Toxic Leaders – The Toxic Trinity that Takes Leaders Down

Bill Clinton said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In organizations, “It’s the leadership, stupid.”

The problem with organizations is toxic leadership.

Look around. If you don’t like what you see, look in the mirror. Maybe you can’t improve the entire organization, but you certainly can improve your team.

The sooner leaders own the dark side of organizational life, the sooner the lights come on. Finger pointing and excuse-making cause organizations to remain dark.

Toxic leadership – the toxic trinity:

#1. Blind leaders can’t see their own incompetence.

There is no hope for those who feel capable when they’re incompetent, until they change their opinion.

Those who are incompetent have little insight into their incompetence. (Dunning-Kruger Effect)

You’re incompetent when you believe your job is more difficult than everyone else’s.

The more competent you feel, the less you know. Those who know the most know they have the most to learn.

Tips for blind leaders:

  1. Believe and act on the feedback you receive.
  2. Learn something and share what you’re learning with others.
  3. Ask questions. Spend a morning just asking questions.

#2. Insecure leaders feel threatened by the success of others.

You feel threatened if:

  1. Bravado, anger, or certainty are tools for shutting people down.
  2. You take credit for other people’s work.
  3. You minimize the success of others.
  4. Defensiveness is your default response to bad news or problems.
  5. You hold your head down when you walk the halls.

Tips for insecure leaders:

  1. Spend a morning praising and thanking.
  2. List your top 5 weaknesses.
  3. Develop a new skill with someone on your team.

#3. Squeaky wheel leaders obsess over problems.

Obsessing over problems makes you the problem.

Success is about seizing opportunities, not solving problems. (Inspired by Peter Drucker)

Tip: Monitor the ratio of positive to negative topics in your conversations. The 80/20 rule applies.

What’s on your list of toxic leader traits or behaviors?

Bonus material:

Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing (Ted-Ed 5:07)

8 Traits of Toxic Leadership to Avoid (Psychology Today)

Avoid over-confidence Bias with these 7 Actionable Steps (toggl)

Why Lousy Leaders Succeed (Leadership Freak)