create and manage culture. In fact, if you asked many leaders if they do that, they’d say “No, HR does that.” The more in-tune senior leaders would at least acknowledge they have a hand in it. But before you heard words like “create and manage culture,” you’d probably hear these words:

  • Deals
  • Jobs
  • Revenue
  • Growth
  • Assets
  • Job Creation
  • Cost containment
  • Supply chain
  • Production value
  • Brand

All those words would probably come before the single word “culture” if you asked an exec, off the record, what the most important thing they do is.

Stowe Boyd then pulls out this section

Model the behavior you expect from employees — Senior management must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. What is done in the C-Suite signals what…



Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.