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No More Excuses! The Problem Is Toxic Leadership, Not Employees

Stop blaming Millennials.

Stop grousing about how hard it is to find, attract and retain good people.

Stop making blanket statements about how the work ethic and capabilities of employees aren’t the way they used to be.

It’s not that people are inherently disloyal to employers. It’s not the economy and job opportunities that have been created. It’s not that younger generations have deficits that make them poor employees.

Those fingers you’re pointing at everyone else? Maybe they need to be pointing right back at you.

Graphic Showing Being Bossy While Someone is KneelingWhat Is Toxic Leadership?

Toxic leadership is the term used to describe management practices and attitudes that have a detrimental effect on the organization and the people in it.

Toxic leadership is often left unchecked because it is unrecognized or not acknowledged by the senior managers in the organization who may, themselves, be exhibiting the attitudes and behaviors that adversely impact others.

Workplace culture and morale may be influenced by even a handful of toxic leaders. A few at the top who model this can breed widespread behaviors that become the norms.

Unfortunately, the term “toxic leadership” is a misnomer. True leadership would not be toxic. It’s when managers and executives fail to lead effectively that a toxic environment can occur. In fact, the remedy for this so-called “toxic leadership” is to find and develop people who can exhibit the evidence-based behaviors that make them true leaders who others willingly choose to follow.  

What’s the Impact of Toxic Leadership?

Companies with high levels of employee engagement and strong leadership practices outperform those with low levels of engagement and poor leadership. The business benefits are undisputed and profound. They include:

  • Retention of high-potential employees

  • Improved pipeline for succession management

  • Higher levels of customer satisfaction

  • Personal satisfaction for leaders who participate

  • Stronger innovation

  • Strategic focus on the future vs. tactical focus on the present

  • Growth in top-line revenue

  • Savings in expenses

  • Improved profitability

  • Increased rates of productivity

The impact, then, of toxic leadership is a negative one in all ten of the areas listed above. Ultimately, due to the high turnover rates and related domino effect on productivity, customer satisfaction, and revenue, a company’s profitability and overall health suffers mightily when toxic leadership is not addressed.

What Are the Signs of Toxic Leadership?

You may have a problem with toxic leadership if your executives and managers are:

  1. Autocratic, relying on a “command and control” way of getting things done.

  2. Arrogant, refusing to listen to and learn from others at every level of the organization.

  3. Out of touch, roosting in ivory towers instead of interacting with customers and employees.

  4. Incompetent and unaware that their choices are impairing others’ abilities to succeed.

  5. Oblivious and unresponsive to low morale, burnout, and low levels of employee engagement.

  6. Managing the work of today without simultaneously leading people with a unifying vision.

  7. Complacent or slow to act, operating in the status quo and not looking to the future.

  8. Poor role models to others in the organization.

  9. Self-centered or narcissistic in their pursuit of recognition, rewards, and glory.

  10. Making excuses instead of genuinely taking accountability when things go wrong.

Your employee engagement survey, revolving door of employees, and high levels of HR complaints are good indicators that you have a problem with the management team. Those negative reviews on Glassdoor are not happening just because today’s workforce is “coddled and entitled” (as one HR Director recently told me to explain away the real issues).

If you see any of these indicators, it’s important to act swiftly before others acquire these contagious behaviors and attitudes, too.

How Do You Fix Toxic Leadership Issues?

To turn toxic leaders into transformational leaders that others willingly choose to follow, organizations must first understand and appreciate the differences between managing and leading.

Next, organizations must develop their leaders – not just the ones who have already ascended to the upper ranks on the org chart, but the ones who interact with others, too. Managers should also be demonstrating leadership behaviors to engage and ennoble employees.

Finally, this must be an ongoing focus. Leadership at every level significantly boosts employee engagement levels, retention of high potential employees, productivity rates, customer satisfaction levels, top line revenue, AND profitability.

To correct course and stay on track, a leadership development program with 1-to-1 coaching and an evidence-based framework for leadership is essential. Supervisory skills courses for managers are also essential. Performance measures for senior executives, directors, and managers should include improvements in employee engagement scores, turnover rates, and employee development.

Where Does Your Leadership Stand?

Not where where your leadership deficiencies exist? Looking to take another step in your leadership development?

People First Productivity Solutions offers 360-degree assessments and leadership development training to help you step into your full potential. Click below to drop us a message about your needs:


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