Dear Toxic Boss: I’m talking to YOU

toxic-leadership-2_All of us have seen them. Some of us have worked for them. Some of us have been them. You know ” them” : the screamer; the humiliator; the total dominator; the letch (male or female); the misogynist; the man-hater; the racist; the narcissist; the incompetent; the ostracizer; the blamer…need I go on?

You’re probably reading this because some intimidated employee sent it to you anonymously, or left it on their computer monitor so you could see it when you peeked into their cubical. No one gave you this article in person because they’ve been led to believe that telling the Emperor s/he was naked would cost them their job.

You micromanage and ask employees to report back on minutiae (which I doubt you read) to cover for the fact that they may know their jobs better than you do. You abuse the performance evaluation process and, rather than use it as a development tool, make it your version of having a student report to the principal’s office. The overuse of symbols of privilege like private washrooms, parking spaces and personal assistants just makes your staff view you as a  paper tiger.

Mark Driscoll was a nationally known pastor of Mars Hills Church in the Pacific Northwest. The New York Times, not known for articles on religious leaders, said this in a 8/23/14 post:

“He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him.” Toxic boss. Classic.

His unbridled, unquestioned behavior created a culture and a mindset that not even the church’s Board of Elders dared question. Many factors but finally the pressure from use of social media (we love mars hill.com) by disgruntled congregants brought him down. (He resigned).

The US Army, a traditionally and necessarily strong hierarchical culture, still identifies and addresses toxic bosses who seem unconcerned or oblivious to staff or troop moral or climate…” They are described as “arrogant, petty, self serving and inflexible”.

So, to all you wonderful toxic leaders out there:

  1. GET A GRIP! In the scheme of the universe, you (and all of us) are a blip on the screen. Get “right sized” and deflate your over-sized head. It is a privilege to be able to lead a team towards a higher goal, whether making widgets, being CEO of GE or running a homeless shelter. You are blessed to be called to steward a cause. You are a steward, entrusted to serve those under your leadership. You’re not a slave owner.
  2. LISTEN to people. They actually have good ideas! (Who knew?). The best managers spend as much time on the floor, walking around to different shops in the company and seeing how things look to employees on every level of the system (these are your “internal customers” according to W. Edwards Deming). They listen. Then when they act it’s collaborative and they have the buy-in needed to move new initiatives through. Without such buy-in you’re sunk.
  3. GIVE CREDIT – Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Built to last) describes two classes of leaders. The greatest class is leaders who look out the window (look to others) to give credit when things go well and look in the mirror (at oneself as the leader) when looking where to pin the blame for failures. This doesn’t make you weak. It makes you, your team, and your company stronger.
  4. LEARN TO FIGHT FAIR – The concessions you may win from your “enemies” are short lived because you literally have to sleep with one eye open now that you have created a whole new breed of enemies. Conflict is an opportunity to strengthen relational business alliances. Negotiations expert William Ury would say, ‘Get off your positions’; uncover each party’s underlying interests and then come up with creative ways that everyone can win.’
  5. ACCEPT BLAME – The buck actually stops with YOU, not the underling you’re pinning all of the company failures on. You hired, trained and supervised them. If they don’t belong in the organization and you kept them, anyway, it’s your fault; not theirs. Don’t kill the messenger. Heeding him/her may save your job.
  6. BUILD PEOPLE UP, rather than tear them down.You are causing productivity to plummet by churning employees due to low worker morale. It won’t make you a wimp to say things like, “Good Job!” “I noticed how you handled that disgruntled customer and I’m so glad you’re part of our team”. “Your opinions matter to me so thanks for sharing that”. It’s amazing how productive built-up people can be! They can even increase your bottom line.  You can do better – Commit to giving 5 positive affirmations for every correction. Then if someone needs (I mean really needs) constant correction retrain them, re-position them or remove them.

You can change and become a genuine leader!  “Bosses” are just that; bossy people. But bosses are not leaders. Positional leadership means you can throw your weight around based on your pecking order on the org chart. True leadership means people capture your vision and willingly follow you without coercion. You can take courses (even offsite so nobody knows you) on communication and feedback skills, cultural competency, workplace equality, creative negotiation, managerial and supervisory skills and emotionally healthy leadership skills (contact me for more info).

So, Toxic Boss, you can neutralize the emotional wake that follows you wherever you go and create a legacy that makes you proud and makes your organization better. I know you can do it!

Need coaching to lead the way you were meant to?

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