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Many of us are familiar with the kind of person who easily earns the moniker ‘toxic’ and instills fear, rage, and frustration in those around them.

What do you do when you work with a toxic leader?

How do you feel when toxic leaders continue to get promoted and receive accolades?

And what do you do when others make excuses for these toxic leaders, like saying their skill set or network is too important to the organization and you have to “take the good with the bad?”

Toxic leaders and cultures take a toll on you, especially when you have your own relational wounding history. You may try to speak up or feel shut down, but there’s another common theme: How betrayed you feel when your experiences are met with silence, inaction, or retribution.

We’re at a critical moment regarding leading, accountability, and culture. But one thing that still feels constant is the impact of our history with relational wounding and relational trauma, and how that impacts how, or if, we speak up in the face of injustices from toxic leaders and toxic work culture.

Today’s guest wrote a book on the impact of toxic leaders and cultures, including how we often protect toxic leaders at great expense to the staff and the business. As someone who was bullied both as a child and in the workplace, she has some very special insight into this all-too-common experience.

Mita Mallick is a corporate change-maker with a track record of transforming businesses. She has had an extensive career as a marketer in the beauty and consumer product goods space, fiercely advocating for the inclusion and representation of Black and Brown communities. Her book, Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace, is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best Seller.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • The practical toll on the business of enabling toxic leaders to continue to manage teams
  • The psychological and physical impact of the workplace trauma created by working under toxic leaders
  • How people end up in environments that recreate the harmful relational patterns of their past
  • Why those with more power in the workplace need to speak up on behalf of others
  • How executive coaching can be used as a Band-Aid to cover toxic behavior
  • How guilt and empathy for the teammates we’d leave behind can keep us stuck in toxic environments

Learn more about Mita Mallick:

Learn more about Rebecca:



[Inspirational Intro Music]

Mita Mallick: When I think about leaders, toxic leaders who drive this fear in particular, you’ll drive short-term results. You’ll get me scared, and I’ll work for you, and I’ll be racing and running, but that eventually leads to exhaustion, burnout, and people don’t stay long. Fear does not drive long-term business results, and so, that’s the question you should be asking yourself because what are you afraid of?

Rebecca Ching: I suspect many of you know the archetype of a person who easily earns the moniker “toxic” and instills fear and rage and frustration, to name a few, in those around them. So I’m curious, what do you do when you work with a toxic leader? How do you feel when you see folks who don’t follow the rules, don’t treat people well, and continue to get promoted and receive accolades. What do you do when you see others make excuses for these toxic leaders, noting in some way how their important skill set is to the business, or their network is to the organization and that it’s best to just take the good with the bad. And what experiences have you had when you speak up about the impact of a toxic leader or stand up for someone experiencing the wrath of a toxic leader and nothing happens, or worse, you experience retribution?

I feel agitated connecting with these questions [Laughs] in my own experiences as I think about this. I also hear about these experiences from my clients on regular rotation. The stories are consistently the same even though they have slight variations.

Now, I feel like we’re at a really important, even critical, moment in time when it comes to leading, accountability, and culture. But one thing that still feels constant is the impact of our own history with relational wounding and relational trauma and how that history impacts how we speak up or if we speak up in the face of injustices from toxic leaders and toxic work culture. 


I’m Rebecca Ching, and you’re listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

Early in my clinical career I heard about a group of people who would meet as a support group of sorts, and this group of people all used to work at a particular business in the mental health space. Now, this group was not small. There were a lot of people I knew in it, and I knew many of the individuals in this “recovery group.” The leaders who worked in the mental health space that I knew were brilliant, ethical, deeply caring, compassioned, and committed to their work, and they would gather monthly to break bread and share stories (war stories, as they would tell me) about what it was like to work at this particular place.

Now, I was dumbfounded whenever a colleague debriefed one of these meetings with me. I would clench my fists. I would get spicy and share how I don’t know how this organization still functions without accountability. It would make me see red. I’ve asked them, “How can this keep happening especially when so many people know what’s going on there?” I would develop plans for them to go to the media and organize to bring the company down. My colleagues would just smile and shake their heads and let me know how they appreciated my idealism. But I don’t think I was being idealistic. Sure, it was excellent fodder for a soap opera, but it wasn’t entertaining to me.


It hit me really hard because I care about the field, I care about the people and the population they were serving, I care about my colleagues, I care about justice. Man, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would ruminate when I heard about how staff and clients were so negatively impacted, and I was so mad at the leaders of this organization (who I didn’t even know) who were doing so much harm to so many.

I now know I was having a secondary trauma response, and the experiences of my colleagues tapped into my own relational wounding. They brought out parts of me that wanted to fight for justice and accountability everywhere, all the time, for all the things. And I was frustrated that others were not as mad as me. Sound familiar?

After a while, I realized that my over-identification with my colleagues’ experiences had brought up so much in me, and I saw how they were healing in their own way and supporting each other through their shared experiences. They had been where I was, and I didn’t even work there, and they were working hard to unhook from their toxic experiences. And I hear from many of my clients who experience work traumas that tap into the echoes of their relational wounds, which sometimes creates a perfect storm emotionally. And I work with many folks who have a strong sense of justice and a sense of what’s right and wrong. A lot of these folks work in spaces where they see harm done, where unethical people continue to be protected, and they see how these leaders impact how they do their jobs.

Toxic leaders and cultures take a toll on you, especially when you have your own relational wounding history. You may try to speak up and understandably feel shut down, but I’m hearing a common theme from my clients: how betrayed they feel when their experiences are met with silence, inaction, or retribution.


