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Okay, but What is Toxic Leadership?

Is "toxic leadership" just another term that is being thrown around carelessly but we haven't got a clue what it actually means? We hear the term toxic leadership 750 times a day but I dare you to ask anyone to explain what it means and you will get no answer. This is a problem because if we want to address toxic leadership we must know what it is that we are dealing with. 


So I did a little google research and I am not smarter than I was yesterday. The information out there resembles a pick & mix sweet jar. You find everything such as micromanagement, arrogance, self-centred attitude, gossiping, nepotism, irritability, moodiness, incompetence, over-confident, a bully, discrimination, harassment, hierarchical, lack of confidence, autocratic, abuse of power, ineffective management skills, shouting, lack of support, lack of conflict management, no feedback, lack of direction & decision making, lack of integrity, favouritism, lack of empathy, demanding, difficult to please, a disciplinarian, tolerating poor performance, actions that have adverse impact on others or the business and so on...


Conclusion; we are as confused about this term as my grandma was about the internet. It is a buzzword and perhaps means absolutely nothing when you dig deep so, I decided never to use it ever again. 


As usual, we are being intellectually lazy and don't question things just happily travel on the bandwagon. Just look at some of those labels above and you see that some contradict one another, some are related to organisational structure but most of them are related to competence and self-awareness. Did I not tell you that there is no leadership development without self-awareness development as a basis????????? You didn't listen, so, now you have bullies and arrogant and self-absorbed leaders who lack emotional regulation. Well done you! 

Toxic leadership is nothing more than either technical or behavioural incompetence created and nurtured by the organisations themselves through poor hiring and promotional processes, lack of training, and actions towards those who are adversely impacting the business and the workforce. 


But it all starts with the lack of understanding about what we want from our leaders and communicating it at all levels. Employees must be aware that when a leader is disciplinary because the team is slacking, it is not a toxic behaviour but a must do for a leader. 

I have seen leaders and managers failing at their jobs because they want to be nice, please everyone, not to come across as toxic so they let your lateness slide, or avoid difficult conversations to keep the "nice" working environment. The result? People are complaining that there is no discipline, direction, authority, trust, respect or teamwork and label the leader or the environment as toxic. Doomed if you do, doomed if you don't. 


Here is how I look at this, when we were at school and we were stupid, disturbing others the teacher asked us to leave the class. Today we would label that in millions of ways concluding that you cannot do it. I say that we can. At school, just like at work, we have a choice, we either want to learn and participate or we don't. If we don't it is fine but it doesn't give us the right to stop others from learning and participating by creating commotion or holding others back by our poor performance. If we do that, the teacher should ask you to go and stand outside the class. Work is exactly the same and for that leaders and managers must demonstrate a wide range of skills and behaviours. 


This means, that sometimes they need to micromanage you when you fail to submit your reports on time two months in a row so don't get upset and come with your toxic leadership slogan. Sometimes they have to make decisions without involving you and many times the decisions they make may not be to your liking. But remember, just because you don't like a decision it doesn't mean it is bad for the business and the majority of the employees. Nobody is hired to serve their interest. We are hired to serve the interests of the business and the collective so as long as the decision benefits those two how you feel does not matter. You cannot be such a narcissist that you only consider what works for you and ignore the bigger picture. When you are in any group your individual needs take a back seat to a certain degree and as long as it doesn't cause damage to you, it is fine. That's how groups work. 


Going back to the term toxic leadership, we must see that it is really about managerial and leadership incompetence. So what do we do about it? Let's start by outlining what we want from leaders and managers, develop their self-awareness see where they stand in comparison and take it from there. Your development plan must be bespoke because if you send me to the same leadership course as John who throws tantrums twice a week while I am calm and composed you are wasting your money. 


Secondly, eliminate this term from your vocabulary and communicate the required behaviour of leaders and managers to your employees so they can help you hold them accountable. BUT, if you put on the wall DIVERSITY and you allow your leaders and managers to hire based on skin colour, weight, appearance or nepotism then you are the one who is causing the problem. Are you toxic? No, you are severely incompetent to the degree that you must be removed from your role for the benefit of the business and the collective. 


PS: I am a lenient and understanding leader or manager but if the job is not done I line my team up like soldiers in a second and will tell them what to do. After that, they can go and complain to whoever they want to complain to. We get paid to deliver not to build social clubs. 


Exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in April! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!



Join me on YouTube where I drop some ridiculous but helpful content about people management. Let's stop the Kindergarten together:




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