Toxic leaders, with different backgrounds, populate television, politics, corporate and decent ones are extremely rare. We have all met the chosen one in the workplace. The chosen one is protected by hierarchy, is more or less competent at his or her job, displays charisma and easily influences others.
However, The chosen one is also arrogant, unscrupulous, manipulative, lacks integrity, lies, deceives gossips freely about people. He or she doesn’t need to excuse or justify himself or herself, has carte blanche to do whatever as long as the organization profits from their behavior.
Wondering why toxic leaders have followers, how to detect and deal with them?
Toxicity is the quality of being harmful and poisonous. There are different levels of toxicity and most of the time, the leader’s character and level of toxicity are closely connected.
Toxic leaders have a welcomed home in corporate, emerge from different cultures, take pleasure in seducing, sabotaging, undermining, manipulating, criticizing, intimidating, scapegoating, suppressing their collaborators and own followers, in harming followers physical and mental health and in using fear to get their way.
Furthermore, they lack integrity, awareness, emotional intelligence and core values, are overly ambitious, are arrogant, shift blame easily, see money as power, are blinded by the impact of their actions, are unable to understand occurring problems and difficult decisions.
The reasons why people don’t stand up to toxic leaders
Some leaders behave harmfully without knowing it or without wanting to change. Some leaders acknowledge their poisonous behavior, commit to improving themselves and become exemplary leaders on the long run. Others go from naive and gentle to toxic due to their environment and their followers.
Around the leader, they are different types of followers. There are those who encourage the leader’s negative behavior. Those that ignore and protect the leader’s behavior. Those who just want to work or follow a vision. Those who seek to undermine the leader to safeguard their own position or to take the leader’s position.
Most toxic leaders are difficultly overthrown, are able to successfully retain followers and progress in the corporate ladder. In life and in the workplace, followers tend to stay in negative environments and to rationalize the behavior of toxic leaders because:
- Leaders have the power to promote and demote their followers, to hire and fire them.
- Leaders bring financial security, put a roof over our heads.
- Followers create toxic leaders even if they don’t exist and tend to keep them in power. Bad leaders flaws are generally ignored, minimized or protected to fuel the follower’s interest. As a result, their strengths are highlighted.
- Followers are afraid of reprisals, of challenging the status quo, of going against group-think.
- Followers are addicted to the culture of success.
- Followers are unable to overcome self-preservation.
- Followers need acceptance from a group, recognition, approval, validation to increase their self-esteem.
- Followers seek purpose, self-fulfillment and think that the unhealthy workplace will bring them closer to their calling.
- Followers are relieved that the leader makes the hard decisions and lifts the heavy weight.
- Followers think of kind and decent leaders as weak and therefore undermine their authority.
- Decent leaders are not represented in the media. Exemplary leaders are not applauded for their behavior, and performance, even though they are not exempt of weaknesses.
The benefits of tolerating toxic leaders
From the follower’s stand point, there are several benefits from tolerating toxic leaders. Suffering followers:
- Get to know themselves better, to strengthen their core values, to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
- Find out their blindspots and the impurities in their character.
- Learn the behaviors to avoid as a future leader and how to take the high road when things get hard.
- Become stronger, more resilient and are able to perform under pressure.
- Have the opportunity to recognize their potential and to emerge while leaders are looking to control their followers.
- Network outside their toxic workplace and bond with others suffering followers under the yoke of the leader.
- Increase their spiritual awareness and grow closer to God.
How to detect toxic leaders?
A nontoxic leader can exhibit a few toxic behaviors and qualities depending on the circumstances. Toxic leaders are hard to detect because they are sometimes able to disguise their negative behavior with benign behavior. To identify them, look out for behavioral patterns, learn the lessons of History and monitor leaders who:
- Promote themselves by diminishing others, are arrogant, shift blame and lie easily.
- Manipulate others and make them do their dirty work.
- Mistreat the most insecure and weakest person on the team, who openly criticize people on the team.
- Reject constructive criticism.
- Create conflicts between collaborators, seek to deceive, dominate and eliminate followers.
- Foster a competitive workplace, where their power and well-being are more important than the well-being of their followers.
How to deal with toxic leaders?
Fighting back is hard but not impossible because toxic leader grow stronger and more resilient per attack. To deal effectively with toxic leaders:
- Speak out and directly confront toxic behavior. If toxic behavior persists when alone and behind closed doors, recruit help of others and confront in group.
- Find a trust factor to connect with the leader
- Mentor or coach the toxic leader. Train leaders to be accountable for their actions.
- Attempt to quietly undermine the toxic leader.
- Organize protests against the toxic leader
- Leave the organization as a last option. When you reach your breaking point physically and mentally, when your performance suffers.
- Don’t allow leaders to remain in the same position too long.
- Hire people with character, who don’t seek power and monitor their behavior.
Hope that I’ve helped you get it together on your way to leadership!
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