We spend so much for our daily lives at work. And even when we're not there, we still take work home with us - either literally or figuratively. I believe the best way to improve the quality of one's relationship with work is to find a workplace that fulfills you, values your contribution and gives you the opportunity to grow and succeed. Oppositely, one big factor that can destroy the quality of your relationship with work is a toxic boss.
The challenging part of this dynamic is that great leadership can be hard to find. It's easy to spot great leaders who can execute on a high level, yet they're not as common. The harmful part of this reality is that it's easy to subconsciously dismiss the traits of bad leaders as you accept them as normal.
Personally, I have found pattern recognition to be an effective tool for recognizing behaviors in others. By identifying patterns in behavior, you can become more aware of toxic traits and then focus on a remedy or making decisions that serve your needs.
This article provides three examples of toxic leaders and their traits or behaviors. These examples are not only relevant for employees. I challenge all leaders to use self-awareness to determine if you fall into any of these three categories and use it as an opportunity for growth.
1. The Narcissist
This is the leader who always believes they are right. These individuals do not have a strong connection with reality and regularly project a rosy idea of the future on the present moment. This prevents them from making clear decisions about how to plan for the future and handle circumstances in the moment. They tend to avoid self-awareness and self-growth, often thinking they already know everything or they're a finished product.
Accountability is also a big issue for most narcissists. In addition to believing they're better than others, narcissists also believe they're exempt from the standards applied to others and that they're entitled to additional considerations. Also, bad outcomes are never their fault, but they will take credit for all the good things that happen. Lastly, they abhor accountability structures and often surround themselves with "yes" people who do not challenge their sense of superiority.
2. The Control Freak
There's no question we've all worked for the control-obsessed leader at some point in our careers - and they're not hard to spot. This leader believes that they must control all the processes, people and resources - limiting the amount of space you have to make your own decisions, use your talents and feel fulfilled on a daily basis.
In my experience with a control freak, the need for control stems from a place of deep insecurity or narcissism. Insecurity-driven control helps satiate an emotional need to feel important or powerful because they lack the self-confidence and self-love to empower others through trust and opportunity. The narcissist control freak believes they can do everything better than others, and therefore does not delegate duties.
3. The Toxic Masculine Leader
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are shining a light on the prevalence of toxic masculinity and its harmful effects on women in the workplace. Leaders with toxic masculinity are enabling (passively or actively) work cultures that perpetuate pay inequality and sexual harassment, and worse. In the world of tech, many notable companies and investors have already admitted to or have been accused of inappropriate behavior and toxic cultures.
You can find toxic masculinity in every industry and it expresses in many different ways. These leaders make, dismiss or allow inappropriate jokes; fail to create spaces where women can feel empowered, equal and safe, fail to provide equal opportunities or pay, and foster toxic cultures.
How to move forward as an employee
I know it's easy for me to say you should avoid these leaders when it's not that simple in real life. These types of leaders are common, and there's a strong perception that they control our fate. I also believe that the ideal solution is to fix these emotional, leadership and toxic masculinity issues - instead of avoiding them. While we make progress fixing the sources of the issues, there are ways to turn these challenges into opportunities.
I've worked for leaders that fall into the categories above, and they've all fueled my desire to be an entrepreneur and be my own boss. Other professionals consider a shift to freelancing as a way to make a living without needing a boss.
You can also consider adding to your skill set to make a horizontal move, find a similar job at another company, start a new career, or go back to school.
How to move forward as a leader
If you're a leader and you feel you might exhibit some of these traits or behaviors, understand that acknowledgement is a powerful first step and it's never too late. Consider reading books on leadership, seeking out a mentor or working with a coach.
If you feel you might exhibit toxic masculinity, consider joining a group that fosters a healthy expression of masculinity. We all have room to grow and it's never too late to evolve as a leader and as a person.
While bad leaders are more common than we'd like them to be, understand that it's not a final sentence. While not always easy, you have the power and opportunity to change your circumstances.
Consider how the leader in your life is impacting your sense of happiness with work and examine any variables that you can control or change. If you're a leader, and you recognize pieces of yourself in this article, remember that we're all works in progress and everyone around you will support your efforts to change.