Do you know a toxic leader? They are characterized as dysfunctional, self-centered individuals who intimidate, coerce, deceive, retaliate and punish others to get what they want without regard for their direct reports, organizations and/or performance. In addition, even after complaints from co-workers and direct reports, many toxic leaders retain their positions and face few consequences for their “bad behavior.”
Toxic leadership breeds a negative chain reaction in corporations, non-profits, government, educational and religious institutions. You might ask WHY toxic leadership is tolerated and even reinforced.
Toxic behaviors may be overlooked and proliferate when:
– Leaders deliver on goals and their expertise is valued. Many executives make excuses for toxic leaders because of their success. They turn a blind eye to “rainmakers” because of their sizeable impact on the bottom line. Executives reward the results, ignoring how the results were achieved. They give lip service for the need to change and ask toxic leaders to work (wink wink) on their weaknesses.
– Toxic traits are hidden behind a mask of “charm.” Toxic leaders are good actors, especially when managing up. They are careful with and often impress those above them and with colleagues they work with intermittently.
– Toxic behaviors go unreported. Employees and direct reports who fear retribution rarely respond truthfully on leader assessments and employee engagement surveys. When others fail to voice their complaints, upper management and HR doesn’t “see” the negative consequences of what is happening until it’s too late, e.g., strong performers leave the organization to escape the toxic leader, because it’s the only recourse they believe they have.
Think of the Consequences
Ignoring toxic or bullying behavior can have dire consequences. A recent NPR segment featured a study looking into the increasing number of suicides in the military. The results revealed a connection between suicide and the 20+% of military leaders rated as toxic. In addition to suicide, the impact of toxic leadership in organizations leads to disengagement, resignations, apathy and hopelessness. In fact, the prolonged negative leadership destroys morale while undermining initiative, creativity and potential.
Fortunately, the trend seen with bullies in schools and in the work place is changing. The military, which previously seemed to tolerate “tough love behaviors” in officers and leaders, is examining its practices and putting new expectations in place. Organizations who want to retain and develop their top talent are looking for ways to minimize the impact of toxic performers so that employees can do their best work.
Assessment and Action
To assess whether or not you or someone you know displays toxic leadership behavior, download Innolect’s Toxic Leadership Behavior Checklist. Write firstname.lastname@example.org, to learn more about how Innolect is helping clients eliminate toxicity and build creative, high integrity workplaces.
Download a free checklist of behaviors that can contribute to the quality of your work environment. Toxic Leadership Checklist