It’s easy to forget to tend to those parts of us that still hold memories of really difficult experiences. When we interact with a leader who connects us to a past difficult experience or a challenging dynamic, it’s hard to move forward with the work that we need to do, and sometimes it feels like you can only push through for so long. before your body starts to shut you down. When we don’t address these echoes, we can find ourselves feeling anxious and our mood dips, and we can also feel these somatic and physical symptoms too because we’re just pushing through and holding it all in.

My guest today wrote a book on the impact of toxic leaders and cultures and devoted a whole chapter to how we often protect toxic leaders at great expense to the staff and the business. And as someone who was bullied both as a child and in the workplace, she has some very special insight into this all-too-common experience.

Mita Mallick has an extensive career as a marketer in the beauty and consumer product goods space. Her book Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths To Transform Your Workplace is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller. Mita Mallick has brought her talent and expertise to companies like Karta, Unilever, Pfizer, Avon, Johnson & Johnson, and more. She’s a sought-after speaker and coach and is also the co-host of the Brown Table Talk podcast, which is part of the LinkedIn Podcast Network. Mita’s also a LinkedIn Top Voice and a Harvard Business Review Ad Week Entrepreneur and Fast Company contributor. She’s been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME Magazine, Forbes, Axios, Essence, Cosmopolitan, and Business Insider. She was also featured in a documentary created by Soledad O’Brien Productions for CBS News titled Women in the Workplace: The Unfinished Fight for Equality.


Now, I want you to pay attention to Mita’s reflections on those who stay silent about toxic leadership and what we can do instead. And listen for when Mita validates the presence and impact of workplace trauma and the insidious nature of it because so many people deny it. Notice when Mita talks about our impact on others when we do not feel safe, healthy, and whole. You’re in for a powerful conversation, so now please welcome Mita Mallick to The Unburdened Leader podcast.

All right, y’all. We’re in for a treat of a conversation with Mita Mallick. Mita, welcome to The Unburdened Leader podcast! I want to dig deep into one of the myths that you write about in your book Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths To Transform Your Workplace. There are a lot of really good myths in this book, and when I was trying to discern which one to talk about with you, it was a tough competition.

Mita Mallick: We can talk about them all! We could do ‘em all. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] But what rose to the top was myth number five. You write:

“We protect the assholes because our business would not run without them.”

And that one stood out to me because when I reflect on my conversations with my clients and the harm so many I work with and have worked with over the years and also my own experiences, I thought I want to dig into this one [Laughs] too.

So I’m sure people listening know the archetype of someone who’s earned the title “asshole” when we see one, and I’m wondering how would you describe the kind of leader who’s earned the title “asshole”? 


Mita Mallick: Mm, well, thank you, first, for having me on and, second, for reading the book because time is a precious commodity, and I really appreciate that you took the time to read it and then wanted to have a broader conversation about it.

Rebecca Ching: Of course.

Mita Mallick: So we protect the A-holes because our businesses wouldn’t run without them. How I describe an A-hole is the exact opposite of what an inclusive leader looks like, and at the heart of it, like yourself, like your clients, I have been hurt and harmed repeatedly in the workplace over the course of my career. I’ve been the target of bullying, gaslighting, harassment, and with those years and time has come wisdom.

For me to now say I have empathy for these individuals, which is hard for me to say, but I do, particularly those who hurt and harmed me, to say they are still hurt. They are still hurt, and they have not healed, and the only thing they know how to do is to hurt other people. And so, whether it’s A-hole, bully, toxic leader, it comes down to individuals who are so hurt that they don’t know what to do with that hurt. They haven’t healed, and they show up every day at work forcing their pain, sharing their pain, lashing out in ways that they shouldn’t be, or they wouldn’t be if they were healed.

Rebecca Ching: It almost sounds like the antithesis of what I think of as an Unburdened Leader, too. So here’s a kicker: why do we assume that the business wouldn’t run without them?

Mita Mallick: Mm, years later, I still struggle with this one. Why we assume the business won’t run without them is because many of these individuals who are A-holes, who are toxic leaders, have done such a fantastic job of managing up. They have convinced everyone that they’re indispensable when, in a lot of cases, it’s their teams who are doing the work and running the business, and a lot of times, as I talk about in this myth in Reimagine Inclusion, let’s say I’m the toxic leader, and I’m your CMO, and you’re the CEO Rebecca.


We may have built this company together. We may have a personal relationship, one that clouds your judgment about me. And so, the whispers keep getting louder. You hear the feedback. But you have a hard time believing it because you know me, and we believe in a different way.

I came to your daughter’s graduation. I was there when a family member died. I’ve been there with you through the thick and thin of building the business, and so, you can’t imagine that I am the person that people say I am and that also I have managed up so well, you’re just like, “I can’t do this without Mita.”

But what you haven’t done the exercise of is really thinking about, “Okay, let’s just step into this. What if Mita leaves? What does it look like then?” And likely the business will go on without me. It will. But you haven’t done, also, the work to think about succession planning and who could actually step into those shoes. So it’s very, very multi-layered.

Rebecca Ching: You know, this is bringing up a piece of advice I received in my first job out of college working in The United States Senate, and I had somebody say, “Everyone’s replaceable. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who would want your job. So don’t take it for granted.” And that was a good piece of advice to get in my early twenties.

Mita Mallick: It is, and we’re sitting in 2024 right now, and the layoffs keep coming. And I had a good friend, similar to the advice you got, who told me, “From a US perspective, we’re all a social security number at the end of the day. When layoffs come, they come, and sometimes companies can be ruthless about it.”

Rebecca Ching: For sure.

