Emily Byford's lessons from leadership blog series: Your working environment takes work

A good working environment takes work: Lessons from Leaders I

This is the first post in my Lessons from Leaders series. These posts are all reflections on important lessons I’ve learned in people – leaders – across the different companies and industries I’ve worked in so far, from publishing to events. These experiences and lessons have all combined to shape how I work, communicate, and offer support and guidance to the people I work alongside. 

Lesson One: A good working environment takes work

My very first job after university was at a tiny little publishing house in London. Fiercely independent for over 60 years… and owned and run by the same person for all of those 60 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the way they ran things was a little “dated”.

Their management style was – for lack of a better word – aggressive. It was incredibly common to see the managing director shouting at a member of staff. And not just shouting: bellowing, humiliating, berating.

Whoever was on the receiving end would leave the room so flustered, embarrassed and upset that they could hardly remember the main points of this so-called conversation. Let alone carry out any instructions that may have been part of it.

This instilled in me what is still one of my guiding principles for communication: no raised voices.

You can be passionate about something and you can communicate that strength of feeling – whether it’s anger, frustration, excitement, exhaustion – without shouting at the other person.

Shouting creates a power imbalance. If you’re bellowing at another person that comes across as intimidating. Duh. It puts that person in a defensive mindset, which is never a good basis for a productive conversation.

The strange couple of years I spent at this publishing house taught me one key lesson: it takes work to create a working environment where people feel (psychologically) safe, like they are valued members of your team, and that they can bring you their challenges, share their ideas, and even disagree with you on things – big or small. 

And more importantly, it taught me that I want to do that work.

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