How to survive a toxic leader
Let’s start with the definition. Toxic leaders are “individuals who, by virtue of their destructive behaviors and their dysfunctional personal qualities or characteristics, inflict serious and enduring harm on the individuals, groups, organizations, communities and even the nations that they lead” [Lipman–Blumen, 2005]. They act as “bullies, and enforcers, who succeed by tearing down, and controlling others rather than uplifting followers” [Whicker, 1996].
Why is it so hard to detect toxic leaders?
Toxic leaders are often protected by their followers through their silence and/or the organizational structure’s lack of accountability. Many achieved high levels of leadership and are seen as highly competent and effective. Nevertheless, they carry high human and financial costs. Followers endure mental health issues and organizations pay the cost of high turnover rates.
How to know if you work for a toxic leader?
- Abusive supervision:
- Publicly ridicules employees
- Does not respect boundaries
- Damages employee’s reputation
2. Authoritarian style:
- Determines all decisions
- Ignores employee’s needs
- Weaponizes feedback
- Takes credit for work done by subordinates
- Focus on promotion at all cost
- Terrorizes others with explosive emotional outbursts
- Allows mood to dictate team climate
- Makes employees walk on egg-shelves
- Believes to be exceptional
- Thrives on compliments
- Acts entitled
- Lacks self-awareness of their impact
Actions to Survive Destructive/Toxic Leaders
Ultimately the best thing you can do is LEAVE to protect your mental and physical health.
- Set Boundaries. Do not allow to be the “on-demand” person that responds to all their calls. Stand your ground from the beginning of your relationship.
- Refuse to engage in gossip to undermine others in your team or organization.
- It’s hard but you do not want to fit into their emotional frenzy. Instead, calmly respond to their emotional outburst.
- Document in writing all your exchanges, in case this person tries to gaslight you.
- Create alliances across the organization that can give you the power to counter their toxic behavior. This is one of the most important strategies as these leaders are likely to alienate not only subordinates but peers. Their limited power depends on coercion and title. You can create your power by connecting with others, and creating alliances to counter their threats.