Mita Mallick: So, again, this idea that we are, from a corporation’s perspective, all replaceable, but then your question of, “Well, then, some people seem to be irreplaceable. Why does this toxic leader hold on while so many other people move on in their careers?”


Rebecca Ching: Right, which makes me go to the example that you gave. The CEO who is like, “Oh, we started this place together. I’ve known them since middle school. Are you sure?” They’re not believing the people on the team. And so, who’s the A-hole here, you know what I mean? And so, there’s that A-hole toxic leadership only succeeds because others enable it.

Mita Mallick: Because in that relationship — I’ll use you and I as an example — you’re just as accountable as I am.

Rebecca Ching: Right.

Mita Mallick: Because you’re allowing me to behave this way and continue to hurt and harm people when the alarm has been sounded. And I tell you this, Rebecca, and I know you’ve heard this from clients: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If I have bullied one person, I’ve probably bullied a number, and I’ve done a really good job of isolating them, and so, maybe they’re not talking to each other about it. But when the first signal flare goes off and you get that first exit interview or that first complaint or that first time someone comes and says, “I think we have a problem with Mita,” that’s the time to listen, but too many people bury it, and they don’t listen.

Rebecca Ching: For those listening, if you’ve caught yourself in a place of minimizing, denying, rationalizing, or justifying bad behavior, what are you afraid of if you really acknowledge what’s happening?

Mita Mallick: I’ve had a lot of different leaders in my career, good leaders, bad leaders I’ve worked for. When I think about leaders, toxic leaders who drive this fear in particular, you’ll drive short-term results. You’ll get me scared, and I’ll work for you, and I’ll be racing and running, but that eventually leads to exhaustion, burnout, and people don’t stay long. Fear does not drive long-term business results, and so, that’s the question you should be asking yourself because what are you afraid of? “Well, under Mita’s leadership, we’ve had double the growth year over year!” I’ve taken credit for it, and you believed that. When is it really me doing it or is it the team beneath me who’s driving results?


Rebecca Ching: I know there are so many people listening to what you just said going, “Yes! That thing!” [Laughs] You know, and the more I’m thinking about this, the CEO is not the innocent bystander of their toxic C-suite team member.

Mita Mallick: To add to what you’re saying is that you could be just as toxic as me, and so, we’ve seen also hotspots in an organization and also times when there’s toxicity in the C-suite, and it’s not just me (the CMO). It’s also you, Rebecca (the CEO), and you might also have toxic behaviors. And so, in that sense, we work well together, and I’m a yes person for you. There are all sorts of reasons why people decide that they keep toxic leaders on, which to me, at the end of the day, is wow, can you imagine the loss of productivity, not only from the team that stays but the team that leaves, the individuals that leave, the cost to replace those individuals? It’s staggering to me.

Rebecca Ching: There’s the actual business cost but then there’s the individual cost too, right? Their wellbeing, their relational health, physical health, mental health, all of that. No question. So are there any other tells or any other ways that this type of toxic leader perpetuates a toxic leadership culture?

Mita Mallick: Well, one of the things I’ve observed in my career is that, especially when you’re junior, you role model. If you’ve never seen what a good leader looks like, and the first leader you have is toxic or the second or third, you start to unfortunately role model those behaviors. You don’t know what healthy, great leadership looks like. And so, there’s that cost of how you are raising the next generation of leaders by allowing this behavior. Because the behavior that you tolerate, that becomes your culture. You’re tolerating us.


And so, what are some of the other signs of toxic leadership and how does it show up at work? I talk a lot about gaslighting, and that’s the psychological abuse and manipulation where I, as a leader, tried to rock your sense of reality, minimize, dismiss. You’ll say to me, “I sent that to you.” I’ll say, “No, you didn’t.” “You said to me last quarter I’d be up for a promotion.” “I never said that.” I’ll say I invite you to meetings, but I don’t. I will privately praise you or humiliate you and do the opposite in public. And so, all these things over and over again.

I was talking to a good friend of mine who’s in a similar situation, and when you’re in these situations, particularly in a toxic relationship at work, you start to think that you have lost your mind, right? You start to doubt everything, and it sometimes takes you talking to someone else to say, “No, no. This has also happened to me, and if you can afford to, you need to make an exit plan and leave as soon as you can,” because I will tell you I stayed in toxic relationships for way too long at work, and I lost pieces of myself, pieces of myself years later that I still try to recollect because there’s still the post-traumatic stress from it. And I wish I had left sooner.

And I’m here with you today. I’m here for a reason, and I’ve had the path I’ve had, but there are so many signs of toxic leadership, and one of the things I say to individuals is to just document for the purposes of HR, which I know we’ll talk about momentarily, but also just for yourself so you can have the narrative, so you know that you aren’t imagining these things. You aren’t. You’re being gaslit.


Rebecca Ching: With my background in psychotherapy, one of the things that’s been coming up with my clients that don’t see these toxic dynamics until maybe even I point them out and we get back into this is what they knew growing up, so then they end up in workspaces that just feel “comfortable.” I’m putting air quotes on it. They know it’s not right, but it’s so known, so it’s hard to discern. So there’s a lot of work to dig out of that.

Mita Mallick: That is profound, what you just said. I’ve thought about this a lot for myself. I was bullied a lot as a child growing up, both verbally and physically by peers, not by my parents, not by my brother, but the greater community, and I wonder if there’s a part of me that has been drawn to spaces and  places where do I put myself in these situations where I’m a target? You start to question yourself. You wonder, “What did I do wrong, or is it just that most of these systems haven’t been built for someone who looks like me?”

