Tuesday 2 February 2016

Are you a toxic leader?

Toxic leadership isn't something to be proud of - is it? 

Certainly not when we look at the definition of toxic: poisonous, dangerous, destructive, harmful, malignant, pernicious, deadly! Not something we need in any organisation?

Yet many leaders see that heartless and ruthless streak to be a valuable asset to their organisation - and it can be - in a short term, bottom line, profit only sort of a way!

I recently attended Let's talk about it - changing attitudes towards our mental health at work.

During the session Professor Denis Fischbacher-Smith of The University of Glasgow's Adam Smith, as part of his presentation on: mental health in the workplace: the hidden problem for management education, put up this slide:

That is toxic leaders have:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Acute self-interest
Which sounds about right to me - you?

I do wish it were simpler to rid business of such leadership.

If it were then we'd be able to say without hesitation that the financial institutions' leadership are less toxic as a result of the crash in 2008? I'm not sure we can? do you?  

The biggest challenge to ridding the business world of toxic leaders is we don't really have many easy options open to us:
  • Changing the toxic leaderships's behaviours
  • Changing the toxic leadership's values and beliefs 
  • Replacing toxic leadership
  • Get the toxic leadership sacked 
Not really anything that easily fits within our individual areas of influence? We can try, but changing other people is never something that's easy to do - even when we have the authority to try. As I write in "Is your head in the sand" toxic leadership is not something many leaders will self identify with - so you've not got much leverage there either.

You only have to look at many of the current, and former, runners for president of the United States of America to realise that power and money, or should that be money and power, are a toxic mix that can get these leaders very far indeed. 

It's no different in many organisations - although I realise there are exceptions (e.g. B Corporation,  Arianna Huffington's Thrive and the third metric, The BTeam's plan B and so on to name but a few).

So if the above are not easy solutions you and I can have any influence over - what can we do? 

Well ...

.... You're not going to like it.......

I assure you you're not going to like my answer ....

.. I really mean it - you're not going to like it...

Here goes.... 

.... A deep breath 

......and my answer is.....

Ensure you're not condoning any of the behaviours demonstrated by these toxic leaders - ie stop behaving like these toxic leaders.

I did warn you.

Here's the logic for my rather bold statement:

If any of us demonstrate any of the following traits:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
  • Inflated sense of self-worth
  • Acute self-interest
How can we criticise another for doing so.

It's too easy to say the repercussions are greater for those with power, and therefore forgive ourselves our little indiscretions.

That then begs the question "where is the line?" - when does someone move from good self interest to bad self interest, or move from acceptable lack of concern for others to unacceptable lack of concern for others?

I did type "How do we then teach our children where the line is", and that's taken the blog in a different direction as I ponder if the increase in bullying at schools is because we are teaching them to have:
  • Self-centered attitudes, motivations and behaviours
  • A lack of concern for others
Perhaps in the belief that others can look after themselves, and the impact isn't so great.

The problem of course is those bullies grow up.

The lack of action either towards little Alice's bullying, or our own indiscretions are found in the following excuses reasons:
  • They shouldn't have done x 
  • They had it coming to them
  • They're not very nice people
  • I didn't intend my actions to have that outcome 
  • Everyone else is doing it
  • No one will know
  • They can look after themselves
  • It won't hurt anyone
  • I need to keep a roof over my head
  • It's not the same when I do it
I'm sure the toxic leaders started by thinking the same!

Perhaps the answer lies in an earlier blog about stopping playing games at work? Or even in 'is your head in the sand' if you really are one of these toxic leaders, and don't know it!

Do you agree with this definition of toxic leadership, and what do you think the solution to toxic leadership is?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out - and here's why I think inspiring change is important

And just to provide a different perspective I used the metaphor of toxic plants in this blog, over on Landscaping Your Life where I use nature to inspire change, to see if a different insight could be gained from a less defensive analysis. I certainly felt less irritated having explored the situation metaphorically - see what you think.

A blog I wrote some time ago was entitled "don't turn a blind eye" and invited us to speak up against toxic behaviours in business. And my blog 'is there room for kindness in procurement' was an invitation to bring your humanity to work every day.

1 comment:

  1. I have two thoughts, both of which need bravery.
    First, confront the behaviour. Clearly and explicitly, with evidence that is as objective as possible, with a demonstration of the impact of their behaviour on the rest of the team, the organisation.
    Second, leave. Making it clear to the toxic leader and to their organisational superiors why you are leaving.