The Happy Engineer Podcast

166: Get Rid of Toxic Work Culture Once and For All with Anese Cavanaugh | Award-Winning Author

Toxic work culture. Toxic positivity. Toxic bosses. Toxic (fill-in-the-blank)…

Engineering leaders are faced with toxicity in forms we didn’t even have labels for 20 years ago.

Listen now for a simple solution to the culture crisis at work!

In this episode, I welcome back award-winning author and creator of the IEP Method™️, Anese Cavanaugh.

Check out Episode 023: Change Your Life by Mastering Your Energy for our previous powerful interview.

IEP is about your Intention, your Energy, and your Presence.

It is the foundation for creating a Positive Energy Workplace™️ and Anese is passionate about helping you discover one simple truth:

>> Culture transformation CAN begin with you, and while the work itself is easy and rewarding, it’s not common.

The question you must ask yourself… is it worth it?

I’ll tell you from my experience, YES.

So press play and let’s chat… if you practice IEP, you’ll get rid of toxic culture once and for all!

Ready for more? Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 165: Get Rid of Toxic Work Culture Once and For All with Anese Cavanaugh 



LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE EPISODE 166 WITH ZACH’S DEBRIEF: Get Rid of Toxic Work Culture Once and For All with Anese Cavanaugh

Previous Episode 165: WARNING – Your Memory is Worse Than You Think


The Top 3 Principles for Workplace Well-being as an Engineering Manager and Leader in Technology

After 150 episodes, Anese and I had the pleasure of reuniting on The Happy Engineer Podcast to dive deep into the concept of Intentional Energetic Presence (IEP) and its profound impact on our lives and workplaces.

Here are three big insights from our conversation (tune in for these and MUCH more):

1. Authentic Positivity vs. Toxic Positivity: We delved into the crucial difference between authentic positivity and toxic positivity, emphasizing the importance of having hard conversations and genuine responses in both personal and professional settings.

2. Leadership’s Role in Shaping Organizational Culture: Our conversation shed light on the vital role of leadership in creating a positive organizational culture. We discussed the impact of leadership involvement and commitment on fostering a healthier and more enjoyable workplace culture.

3. Overcoming Challenges in Toxic Workplaces: We explored the challenges of navigating toxic workplaces and the necessity of self-protection and optimization in such environments, drawing from personal experiences to highlight the power of intention, energy, and presence.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, listen to this entire conversation.


Anese Cavanaugh (Rocklin, CA) is an award-winning speaker, advisor, teacher, and thinking partner to some of today’s most innovative organizations and business leaders. In addition to creating and teaching the IEP Method, she writes a regular “Showing Up” column on and contributes to other publications that include The Huffington Post and



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: One of my favorite roles that I had in engineering was a system integrator for a huge project in our North America laundry team back at Whirlpool. Uh, the role was known as a tech lead. It was leading all of the engineering functions and playing that point guard position, the center of the hub and spoke for all of the different engineering functions in partnership then with the core project team.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:24] Where manufacturing was represented, supply chain, marketing, sales, et cetera. And I loved that job. It was a very fast paced role. I was responsible for everything, delivering none of the work, really relying on all of the engineers on the team to step up and do their part. Extremely well managing schedule, managing costs, managing all those details of the project.

[00:00:49] There was one engineer. On my project team who had a reputation of being really difficult to get along with. And when I was new to this project, I actually had several other engineers come up and warn me about this person. They said, Hey, watch out. This person will stop your program late in the game. They will throw unreasonable demands and requirements onto your designs that will slow you down and drive up the cost.

[00:01:19] And they’re just a jerk to work with. They never come to the table and really negotiate and help. They just get in the way and create roadblocks. And, you You need to really carefully manage this person. I was honestly a bit nervous. I had no reason to doubt that these engineers were telling me the truth.

[00:01:37] They were friends of mine and people I had worked with before. And I got kind of curious, well, what do I need to do here to make sure that that doesn’t happen to me? I don’t want to become the next project that this engineer gets in the way. And he had the ability to do that because he worked in the product approval and laboratory group, and he could actually create those friction points in the project.

[00:01:59] So. I took the concept of IEP, intention, energy, and presence, and I asked myself, what is my intention for my relationship with this person? How do I want this to go? Rather than taking what everyone else told me about the person as truth, and simply assuming that this was going to happen to me as well, and I need to go into the relationship and Expecting it to be difficult, expecting him to be a jerk, expecting him to stop my project.

[00:02:35] I came in with a different intention. I said to myself that I am going to become a really close, trusted colleague. Of this much more experienced engineering leader. He had been in the category for a long time. He knew the product inside and out, and I knew he could be an absolutely crucial asset to the design team.

[00:03:00] If he was on our side, if he actually came to the table and collaborated with us. So I set an intention that we will build a working relationship that is fun, that is collaborative, that is mutually beneficial. Beneficial and respecting of one another. And I looked at my energy. If that’s how I want the relationship to go, then what energy will I bring into that relationship?

[00:03:23] I’m going to be positive. I am going to focus on assuming positive intent. I’m going to. Ask for mentorship and ask questions and learn from this person because they do have a lot of knowledge to share. My energy is going to be aligned with grace, with gratitude, with thanksgiving for the support that this engineer would bring into my project.

[00:03:49] And my presence needed to be fully focused on how I could make sure that this engineer had everything they needed. To deliver on their part of the work, my role, that my design engineers, that my test engineers, that my other folks working on this project didn’t create the types of conflicts that could stop the project.

[00:04:14] Like, how can I, through my presence and being fully focused, let this engineering leader know that we’re in this together. And I’m with you that I am here in it with you, and I’m asking you to be here in it with me. Guess what happened? We became great friends. We had an extremely positive relationship and that hard to work with person was one of the people who saved my tail when we got into a last minute crisis in our design, not meeting a key requirement.

