Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Ask Mary: How can I turn this company around and stop the toxic negativity?

Mary Keane Dawson is New Digital Age’s Digital Therapist. One of digital’s most experienced and well-known leaders, Mary will be dispensing her hard-earned wisdom each month on NDA. If you’ve got a problem and no one else can help, simply send the burning question you need answered to

NDA reader Alex: “I’ve just been made MD of an adtech company that is rife with negative gossip. It’s my job to turn this situation around and get everyone back on board to help me get the, still great, company back on track.

I need to win the confidence of the staff and ensure they know they can come to me with their concerns. What leadership style is going to work best here? How can I create a ‘safe zone’ to make sure I hear all internal viewpoints and worries?”

Dear Alex,

What a great question, and unfortunately not an uncommon situation in many companies, and frequently an inherited challenge when you take over as MD.

Have you established what’s at the root cause of all this negativity?  I’d hazard a guess based on my many years of leadership – it’s lack of confidence. Belief in themselves and the company – belief in what you do.

What you stand for. Passion about what your values mean to you, your talent, your clients and the marketplace.

You ask about letting people know that they can come to you and that you need to create a safe zone for people to feel they can air their fears and worries.

Don’t do this. You will be creating an environment where all you will do is listen to demotivational negativity, feeding the furnace of the underlying gossip rationale.

My advised first step is to turn this situation to your, and the company’s, advantage.

You need to be a leader who can rally the key members of your management team to the cause. No one in your shoes is going to be able to solve this problem all on their own.

When you’re the new MD I think you feel you need to solve problems singlehandedly. But the reality is, you’re only going to be successful in achieving change by surrounding yourself with great talent and sharing the responsibility to create a new cultural norm in your company. 

Your leadership objective should be reframed so that your business is going to become OUR company. 

With the wider leadership team onboard, this now becomes a motivational mission – not a piecemeal solo project. You and your team need to design and write your Manifesto for the Future.

Nothing will be gained from recycling everyone’s negativity.

Everything however will be gained by deciding how you’re going to measure the positive impact your new mission will have on people’s positivity levels, energy, sales, productivity, reputation and profits.  

Run workshops, push decision making across the business, get your people to begin to believe in themselves again – that will become your greatest achievement and the biggest buzz.

And why  you’ll need to organise a big party to celebrate how great you all are.

That’s inspirational leadership in action my friend.

Get to it!

Big love,