The Deadly Habits of Highly Toxic Leaders
What if you’re a toxic leader and don’t know it?
Lack of self-awareness is the deadly trait of a toxic leader. You might try to improve your leadership but it gets worse. Why? You don’t see your negative impact on others.
Toxic leaders usually believe they’re good leaders.
The deadly habits of highly toxic leaders:
#1. Toxic leaders think others need to grow, but they don’t.
There is no hope for leaders who don’t see their need to learn and grow.
- Carry the curse of knowledge that allows superiority. My wife and I watch cooking shows on TV. The contestant who already knows-it-all inevitably crashes and burns.
- Don’t listen to ignorant novices.
- Don’t read. It takes too much time.
- Reject coaching and mentoring. Sadly, in some organizations having a coach is punishment.
You become irrelevant when you don’t learn and grow.
#2. Toxic leaders expect blood from turnips.
Turnips are great if you need vegetables, but not if you need blood.
Toxic leaders want turnips to move into leadership, but turnips don’t aspire to lead, for example.
Hope is cruel. Your team wants you to stop tolerating turnips, but you hope they’ll step up.
You have aspiration for those who have none for themselves. (Some people are thriving at their job and they don’t want to move up.)
Tips for toxic turnip lovers:
- Leverage strengths. Know the top five strengths of everyone on the team.
- Fuel energy. Watch for bright eyes. What are people doing when their eyes light up?
- Move slowly. Don’t promote turnips in the hope they will start giving blood. Toxic leaders expect too much, too quickly, from reluctant turnips. They may rise someday, but not now.
What are some habits of highly toxic leaders?
How might leaders become less toxic?
8 Traits of Toxic Leadership to Avoid (Psychology Today)
3 Highly Toxic Leaders you Should Avoid at all Cost (Inc)
Handling Toxic Leadership (Army University Press)
“Turnips are great if you need vegetables, but not if you need blood”. As a new leader (back a while) I made the mistake of pushing a turnip to be a leader and she only wanted to be a turnip. She loved her job till I pushed her to be a leader. I did the unthinkable, I never asked her if she wanted to be a leader. Opps that cost me my best employee but someone else got her and she is a happy as can be and giving back to society like she did before I messed it up. Lesson: ASK before deciding someone’s future.
Thanks Walt. Your story is a warning to everyone who sees “potential” in others. Because we aspire to lead, it’s hard to believe that others don’t feel the same aspiration.
Love your simple recommendation. “ASK” … 🙂
Awesome insights! Thanks Dan, for pushing us to be our best! My favorite tip: “Fuel energy. Watch for bright eyes. What are people doing when their eyes light up?”
Thanks Sandy, If you want people to thrive, help them do things that fuel their energy. We all do things that drain our energy. But energy-sucking tasks drain our enthusiasm for work.
I ask managers, “How much of your job could you hate and still love your job?” You can’t go beyond 30 percent. Most managers say 20%. You might hate paper-work, but you can still thrive in your job because you love most of it.
Toxic leaders will withhold praise and think nothing of criticizing in public – ignoring the golden adage of “praise in public and criticize in private.”
Thanks Art. OUCH!
I think, related to not growing, another toxic habit is not working hard enough. People will work hard to acquire a position of authority but they then don’t work hard enough to be the leader.
Leadership is hard work. You have to make some sacrifices. You have to put others ahead of you. You have to swallow your pride to let it shine in others. You have to step forward when everyone else wants to step back. You have to lean into change quicker, harder, and steadier than others. You have to make tough decisions; and stand by them when others take issue with them.
It’s hard work to become a leader. It’s harder work to stay one.
Thanks Alf. Great seeing you here today. Your comment is sobering. The message I take is, you haven’t arrived once you earn a leadership position. Actually, the work has just begun.
Perhaps the attitude that leaders deserve special privileges aligns with your insight.
Alf thanks for the reminder. As a good teacher of mine always said “its not easy but its worth it”. The other great lesson your note reminded me of is “the skills you have that got you this far are not the same ones that you need to keep you here” or short “what got you here wont get you there”.
Toxic leaders “Reject coaching and mentoring. Sadly, in some organizations having a coach is punishment.”
I had never considered this until you just mentioned it. When I think about organizations I have worked for, coaching and mentoring is most definitely seen as a punishment, reserved for those who are under-performing. However, I have also seen the opposite, where coaches and mentors are in place the minute you join the organization, and what a difference that makes! Something I will keep in mind not only for new employees joining, but to establish that culture from those already here as well.
Thanks Katie. Sadly, coaching/mentoring is sometimes reserved for poor performers. It might be better to coach top performers! 🙂
A few years ago when our leader/director retired, our top management/leaders interviewed potential directors. All employees in our office, from educators to secretaries, were allowed to attend the candidates’ presentations, as well as group sessions with them. I was most impressed with a candidate who asked each of us for feedback on her presentation. She also asked us what were our individual goals, dreams and ideas. She told me, “Those are great ideas, and I suggest you start working on them now, regardless of which candidate is chosen. If I’m chosen, I want you to lead that initiative—IF you would be comfortable with that responsibility, so give it a lot of thought.”
Thanks Carole. Great story and powerful illustration of leading, even before you’re hired.
It takes courage to seek feedback. I know this from personal experience. There have been times when I found excuses NOT to seek feedback. But, if we’re committed to growth, then feedback is an essential part of the mix.
Don’t you love it when a leader expresses interest in your goals and dreams? Who wouldn’t want to work for that kind of leader.
Did she get the job?
Unfortunately, Dan, someone else was chosen. We were so impressed and hopeful she would be the one. I’m sure she’s practicing her Dan Rockwell superior leadership for some fortunate employees.
Thanks for circling back. 🙂
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