As senior management, do you know your managers? Below are some signs of a team suffering under a toxic leader:
1. Silence: the team is extremely silent when you encounter them. They know they cannot speak and should not speak. They have been intimidated and bullied into silence. They have no voice.
2. Sick offs and low employee retention rates: eventually, toxic leaders break the team. They have low employee retention rates and blame it on the “team members they got”. For the long term employees who have learnt how to navigate the storms, their spirits have been systematically broken and caged. They begin to literally fall sick or take “sick” days to cope. A few may have become little evil minions in the making, becoming toxic team members who have chosen not to fight the system but join it. They have chosen the easier path and are now one with their toxic leader, and loving the “safety” and ease it brings. I remember an episode a while back whilst handling an outsourced project with a third party organisation headed by a toxic CEO. It was a quarterly business review session and the toxic CEO quickly presented their “shinny” performance and also the case of the project manager who “he had to let go of”. I was shocked. Toxic leaders have no moral code; the day before, I had sat down, working away on our joint project with the amazing project manager from his team. She got an email and finally cracked. I saw her write and send her resignation letter as she sincerely apologised to me for “letting me down” and abandoning me in the madness that was. She was done! She was extremely talented and lovely to work with and brought sanity and hope to the horrible “marriage” (business partnership) we were both in. She explained her health and sanity were more important and she quit. You can imagine my disgust as the next day, her toxic x-boss tries to stain her reputation and keep his ego. This became a pattern. I watched a rotating door of management talent come and go. It was pure madness! A lot of frustration at constantly reintroducing the project to new team members and sheer disgust at the way the outsourced team was treated (behind my back). I (the client) was only presented with the “shiny” reports. This guy was so good it took me about a year to see past the smoke and mirrors. I was extremely naive then. Today, I can sniff it out sooner as I have learnt to trust my intuition.
3. Isolation: you rarely get access to the team without their leader being there. They must control access.
4. Poor performance: Once you get through the smoke and mirrors presented to you, you will see that there is an issue with performance within the team. The staff are no longer thinking creatively as they are too scared or scarred. They may be doing the bare minimum. I remember a toxic CEO who used to falsify data as he presented the same to us, his partners. Something was fishy and I began to ask for raw data rather than beautiful, well presented quarterly reports. The cracks began to show. It was shocking to see the extremes of dishonesty that he embarked on and the culture he had bred.
So…What’s your responsibility as a senior manager:
1. Create Accountability:
a. Rich and regular reporting: Hold your managers accountable to providing a report on not just numbers but challenges and wins they have seen in each team member. Create reporting that pushes your managers to deal with the “human” part of their team members and not just performance and statistics that they can polish and hide behind.
b. Mentorship and growth: Hold them accountable to growth. Do they attend trainings too? Do they address weak areas too? Or do they simply dictate these corrective measures for their staff? Do you have a dedicated plan on growing your managers to becoming mature and safe leaders?
2. Be present:
a. Look for truth: If you look, you will find it. A great manager isn’t perfect but their team is relatively “healthy”. Recruitment is expensive and time consuming. If you have a manager killing off your talent, it is costing you! An extremely charming and charismatic personality in the weekly board room meeting may be the most toxic leader who is crushing your teams and affecting your bottom line. Learn to see what is being presented vs what is actually happening. This takes time, wisdom and effort. It will cost you but it’s worth it.
b. Practice reflection time: Ask yourself, “Where is this organisation bleeding?”. Your intuition has already picked it up but needs dedicated time to be heard. This goes beyond numbers and into practicing listening to your gut, and trusting your gut instincts. You could also actively do the following:
i. Dedicate time to evaluate your organisational culture (not the one you state on your website, the real one): toxic leaders require conducive environments to thrive. The above diagram from: https://www.leadershipforces.com/toxic-leadership-environment-followers/, says it all. The article is also brilliant and succinct.
ii. Dedicate time to periodically evaluate your staffs emotional health and wellbeing: toxic leaders create conformers and colluders as displayed in the diagram. Depending on how long your toxic leader has been in charge, they have possibly created little minions that will impact your team and also victims that require counselling and some healing. Call in an expert if you have to. Map out a journey to recovery for the affected. You may be able to save the present talent and recreate an organisational culture that you are proud of.
c. Get a coach: Process your stuff so you can better process their stuff and lead from a healed and whole heart!
The last thing you want is a manager driving their team into depression, stress and anxiety. You are responsible for the leaders you choose and the impact they have on staff.
So again, back to the question; is it possible to thrive under a toxic leader? Possibly…for a short while. But even that will take you going against your natural impulses. As healthy humans, we are built for relationship and trust. The toxic or narcissistic individual is seemingly of a different breed. If he/she is your boss, limit your emotionally connection, create healthy boundaries (no calls at 1:00 am, no shouting, call out bullying) and maybe you will last a little longer and finish your purpose in that organisation. Only take on this battle if it is one you are called to. Educate yourself and gain more knowledge and understanding on this type of leader, test it by applying it. Lastly and most importantly, you most definitely will need to grow spiritually and seek some wisdom and help from your Creator God. You will need to partner with light to counter the darkness partnering and spewing out of the unhealed heart that is your boss.