Rebecca Ching: Well, I would say it’s the latter a hundred thousand percent. And, I mean, a lot of people do this self-blame because the narrative is like, “What are you manifesting? What are you putting out in the world?” I call bullshit to that, excuse me. I mean, I think there are elements to that, but the self-blame perpetuates the toxic dynamic, right? But I would say our radar and what’s painful and comfortable is distorted because of those earlier formative experiences.

Mita Mallick: Well, I will tell you that based on my upbringing, being a proud daughter of Indian immigrant parents, my parents gave me a lot of gifts. One of them was a relentless work ethic. I could outwork you. I can outwork anybody, you know? It’s that kind of like, “Let’s, let’s –.” But I didn’t work smart. I worked really hard, and guess what? I thought I could outsmart and outwork the toxic leader. That if I just worked hard enough, that I could work myself out of the situation. And actually, when you’re in this sort of toxic environment, when you continue to do well and you think that this is a healthy relationship where, “If I’m working for you, you shine, I shine.”


That’s the job of a leader. The number one job is to create more leaders. But some leaders, particularly toxic leaders, are threatened by that. So the more I tried to actually accomplish at work in these situations, thinking it’s going to make the team look great, it made me even more of a target.

Rebecca Ching: It’s just self-perpetuating there. But not because you’re doing it to your — you’re just feeding into this system. I call it homeostasis creep. [Laughs] It sneaks up on the best of us.

So I want to spend a little time because you addressed this a little bit in your book and a lot in your writings too. What are the stakes for those who decide to speak up when they experience harm or see harm done?

Mita Mallick: There’s blowback. It’s a calculated risk. I’m not going to sit here and tell you — I always say, and I believe this, when you see something, say something. I try to live my life like that. I feel like I’m the New York City subway and those signs. But we spend too much time at work not to care, so it’s part of my value and ethos, but it’s very easy for me to sit here and say this to you all now. When I was much junior, there was a cost to it. I’m much more senior in my career now. I have a bigger platform. I have more responsibility. I have privilege that I can use to talk about these things. But when I was junior, there was always a calculation or someone else who could help me because there was someone more senior with more power who could intervene.

Because I’ve heard stories and I know many women who are friends of mine who have said things and there’s been a cost to their career, right? Whether it’s they’ve been asked to sign NDAs, they’ve been asked to exit the company, they’ve been asked to do X, Y, and Z. And so, I don’t want to sit here and say, “Yes, you should speak up, and there’s no cost.” That’s a cost that you have to calculate for yourself. Only you can make that decision. The conversation I want to have is why aren’t other people speaking out on behalf of what they’re seeing, right?

So when I go back to some of the most toxic work environments I’ve been in, this one in particular, the most senior leader (who was the toxic leader, the A-hole), the rest of the C-suite knew, right? Years later, people will make comments to me about it.


So I say, “What did you do, then? What did you do when you had the power and privilege when you saw these things happening? You didn’t do anything.” And I hope more people listening will think about, “Well, what are the ways in which I can intervene when I have the power and privilege at work to do so?”

Rebecca Ching: It’s noticed when there’s silence when you know people can back up what you’re saying or give a witness to what you’re experiencing, and they don’t. One thing that treating trauma over two decades has taught me is that, actually, it’s harder to heal from those who knew it was going on and didn’t intervene than the actual perpetrator. It shook me too when I realized that.

Mita Mallick: Oof, and also the people who will cut you off and cut you out when you choose to leave that toxic environment, the people who you thought were friends. Or when you do speak up, people who will then want to disassociate themselves or distance themselves from you when they know all along what’s going on as well.

Rebecca Ching: You get cut out of the community, the belonging, so it’s lots of layers of loss: income, community, connections, network.

Mita Mallick: Your sense of self.

Rebecca Ching: Your sense of self, oh.

Mita Mallick: I literally didn’t realize how many pieces of myself I had lost until I started a new job and I felt so shaky in everything. It took me a while to rebuild my confidence. And someone asked me this question. I don’t know. I saw it on LinkedIn somewhere, that it takes you, like, 18 months to heal from a toxic work environment. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know what that number is. But it depends. It’s more or less and it’s different for everyone.

Even recently, I was re-triggered by something that happened a long time ago at work, and I was really disappointed in myself because I thought I had healed, and my friend said to me, “Well, that’s part of the healing process, that you will be triggered and that there are still scars from those things that we’ve all endured.”


Rebecca Ching: I would like to think that tenderness to being treated poorly is protective. What do you say to those people who say, “It’s not my place to get involved,” when they witness workplace harassment and bullying? 

Mita Mallick: “If this was happening to your sister, your son, your daughter, your cousin, your best friend, does that change it for you? If someone you loved was being hurt and harmed that way, would that change it for you? And wouldn’t you want someone to intervene for you or for someone you love? Wouldn’t you want help, and wouldn’t you want someone to be an ally for you?” And part of me calls BS on that because I will say we spend too much time at work not to protect the cultures we’re holding, right? We spend too much time. Some of us go to work for a paycheck; others have found our purpose. We’re there a lot, and so, why wouldn’t we intervene when we saw something go awry? And then there are many different ways to intervene, but why wouldn’t we at least try to do something?

Rebecca Ching: I’m just gonna let that breathe.

Mita Mallick: I feel like, Rebecca, I’m in a therapy session with you. This is wonderful. But everyone’s listening too. Thank you all for listening and being here! You’ve dropped some amazing gems I’m thinking about still.

[Inspirational Music]

Rebecca Ching: Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm, especially when you speak up in the face of injustice and are met with silence or even retribution.

Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action. Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing it safe and small.


Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It’s the real deal. It’s lived experience. It’s brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism and secrecy and silence at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned.

When the stakes are high and you don’t want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader Coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than you were taught.

To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can’t wait to hear from you!

[Inspirational Music]

Rebecca Ching: The one thing that I hear from a lot of people in response to your question is, “We need the money,” or it could even be more serious about their physical safety. Often, so many people have generations of people that have just had to take it to survive and want to perpetuate that because they don’t see other ways. What do you say?

Mita Mallick: I go back to my Indian immigrant parents who I adore, and we don’t quit. Winners don’t quit, and my parents were so much — they left everyone and everything behind in India to come and start a life for themselves here, and they knew no one. They had no community. They had no support. They were always in survival mode, so how can I be complaining about someone making fun of me at work or making me feel uncomfortable. Like, just toughen up. Just get through it, right? But that’s where we have to break the trauma that’s passed on from generation to generation and to say that if you are not healthy and whole and you are not feeling safe, you cannot be productive at work. You just can’t.


And so, you are slowly chipping away at the inevitable, which is so many people I know who, because of this experience, mental trauma, physical trauma. There’s a physical toll it takes. Having to leave the workforce either way because maybe you have to take a leave of absence, so you go on medical leave.

Rebecca Ching: Exactly.

Mita Mallick: And so, my biggest piece of advice is if you’re listening today and you feel like I have, you’re trapped in a situation at work you cannot get out of, start making the exit plan. I’m not advising anyone to resign tomorrow if you can’t do that because financially, like you were saying, Rebecca, many people cannot afford it. Start making the exit plan. Get your resume together. Start asking for help in your community. Start looking for roles. Start applying. Right? All these things you have to start doing, and it’s so difficult when your confidence has been shattered. One of the things that I would encourage people to do is find something that helps you rebuild your confidence. For me, that was writing.

Actually, I started writing a lot more during the time when I was at the height of being bullied in this workplace situation. Even though I had loved writing since I was in the fifth grade — I was the proud co-editor of the Woodland Elementary School Newspaper.


I have loved writing for a long time, so it could be tutoring. It could be volunteering. It could be coaching a local girls’ basketball league. Do something that helps rebuild yourself outside of work because one of the things I will say (and this has happened to me) is when I was desperately trying to get out of the situation, people could tell that I was (I’m gonna say this) broken.

When I was interviewing, I was a shell of myself because the confidence had dropped so much because of what I had been enduring with this boss. In retrospect, now I realize it, right? And now people who talk to me years later, close friends of mine — my friend Josh the other day was like, “I just have to say to you I just think that the confidence in your voice is beautiful. It just makes me so happy to see you thriving.” And people can sense that.

Rebecca Ching: No question, and one thing I’ve learned is that women don’t need to learn how to be more confident. We just need to heal the things that have buried it. There are a lot of people that want to make money on women not feeling confident. But let’s just make our workspaces less toxic.

Mita Mallick: Exactly!

Rebecca Ching: And more inclusive.

Mita Mallick: I haven’t always had imposter syndrome. People have put it upon me. I didn’t always show up not lacking confidence. It’s not how I was raised. It’s not what I was taught at school. Well, yeah, I can conquer the world. But then others around me slowly tried to convince me otherwise.

Rebecca Ching: No question. Well, I want to get into this next question. I’m really curious what you’re gonna say. I was thinking about this as I was prepping for our time together, how many times I’ve heard people talk about how their HR departments or those that were supposed to protect them were not safe. And so, what actions can leaders, particularly those in the HR space, do to honor and protect those harmed by a colleague along with the witnesses who speak up and not just focus on rehabbing those who’ve perpetuated harm?


Mita Mallick: We might have to have another podcast episode for that. What I would say is that one of the things I see happen too often is (I talk about this in Reimagine Inclusion) that executive coaching is weaponized. “Mita works for Rebecca, and she’s the toxic leader. We have the data. She’s had five women of color leave her team in the last three weeks, and then if we look at attrition so far trending this quarter, wow, she has lots of people leaving, and guess what? The root cause is her. We don’t need to figure out, “Why are people leaving?” No, it’s Mita, and recruiting keeps just putting butts in the seats. And so, “What will Rebecca do (who’s the CEO)?” Rebecca, I’ve just made you to be the bad-girl CEO. Rebecca will say, “Uh, Mita needs an executive coach. Mita needs therapy. Full stop. Mita needs therapy.”

And so, of course, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not saying that we can legally mandate therapy in workplaces, but I do think a lot of what’s happening in our workplaces involves therapy. It’s not executive coaching. You’re weaponizing it, and then you’re gonna say, “Mita’s gonna get an executive coach. I’m gonna pay a good amount of money, bring someone in. They’re gonna follow me around. They’re gonna give 360 feedback. We already know what the feedback is, and she’s gonna go through this three-month thing, and she’s gonna stay the same.”

You know, in a lot of cases they think — I believe the people function, the HR function is one of the most important functions in a company because your people are the company, and I think too often it has devised that HR is in defense of the company when HR should be in service of the company, yet many times the way in which the HR function is developed in a company, like if a president or a founder doesn’t respect the function, doesn’t want to hear of the guidance that a Chief People Officer has, doesn’t believe the data.

So, oftentimes, what I will see if we have the data, right? We’ve seen the data. I shared something recently on social media, which I said, “Imagine a world where we cared about exit interviews as much as we care about customer reviews. Imagine what that would look like,” right?

Rebecca Ching: I saw that.


