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Warning Signs That You Are Working For a Toxic Leader


*Warning Signs That You Are Working For a Toxic Leader*

During a coaching conversation recently, I was asked, “How do I know if the person I work for is toxic, or am I being too sensitive?” This got us into an interesting conversation about toxic leader traits and self-awareness. We ended with the fact that it was, in fact, her boss that was toxic and she should move on. This made me think about all of the people out there that don’t even know they’re wasting time working in a toxic company. Here are some of my favorite examples of toxic leadership. If you see them in your manager, it may be time for you to move on.

They’re Never Available

Starting at the beginning of your tenure with a new company, your direct supervisor should make themselves readily available. They should guide you through your onboarding, provide direction, and have regular check-ins with you as you begin your new career. These types of leaders will be the first ones to ask “what are they working on?” even though they, themselves, are never involved or rarely available. How long does it take to get an email or text message responded to? How frequently are your check-ins happening?

Good leaders will give you a step-by-step onboarding program and support you along the way. Great leaders will seek you out, ask for feedback, and adjust their program depending on how you are performing. They will care about your time and will be responsive throughout your time working for them.

They Micromanage You

A tell-tale sign that you have a toxic leader is constant micromanagement. This really comes from a place of ego and insecurity, because toxic leaders believe they are the only ones that can do it right. Their enormous egos lead to frequent bragging, condescension, and “my way or the highway,” as I like to call them. Notice that this type of thinking will lead to constant turnover, which very well may be the reason you got your job. If someone ever tells you to stay in your lane, it’s time to move on.

Pay attention to the stories that hover around the office—more than likely, those are warning signs disguised as gossip.

Good leaders will provide you with the space to do what you were hired to do, and great leaders will seek and trust your opinions on topics where you are the subject matter expert.

They Avoid Conflict

Want to know a trait that is very common with toxic leaders? It’s sweeping issues under the rug. These types of managers avoid conflict at all costs. They make your job hard, make things uncomfortable, and hope you get the hint that you’re unwanted. In many cases, they will completely ignore you, and no one wants to work in an organization where they are ignored. This is called “quiet firing”. Additionally, one of the quickest ways to lose respect for your team is to not handle important situations as they arise. If you frequently say to yourself, “How come this person gets away with murder?”, you’re probably dealing with a toxic leader.

Good leaders will handle situations as they come up and will communicate expectations effectively to their team. Great leaders will create a work environment that is transparent and where coaching conversations aren’t uncomfortable. They will not target you as an individual but will rather work collaboratively on how to improve your role within the company.

Oh, and you definitely won’t be ignored… But then again, I kind of think that is a “cost of admission” for leadership.

They Steal Credit

This one can be a little tricky, because in many cases, you won’t have the opportunity to see the theft take place. Toxic leaders leverage the people around them to build their own personal brand. They take you and your team’s credit, and are frequently rewarded as a result. This cyclical behavior creates a perpetual chain of creative theft. Signs of credit theft include: handling the call alone (even though you did all the prep work), only non-public verbal acknowledgements, and constant last minute “re-works” on the group project that only they submit.

Be on the lookout for keyword usage like, “I, me, and my.” You should be hearing more “we, our, and ours.”

Good leaders will acknowledge you and your team’s performance publicly, and they will do it often. Great leaders will ask you and your team to represent the company in high-profile situations, whether those be sales calls, corporate visits, or negotiations with vendors.

They Have No Empathy

Toxic leaders are traditionally the least empathetic managers you have ever had, and I guarantee you can still point to that one person who gave you the business because your child was home sick or you had a family emergency. They will talk about your performance behind your back, get involved in gossip, and actively disbelieve the things you and your team say to them. You can really tell who is the worst of the worst when someone has an emergency that pulls them away or makes it so they can’t complete their work on time. Is your manager kind, understanding, and sympathetic? Or are they spiteful, accusatory, and rude?

To understand if your leader is empathetic, I would focus on gossip. If they are gossiping with you, they are most likely gossiping about you. They don’t care about you or your peers, and when it comes to crunch time, they’ll prove it to you.

When you or a team member is going through a difficult time, a good leader will be honest and sympathetic. Great leaders will show vulnerability and open themselves up to the team. They will also impress you with their kindness and sensitivity when it hits the critical hour.

They Never Apologize

Lastly, toxic leaders almost never apologize, and when they do, it’s clearly fake. They can be completely wrong, regardless of how insignificant the issue is, and they still won’t admit their fault. This is most likely due to serious insecurities within their own personal lives, but they allow it to be carried into the business. Sadly, this lack of acknowledgement culture leads to some of the most toxic workplaces. It’s up to the leader to show the rest of the team “what good looks like.” Examples of this behavior are pretty clear, but they can also include half-hearted acknowledgement of fault and untimely apologies. Look for “yes, buts” and apologies without eye contact or proper listening.

Good leaders will admit their mistakes to the team when they happen. They will provide clear-cut examples of what they could do to improve in the future, so that it helps establish expectations for your team. Great leaders will go one step further. They will seek out opportunities for timely and transparent feedback on their performance. Look for these types of leaders to solicit feedback from the team around them.

This list could seriously go on for pages and pages, but I felt these were the most common examples of toxic leader traits in the workplace. Ask yourself, “Are these characteristics of my leader?” If so, you may very well be stuck in a toxic work environment. My advice to you is to get out now, before you waste any more time.

Are there any other key characteristics of a toxic leader that I have left out? I’d love for you to add them in the comments. 

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