As part of my work with Blanchard‘s team, I was exposed to a very powerful concept: tolerations. This idea is critical to living a values-aligned life in your family, community, or workplace – and to creating the high performance, values-aligned culture.

The concept of tolerations was developed by Thomas Leonard, often called the creator of the life coaching movement. Thomas founded Coach U and the International Coaching Federation, and created many programs used by coaches worldwide to help clients be more effective in their lives. Thomas passed away suddenly in 2003, leaving a legacy of exceptional coaching methods and standards.

Here’s how Thomas positioned tolerations:

Let’s define tolerations as things that bug us, sap our energy, and could be eliminated! Tolerations are holes in your personal success cup; they drain away your contentment and good fortune. They drain YOU. They make you feel less attractive to yourself. Tolerations often represent compromises you’ve talked yourself into.

My focus in this article is on how senior leaders’ tolerations impact their organization’s culture. If senior leaders want a high performance, values-aligned culture yet tolerate behaviors that are inconsistent with desired valued behaviors, there are undesirable results that always occur:

  • Leader credibility is eroded – if senior leaders say they want a certain culture yet they tolerate poor behavior from organization leaders or members, then senior leaders’ words and commitments are not trusted.
  • Organization leaders and members are frustrated and disappointed because accountability is inconsistent, which erodes both performance and commitment to the organization, its customers, and its stakeholders.
  • The desired culture never gains traction.

Senior leaders are often blind to what they are tolerating in their culture and do not clearly see the negative impact of those tolerations. Tolerations create a frustrating work environment and inhibit performance and creativity. They drain energy and commitment and erode trust across the workforce. The costs are real.

The good news: controlling senior leader tolerations is about each senior leader’s choices and behavior – it’s not about fixing others around them. Sometimes partnering with a competent executive coach can help senior leaders see their culture from a new perspective, and help them identify the key tolerations that are causing frustration and holding their organization back.

Recognize and Address Your Tolerations

Whether you are a senior leader of a multi-million dollar company, a project team lead, or anyone in between, eliminating tolerations follows the same series of steps.

  1. Create a list of the things that bug you, that drain your energy, that compromise desired behaviors in your culture. Focus particularly on behaviors that are inconsistent with your organization’s desired valued behaviors.
  2. Prioritize your list so the issues that have the greatest negative impact can be addressed first. Being conscious of what you’ve tolerated in your culture helps you modify your choices and your behavior to no longer accept those tolerations.
  3. Have conversations with those players whose behavior you’ve been tolerating, one at a time. These are non-judgmental conversations – not emotional or explosive conversations. These people have been behaving in these ways for a long time because you have tolerated their behavior. Now, you have made a choice to not tolerate that behavior any more.
  4. Secure clear agreements about future behavior, and hold those players accountable for their commitments. Praise progress and accomplishment, and redirect players if they struggle with their new commitments. If players are unable to keep their commitments, lovingly set them free – help them out of the organization as they are unable to demonstrate desired valued behaviors.

As you eliminate tolerations in your culture, you will be amazed at the demonstration of increased energy, motivation, performance, and commitment by organization leaders and members.

What are you tolerating in your personal or professional life today? What experience do you have with growth after reducing tolerations? Share your comments below.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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