[00:04:53] They came to the table with solutions. They were the ones in the lab with me long hours working through potential solutions and getting to the finish line. It was awesome. And to this day, we have a great relationship. IEP is not just an idea. It’s not something that you think about. IEP is something that you practice.

[00:05:17] It’s a work that you do in your life that exists in this moment. . This moment. And that’s what I want you to focus on We spend a lot of time as engineers thinking about the future. Planning. We’re great planners. We love project management. We love to create schedules and Gantt charts. We’re good planners.

[00:05:41] And also thinking about the past. Reflecting on wins. More likely reflecting on failures and losses or rejections. Replaying the tape in our mind of a conversation that did not go well. A meeting that had an outcome we didn’t like. A conflict that we’re in with our boss or with a peer. Maybe a direct report.

[00:06:02] You’re constantly rehearsing and replaying how that conversation went and what you wish you had said that you didn’t say. We spend a lot of our mental energy in the future. Or in the past, an IEP is a practice of bringing that into the present, into this moment, intention, energy, and presence is about this moment, not something in the past, not the future.

[00:06:27] It’s how you will be in this moment. And when you begin to master that on top of your incredible intellect, on top of your ability to solve engineering problems, you will be able to change the atmosphere around you. And that’s why I was so excited to talk with Anise again, because I’ve had thousands of conversations one on one with engineering leaders.

[00:06:53] I have worked with so many people who tell me that the culture at their company is so And I’m not here to say that it’s not contributing to whatever is making their career and their life difficult. I get it. The culture in your company does make a difference in your experience day to day. But I’m here to tell you that you can be an agent of change Right where you’re at, even though culture is disproportionately influenced by the leaders at the top of the org chart.

[00:07:34] You can make a change right where you’re at. I’ll tell you about another example in my own journey. The factory that manufactured and assembled the products that our design team was working on was notorious for being very difficult to work with. Hard to get any changes through. Really demanding, just a difficult group, which by the way, I shout out to all the manufacturing teams out there.

[00:08:03] You all are the best. This group had a cold reputation. Well, I wanted to create a warm and inviting and collaborative relationship with them. So what did I do? I made it a point to get out to the factory more often than any of the previous tech leads had ever done. Even when there were no problems. If the only time you show up is when there’s a problem, then guess what?

[00:08:29] The intention of your visit always is solving problems. What if your intention? In going to the plant is to build relationships and proactively prevent problems. That’s a totally different intention. I was able to curate a relationship with those leaders that was so supportive and collaborative that in many contexts, public facing, we would have difficult conversations and conflict between the design team and the factory on the big zoom calls where everybody was on together.

[00:09:05] And then after the call, I’d get a private phone call. From the senior manager or the director at the plant who would say, Hey, let’s work on this together offline and get a solution so that we can get out of this conflict. We had a great relationship. We changed the culture in our little small pocket of the company, and you can do that too.

[00:09:29] The question that always comes up right here when I share with anyone that that’s possible is, well, is it, is it really worth it, Zach? Is it worth it for me to do that? So what do you think? Is it worth it for you to focus on your intention, your energy, and your presence with the desire to change the culture right where you’re at right now?

[00:09:52] Or is it a lost cause? Is it not worth the effort? No matter how hard you try, it’s not going to make a big enough difference in your situation. Well, I have two thoughts for you. First, you’ll never know if you don’t take the action. And the only thing you have to lose is the opportunity of a better situation.

[00:10:15] If you don’t do anything, if nothing changes, then nothing changes. So we know that outcome. Thank you. But if you were to take new action, if you were to show up with a different intention, a different energy, a different presence every single day, there’s a possibility that things could change in a way that you would fall back in love with your career.

[00:10:38] On the flip side, let’s say you take these actions and it’s not able to change or does not change at a pace that’s working for you. That’s a win as well. Because it helps inform your decision of what you want to do next. Are you going to stay at this company or not? And if you have done all that is within your control to influence the culture, and it is not changing or not changing at a pace that aligns with your values and your vision for your future, then we know what to do.

[00:11:10] to do. It will create clarity for you that it is time to move on, that it’s time to find that next opportunity rather than sitting in limbo and wondering, is the grass greener on the other side or not? Do I want to change companies or not? Let’s stop waffling about that and get into action on creating change right where you’re at right now.

[00:11:32] And the sooner you do that, the sooner you will know if change is possible or not right here. I’m telling you that it is possible. The magnitude of that transformation and whether or not it aligns with your values and vision is something that will only determine through action. If you don’t know what those actions look like, maybe this sounds nice, but you’re confused what I’m talking about.

[00:12:02] How would you even do it? Exactly. Like, what does this mean day to day? What are the actions related to IEP? What does it mean to become a lifestyle engineer and to transform our mindset and our strategies and skillsets and how to build our career and change the atmosphere, if all of that seems like just a big black box to you and you want help connect, Let’s connect and let’s talk about it. I could tell you a lot of stories about leaders who thought that change would not happen where they’re at. They were lost.

[00:12:29] They were stuck. They were stagnant. They were confused. They were frustrated. They were angry. And after making these changes, experienced a completely new life. A completely new trajectory for their career. So if that interests you, then let’s connect and I’ll share with you the next steps for us to get you information and build a roadmap for you to get the clarity you need for what’s next.

[00:12:48] Be intentional, focus on your energy and bring that focus into the present moment and ask yourself, am I creating the culture that I want to be in Or, am I letting myself be a victim to the culture that is? Happy Engineer?

[00:13:10] Let’s do this.