Mita Mallick: Wow. Oh, my god! Our employee is as important as our customer. Our employee is one of our customers, one of our key stakeholders. But, oftentimes, I will see, especially we live in a world with so much amazing technology. When you think about the people function and how it continues to evolve, there are ways to track this data. People see the data and don’t want to believe it, so you go back to Rebecca, the CHRO comes and sits with Rebecca and says, “Rebecca, we have a problem with Mita. I have all the data. I’ve pulled this together. I’ve actually gone and talked to people. Here are some of the themes,” and Rebecca still is like, “Okay, thanks! I’ll think about it.” Six months later, I’m still here.

Rebecca Ching: It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Mita Mallick: It is, and I think for anyone who is in a position where they are being hurt and harmed at work, I would ask you to seek legal counsel and think about what is the best for you, right? You have to think about are you documenting, are you reporting, do you have witnesses, do you have a peer who has been in these situations observing them, is someone who’s your boss’s peer an advocate for you, right? And so, you have to really — there’s no one-size-fits-all. You have to individually decide what’s the right course of action.

You know, in my situation, I wanted to leave with my stories, and so, I left and moved on when I finally had regained (as you said) my confidence. But everyone has to make a personal choice on how they want to move forward.

Rebecca Ching: And I think people really go dark when they feel like they don’t have choices, and we have to remember we always do even if they all suck.

Mita Mallick: We do, and that’s why the exit plan. There are many different paths to the exit plan. And so, that’s why being action oriented — think about it. Like you said, you might not like all of the solutions, but they’re there.


Rebecca Ching: Your point on executive coaching, especially in house, executive coaches being weaponized, I’ve met a lot of people I work with who’ve sought me outside of their org because they needed a second opinion. They’re like, “I’m feeling stuck. I’m feeling like I’m in trouble. I feel like this is gonna do more harm.” Not always, but the folks that have come to me have shared that it’s hard to really be vulnerable in those situations.

Mita Mallick: It is, and it puts the executive coach, I think too, in an awful position.

Rebecca Ching: Right.

Mita Mallick: Sometimes it’s just beyond their skills and expertise. Well, as we started this conversation, hurt people hurt people, and they need to be healed, and you need someone with deep expertise to help you do that.

Rebecca Ching: So what did you do when supervisors and HR departments were not trustworthy spaces for you to seek support?

Mita Mallick: I made my exit plan because I had to at some point. You can’t heal in the place that hurt you. I figured that out. In this situation that I’m talking about specifically, I had an amazing, incredible advocate, and she was incredibly senior. And she knew all the things that were happening, but things had gotten so bad I said, “I don’t want you to report anything else to HR. Please don’t.” I begged her, and she honored that, which, you know, she could have gotten into a lot of trouble for. But she had also offered me an amazing job on her team within the same organization, and I just knew that even if I moved there this individual had so much power that I wouldn’t be able to heal and I would still be in harm’s way. And so, that was the calculation I made.

Rebecca Ching: I literally wrote that quote down to bring up in our conversation. I want to say it again. You said:

“It took me too long to realize this. You can’t always heal in the place that hurts you.”

So how do you know when it’s time to go?


Mita Mallick: For me, it had impacted my physical and mental state at such a place. I remember having a conversation with my brother, him being very concerned about what was happening, and sometimes it takes other people being concerned for you and sharing, “This isn’t healthy, and this isn’t okay, and you don’t have to fight through this and stay.” I stayed way too long. So that is a real personal choice, but I think the signs are — actually, I believe there’s a correlation to burnout, meaning that, for me, the signs were.

That flame was just barely flickering. I wasn’t interested in my work anymore. It was taking an impact on my kids who were very young or my husband or my family because where was the container for all that emotion? They became the container, sort of unloading on them and just losing a zest for life. I mean, those are the things I can describe. I started thinking about all those things, and I thought, “Gosh, I don’t even enjoy going to work anymore. Everything seems a struggle. I’m super exhausted and tired,” and workplace trauma is real, and we really minimize it, and it really impacts individuals, and we bury it and talk about it. But it has a huge impact on individuals.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, it’s amazing what we tolerate.

Mita Mallick: What we’re taught to tolerate too.

Rebecca Ching: What we’re taught to tolerate, yeah. How do you deal with survivor’s guilt if you leave people behind that you like and care about?

Mita Mallick: One of the reasons I didn’t leave was just that. I had a conversation with someone who said to me they didn’t want to leave because they were worried about their team, and I said, “You’re no longer showing up for your team.” I knew that was my case. I wasn’t showing up for my team in the way I thought I was because I was so broken and chipped away at, and I was trying to protect them from this individual, but I was just a ghost, right? I was just like a ghost in the hallways.


And so, one of the best things you can do is to move on and to help them get out and throw a lifesaver to them. I mean, that was something that I was really focused on. I think at that point there were only two individuals left, and I thought to myself, “I’m gonna do everything I can to get these talented individuals out of there.” And they were on a different level in their career. They were earlier, so it was easier, right? It was, in some ways, there are more job openings when you’re earlier in your career. Perhaps you have less requirements or things that you’re thinking about in a different way. That was one of the ways I thought, “I have to heal and help myself before I can help them or help anyone else.”

Rebecca Ching: I want to circle back to something you just said. You were referencing a conversation with someone where they said they were worried about leaving because they were worried about their team, and you said, “You’re no longer showing up for your team.” Can you say a little bit  more about that?

