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7 Signs of Toxic Leadership (Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself)

It’s not OK.

Attitudes, behaviors, hidden agendas, and practices that negatively impact others aren’t acceptable just because you have a certain job title and authority. You’re abusing that role and the power dynamic if you are not mindful of the effect you’re having on workplace morale, team members, and the organization’s culture.

In your senior role, everything you say and do matters. You set the example. You set the tone. If you are toxic, you’re giving license for others to emulate you and get away with it.

Over 200 studies have been done about toxic leadership and its impact on employees and organizational health. There are zero examples of positive outcomes when there is a toxic leader. Instead, people develop negative perceptions about the leader and disengage. In some cases, they even resort to work that is counterproductive to what the leader is trying to accomplish.

What Are the Signs of Toxic Leadership?

  1. Graphic Showing Being Prideful in ConversationThe leader has Jekyll & Hyde transformations

  2. The leader is self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, and self-centered

  3. The leader is aggressive, hyper-competitive or bullying

  4. The leader shows favoritism to those who kowtow to him or her

  5. The leader treats people differently, depending on their job level and usefulness

  6. The leader lacks self-control and displays inappropriate reactions and emotions (low EQ)

  7. The leader acts as if the rules do not apply to him or her

These seven attitudes and behaviors make it impossible to trust a leader. Someone who is unpredictable, disinterested in others, disrespectful, or rogue loses credibility. Without trust and credibility, leaders become merely managers. No one willingly chooses to follow them, so they must then rely solely on command-and-control authority to get things done. From there, it’s a downward spiral of becoming more and more ineffective.

How Can I Recognize Toxic Leadership in Myself Before It’s Out of Control?

No one starts out as highly toxic. There are habits and tendencies that show up first. You can check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  • If you’ve ever been told that you need to work on your interpersonal skills, you might have tendencies toward self-centeredness, aggressiveness, disrespecting others, or low EQ.

  • If you’ve ever thought of yourself as a control freak, you might be at risk of becoming hyper-competitive or of appearing to use or favor people who get you ahead.

  • If you’ve bent the rules, been inconsistent, or had emotional outbursts at work, this can reach toxic levels of rule-breaking, Jekyll & Hyde swings, or a lack of self-control.

Recognizing these tendencies early means you can work on them to build different habits and responses. Your mindfulness of them will help you prevent getting so far afield that team members give up on you.  

Look in the mirror and candidly assess how you show up under pressure. Do you display any of these tendencies or behaviors? Do you try to justify them as the only way to get things done? Or as others’ fault? You know, deep down, that’s not the case.

Consider taking a 360-degree assessment so others can give you feedback. Take it seriously. Work with a credentialed coach to shift away from these attitudes and behaviors.

Make sure you don't have a blindspot when it comes to your soft skills or style. Take the free, self-paced course called The Essentials of Personal Effectiveness to build transferable skills and improve the quality of workplace interactions. 

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