“Rotten culture” allegations at BrewDog & toxic leaders

“Rotten culture” allegations at BrewDog raise the topic of toxic leaders.

By Renee Graham, Crafty Counsel

What does it mean to be a good leader and what can you do to avoid having the label of “toxic leader” attached to you? According to Kyle Hughes, formerly at Applied Influence Group and now Client Relationship Director at Premier Partnership, developing self awareness as a leader is key. He says empathy can be a powerful weapon when addressing toxic behaviours in a team and a leader. Hughes says toxic traits in a person are often rooted in their past and stems from a vulnerability. Addressing this vulnerability and how a toxic trait is used to mask it can be key to changing it.

Hughes says that negative or toxic traits can be passed on from the leader to the team and this can result in a toxic work environment. The upside is that positive traits can equally be passed on.

In this video Hughes discusses how not to be a toxic leader with Natalie Salunke, VP and Head of Legal at Fleetcor.

Dr Hazel McLaughlin, a Chartered Psychologist and President Elect of the British Psychological Society, discussed how orgainsations can foster a culture of trust with Sarah Wiggins, Corporate Partner at Linklaters.

Dr McLaughlin says it is important for people to keep looking back and keep evaluating and ask themselves how they can do better. She says the “essence of building trust” in an organisation is that people are “psychologically safe”.

She says it is important for people to keep asking how they can do better and to encourage everyone in an organisation to come up with better solutions.

The discussion with Dr McLaughlin can be viewed here.

We look back at these topics of how to avoid toxic leadership and how to foster a company culture embedded in listening and trust in light of the recent news story around BrewDog. Dozens of former employees, who referred to themselves as “Punks with Purpose” penned a letter and shared it on Twitter on Wednesday. The letter alleges that the culture at BrewDog is a toxic “rotten” one. The group lays the blame for the culture of “fear” at the feet of co-founder James Watt. It alleges that there are many who did not want to sign the letter for fear of legal reprisals from the company. Mr Watt has since apologised and promised to “listen, learn and act”.

The open letter alleges that “the single biggest shared experience of former staff is a residual feeling of fear.

The letter goes on to say that the mental health of many staff members at the company suffered. It also addresses Mr Watt directly:

“By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams.”

James Watt has since apologised and wrote on his LinkedIn profile and Twitter that these allegations were “hard to hear” and must have been “harder to say”.

It is important to note that BrewDog is by no means the only company that has fielded allegations of toxicity in the workplace, other major companies have also had similar accusations levelled at them.

As the co-founder of BrewDog says he will take this opportunity to listen, learn and act. This could be a moment of reflection of other company leaders and founders.

What can companies do better, where can we all learn?