The failure of leadership efforts can scar organizations and demoralize employees. From the employee perspective, it is relatively easy to avoid toxic leadership, once it has been identified – the employee can simply find another job. From the perspective of the leader, however, avoiding toxic leadership is much more challenging; many leaders remain unaware that their leadership style would be described as “toxic” by their direct reports. Here are four ways to avoid being – or becoming – a toxic leader.
Be a leader everywhere, not just at work
Often, toxic leaders feel powerless. As antithetical as this statement may seem, consider the impact of leadership on a person with low or non-existent self-worth. Suddenly, the powerless person commands all the attention, all the power that he or she is denied everywhere else in life. Emotionally, the desire to hoard control and micromanage in the work environment makes sense therefore, particularly if the individual cannot exert any influence on life outside the office. True leaders lead in every context they find themselves. To avoid becoming a toxic leader, make sure you are not using your role to counter bullying at the hands of your family or friends, or to fulfill a personal sense of worthlessness.
Trust your employees
Believe in the competence that your employees demonstrate. Reward their efforts financially and with public displays of praise. Trust that as a leader, you are not expected to do everything well. True leaders understand their strengths and hire strategically to add muscle to their weaker areas. Keep an eye on your competitive instinct, especially in the case of employees that excel in areas you do not. If you find yourself displaying toxic characteristics towards them, such as attacking them verbally with sarcasm or withholding praise, stop that behaviour immediately.
Value yourself, value your employees
Toxic leaders often project disdain or open contempt for their underlings – sometimes they don’t even know they are doing it. If you notice this behaviour in yourself, or if a peer you trust points it out to you, change tack by openly stating what you value about your employees, even if internally they threaten you. Defying your baser instincts in this way will feel dangerous to you, at first. However, the change you witness in how your employees respond to you – and how much more productive they become as a result – will more than make up for this initial discomfort.
Get a coach
Often, toxic leaders lack the tools to address this behaviour in themselves. Importantly, if they believe that their leadership style has been rewarded professionally, change will feel like career suicide. In addition, while many firms provide coaching, some leaders may not want their vulnerabilities exposed to senior management. If this is the case, retain your own coach from outside the organization and continue your growth in a safe environment.A competent coach can facilitate the awareness necessary to change toxic behaviour without losing power. In fact, rooting out and challenging these behaviours will only increase your sense of personal power.
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