Mita Mallick: I shared with them my experience. So I don’t work with them, but I would say that if you have been the target of bullying and gaslighting and toxic leadership for so long, you’re holding on to protect your team, you are losing pieces of yourself. So if you can’t show up for you, how are you showing up for them? But you’ve convinced yourself of that, and perhaps it’s an excuse because we’re scared because what you said, which is quite profound, Rebecca, is that some people have high thresholds of what they will endure when it comes to pain and hurt and harm only because of what they’ve been taught and they’ve experienced and they think this is acceptable. And so, that’s also part of that, right, that this is acceptable.

I go back to that time in my career when I thought I was not showing up for my team. I know that now. I mean, I tried, and I mean showing up for them in the terms of coaching, teaching, helping them through their mistakes.


And so much of my energy was spent trying to keep this individual away from them and/or trying to block them from any hurt or harm and also dealing with how this individual was interacting with me.

Rebecca Ching: You know, I interviewed someone at the end of last year who said, “I can no longer be in an unhealthy work situation or set things up in my business that don’t serve me. If I’m sacrificing and everyone else is fine, that’s not a good thing.”

So, as we wind down this conversation, how has your understanding and expression of success changed since you were younger, and what does success mean to you today?

Mita Mallick: We live in such an interesting time right now. I love social media. I love using it as a tool to teach and learn and meet people, like yourself, right, through community and conversation, and it also causes a ton of hurt and harm, including this idea that success is overnight. I am not an overnight success. I became a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best seller. My book Reimagine Inclusion, no one wanted it four and a half years ago. I have piles of rejections I can show, but people see, “Oh, wow, she’s on Rebecca’s podcast. She’s doing this.” “Oh, she’s –.”” No, I’m not just — but social media would have you believe that based on what we curate.

And so, for me, I’m really trying to ground success in gratitude, that there is no success without gratitude, and I started a gratitude journal this year because it’s a discipline, and I haven’t been feeling as grateful as I should, and I have so much to be grateful for. And so, every morning I try to write down three things I’m grateful for but to be really specific. So tomorrow morning, I will write about you and the podcast conversation but not just to be like “Rebecca” and some name but a memory.

And I have been a fan of Tony Robbins for a while, and he does this practice, but he talks about how it’s not just about the name, putting down “Rebecca” and then saying, “I was on Rebecca’s podcast,” but when I’m writing it down, to take a moment to close my eyes and remember the conversation and experience the gratitude because that emotion is what you can keep with you throughout the day. It’s the writing and the emotion of that memory that you’re grateful for.


Rebecca Ching: That’s beautiful. Well, I’m not a fan of Tony Robbins. I am a fan of that piece of wisdom that he just shared. [Laughs]

What does successful inclusion look like to you?

Mita Mallick: Everyone has their full potential they can reach at work. Every single person has access to it. I’m on a mission to create more inclusive workplaces, and that’s what inclusion means, that I can reach my potential.

Rebecca Ching: And it is a little pie we can share.

Mita Mallick: It’s a bakery. It’s many bakeries.

Rebecca Ching: It’s many bakeries. I have a feeling you’re gonna be coming back on the show.

Mita Mallick: I hope so! I won’t reference Tony Robbins again, but…

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Mita Mallick: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I just had to put that because I know my listeners will be going, “Uh-oh.”

Mita Mallick: Well, I’m a fan of that piece of advice. But you know what? I think it’s important to listen to lots of different leaders and gain lots of different insights from them, so he is one of many that I’m just listening to, yeah.

Rebecca Ching: No question. No question. I just can’t think of someone who’s kept me immensely busy and not in a good way the last two decades.

Mita Mallick: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] He’s very successful.

Mita Mallick: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And has a lot of great followers, and I really, really respect the commitment to listen to a lot of different voices and leaders.

Mita Mallick: There are some things that I hear that I’m like, “I wouldn’t do that, but okay, that’s interesting that some people are doing that.” And so, that is actually a job of an inclusive leader is you listen to things you might not agree with but you’re like, “Huh, that might have just widened my perspective.” I don’t have to agree with it. I don’t have to follow it. But yeah, that’s something I’m trying to practice more.

Rebecca Ching: I really appreciate that. You’re right. It is a form of an inclusive leadership to be able to take in differing perspectives and say, “Even if that’s not my cup of tea, I want to understand it so I can better articulate what I do believe.”


Mita Mallick: I love that. Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: So one of the traditions we have on the podcast is we wrap with some quickfire questions. Are you ready?

Mita Mallick: No, I don’t think so but here we go! [Laughs] Buckle up!

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] What are you reading right now?

Mita Mallick: I just finished this called Glossy: Ambition, Beauty, and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier written by Marisa Meltzer, and I recently went on a trip with my family (it’s a family trip, not a vacation – parents will understand that), and I download nothing. Everyone in my family has an iPad that they’re watching, and I always bring books, like real books. Not Audible, real books. And this was just so beautifully written.

Rebecca Ching: What song are you playing on repeat?

Mita Mallick: Many songs but I just love Sia “Unstoppable.” It’s probably my theme song for the rest of this decade. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I don’t know why that isn’t on my anthem Spotify list.

Mita Mallick: Yes!

Rebecca Ching: So adding it right now. What is the best TV show or movie you’ve seen recently?

Mita Mallick: My husband’s rewatching Breaking Bad, and I’m joining him. Not something that I normally would watch but actually very well written and smart. A little more violent than I would like. But I just am, wow, learning about something I —

Rebecca Ching: I’m with you.

Mita Mallick: — never really knew much about, is what I’ll say. I just never watched it, and so it’s wow.

Rebecca Ching: What is your mantra right now?

Mita Mallick: I think it’s what we talked about earlier. There’s no success without gratitude. I’m really trying to hold onto that.

