Have you ever worked in a toxic environment? As you walk into the office, you can already taste the bitterness at the back of your throat. You may even love what you do, but the culture in which you do it is making you sick. Every day, you close your eyes tight, gulping down your own cup of poison.

Why do you stay?

Maybe your job options are limited: you need the health insurance, you’re holding out for retirement. Maybe the financial benefits of your salary outweigh the problems. Yup, for (insert dollar amount here) you’ll drink anything. Even poison.

Or maybe you’re on a mission: you believe in the organization’s mission and want to make a difference. You want to lead change from within, infiltrating the negative culture by valuing your team members and communicating openly.

If you are on a mission, you need to be realistic about your chances for success. Are you in a position to help change policies and procedures within your organization? What influence do you have within the organization? Can you endure short term frustrations in order to bring about long-term benefits for yourself and your colleagues?

Early in our lives and careers, my husband and I were attending grad school and working with youth, employees of the same organization. We loved the kids and enjoyed creating activities and outings for the group. Unfortunately, though, we answered to a dysfunctional board. We soon found ourselves discouraged and defeated, our idealism fading.

Unsure what to do, we met with a trusted mentor who listened empathetically and gave us us some unforgettable advice. He told us to leave the jobs if necessary, in order to preserve our enthusiasm and energy.

He told us to stop drinking the poison.

Fortunately, we found ways to work together with the board; we finished well, with good memories overshadowing the bad ones.

The lesson has endured, though. In life and leadership, there are times we need to make the hard decision to leave a job or position for our emotional health and safety. It is impossible to be influential as leader while choking down poison.

If you are a leader at the executive level, I challenge you to think about your organization’s culture. Do you lead a healthy workplace, where people feel valued, have the information they need to do their jobs well, and feel empowered to make difference using their strengths and gifts? Or is coming to work like taking a gulp of poison?

Do what you can, today, to make a difference.

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is reposted with permission.