Everyone knows the type. The “take no prisoners” leader who gets things done despite the collateral damage. The leader who prioritizes maintaining and enhancing his or her reputation within the organization above all else. The leader who refuses to consider subordinates’ morale or basic humanity in pursuit of on-time deliverables. The leader who others follow out of fear, not respect. The question is whether the short term results these leaders produce are worth the potential damage left in their wake.
A June 2011 report for the United States Army by the Center for Army Leadership (available here) identified common behaviors attributed to toxic leaders to include “avoiding subordinates, behaving aggressively toward others, denigrating subordinates, hoarding information, hoarding job tasks, blaming others for their own problems, [being] overly critical of work that is done well, and intimidating others.” The Army study focused on toxic leadership because “under worst case scenarios, toxic leadership in the Army can lead to mutiny and death.”
While the consequences of toxic leadership in your organization are likely to fall short of “mutiny and death,” the Army report noted that toxic leadership might also lead to “a whole host of relatively less serious, but still troubling outcomes” including “erosion of trust, reduced effectiveness, commitment and retention, break-downs in essential communication, and diminished follower well-being.”
The Army report succinctly outlined the paradox of toxic leadership, however, noting that “toxic leaders are usually not incompetent or ineffective leaders in terms of accomplishing explicit mission objectives” and that “many times they are strong leaders who have ‘the right stuff’, but just in the wrong intensity, and with the wrong desired end-state, namely self-promotion above all else.”
Presented with this paradox, how can an organization effectively identify and handle the threat of toxic leadership? Here are a few steps that can help:
- Pay Attention – understanding how the leaders in your organization operate is key to the identification and correction of toxic leadership behaviors. Develop review systems that solicit and compile candid information regarding leaders from superiors and subordinates so that leaders can be fully evaluated.
- Value Healthy Processes – rewarding leaders based solely on end-result performance metrics creates an environment where toxic leadership can thrive. Making a commitment to look behind results to examine processes is essential to clearly evaluating the health of your organization.
- Communicate Clear Expectations – a clear and explicit public commitment to healthy leadership by top-level management allows both leaders and followers to work from a common understanding of acceptable leadership methods.
- Equip Leaders to Be Non-Toxic – an organizational commitment to non-toxic leadership cannot be effective unless the organization educates its leaders regarding healthy leadership through some combination of formal performance reviews, formal training, and mentoring.
- Fire Toxic Leaders – once identified, toxic leaders must be rooted out for the long-term good of the organization.
There are many tools to accomplish these steps and combat toxic leadership in your organization. If you are ready to start a campaign against toxic leadership, Dame Management Strategies is fully equipped to assist with both planning and executing this effort.