Rebecca Ching: What’s an unpopular opinion you hold?

Mita Mallick: Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not dead.

Rebecca Ching: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?

Mita Mallick: My children.

Rebecca Ching: With you on that one. Where can people find you and connect with your work?


Mita Mallick: You can find me on LinkedIn. You can follow me on Instagram. You can please go check out my book Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace. It’s available on Amazon or any independent local bookstore where you buy your books, and thank you so much for having me with you today.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, Mita, it’s been an honor. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time, and I hope you come back!

Mita Mallick: I will, absolutely.

Rebecca Ching: Before you go, I want to ensure you take away some of the important wisdom Mita shared with us in this Unburdened Leader episode. Now, Mita shared her firsthand experiences and the stories of others who experienced the detrimental impact of toxic leadership and those who protect these leaders. Mita talked about the impact on her own wellbeing, confidence, and career because leaders protected toxic colleagues in the name of helping the business and stayed silent (until after she left the job) about how hard it was to work in that environment. And Mita validated the presence and impact of workplace trauma (it’s real) and the insidious nature of it because so many people deny it. Mita also shared about how hard it is to do your job and lead well when you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel healthy, and you don’t feel supported or whole.

I’m curious. What work traumas have you experienced that still weigh you down, and how did those work traumas collide with your own personal story of relational wounding? How has secrecy and silence impacted your work experiences, and how can you be a better advocate for yourself and those whom toxic leaders have harmed?

Toxic leaders and cultures are still common today. I’m not cynical about it. I’m just realistic. Humans can human well, and we can also human in a lot of bad ways, and instead of tolerating, staying silent, or just accepting this human condition as normal, I really believe we must speak up collectively and even leave collectively if leaders continue to be complicit with harmful leadership and work practices, and this is the ongoing work on an Unburdened Leader.


[Inspirational Music]

Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, free Unburdened Leader resources, and ways to sign up for my weekly newsletter and work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.

And if you valued this episode, I would be honored if you would leave a rating and a review and share it with some folks you think may benefit from it. And this episode was produced by the incredible team at Yellow House Media!

[Inspirational Music]

Comments +

  1. Catherine says:

    It was my first ‘career’ job about 20 years ago, and I had no training in organizational leadership. I had a naive sense of my role as an employee and little to no communication skills – things that weren’t taught in business school when I attended. I was a communications professional for a manufacturer in my county. He had some ‘interesting’ ideas about technology and the Internet – ones he gained from his circles of influence and his son’s interest in coding and (ethical) hacking. In short, he didn’t believe in paying for software – get the free stuff and make it work! These observations are the result of me thinking back through this season of my career and with hindsight piecing together what happened and why. I knew there was a serious gap between my ideas and expectations and his – and he (the owner/boss) was a lousy communicator! I made some inadvertent mistakes with the software causing a three-day shutdown of our servers. My name was mud! It took me six months of serious work and help understanding how to navigate organizational leadership to restore my name and leverage an exit plan. I realized, even in my departure, I was a mere pawn. It took me years to recover – I was in constant fear of being berated each time my desk phone would ring. I had one more job working in manufacturing and left there to work in higher education. Though this is a better environment for me and my career, I was not protected from workplace bullying. In this role, however, I had access to educational tools and training – leadership training, communications training, and more. Only these resources have helped me grow and heal. I make mental notes so I can remember how not to lead others.

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meet the founder

I’m Rebecca Ching, LMFT.

I help change-making leaders get to the root of recurring struggles and get confidently back on track with your values, your vision, and your bottom line. 

I combine psychotherapeutic principles, future-forward coaching, and healthy business practices to meet the unique needs and challenges of highly-committed leaders in a high-stakes world.

This is unburdened leadership

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Everybody’s carrying a burden that’s weighing them down. If you dare to care, it is inevitable you will end up carrying the burdens from grief, betrayal, and rejection. And these burdens are often unseen. These invisible struggles fuel loneliness, shame, and despair. Eventually, the unaddressed burdens we carry start to impact our ability to live […]


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We watch leaders crash & burn all the time. We watch with morbid fascination as leaders fall out of grace because their unaddressed pain led them on an unsustainable path of poor choices–even dangerous and deadly choices–to avoid feeling the vulnerability of rejection. Those times when you experienced the pain of rejection leave their mark […]


EP 21: Leading With Body Resilience with Co-Author of More Than A Body, Lindsay Kite, PhD

Caring about those you lead means caring about the harm you may unknowingly be doing. Many of us who fit western standards of beauty and live in conventionally abled bodies don’t understand how our choices can cause pain. We’ve internalized ableism and fat-phobia to the point where we can’t even grasp how our words & […]

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EP 17: Community Over Competition with Co-Founder of The Rising Tide Society Natalie Franke

Community over competition is indeed a well-worn hashtag. The cynical can dismiss it. Those beat up by year after year of injustice understandably call BS. But in practice, leading with the lens of community over competition is subversive and culture-shifting. Community over competition requires deep life-long work to unburden the load we carry of scarcity […]

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EP 02: How Self-Leadership Saves You From The Relentless Drive To Succeed with Dr. Richard Schwartz

My body was telling me to take a step back and reevaluate. Five years ago I had pneumonia and I couldn’t really do anything other than prop myself up on the couch and breathe… …breathe and think about how I ended up in this mess I’d run myself into the ground. My schedule was full-to-overflowing. […]


And clearing the way for a more innovative, inclusive future.

Unburdened Leaders are breaking
cycles of workplace burnout…

Are you about this, too? Let’s meet and see if I’m your coach – no expectations. Just connection.