There comes a point in your career, and life, when you decide which type of leader you want to be. You can be a great leader, using your role to empower other people and create an organization that people are proud to contribute to every day. Or you can be a bad leader, using your power to withhold it from others.

The type of leadership you exhibit will directly impact your company culture. It is your responsibility to define, create and maintain a great culture. Great leaders create and demand high standards of performance and conduct. They define and live the principles and aspirations of the organization. Poor leaders do not understand what power truly is, and misuse it.

So how do you avoid creating a bad culture, and preventing toxicity from building in your organization? Here's a list of four notable ways that toxic leaders divide their team, destroy company culture, and ultimately, keep the company from being as great as it can be.

1. Rewarding toxic employees

Let's consider a scenario that I'm sure you've encountered at some point. It usually involves a team member that is not terminated despite poor performance, rubbing customers the wrong way and/or bringing toxic energy to the team. Instead of being let go, the bad apple continues to work alongside the good employees and receives their check every month. 

This circumstance creates a variety of damaging outcomes, including:

  1. It creates a standard that bad behavior and performance will not only be tolerated, but rewarded.
  2. It creates resentment among the A-players that are working hard and doing things the right way.
  3. It communicates that there will is no accountability.
  4. It signals a lack of leadership, conviction and integrity for the leader who refuses to remove the toxic employee.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to set a standard for behavior, performance and accountability. The only thing worse than tolerating bad behavior is rewarding it.

2. Trying to control everything

If you want an organization with fulfilled team members that feel empowered, then you cannot control or micro-manage everyone. In a previous article about the traits of bad leaders, I described some of the psychological and emotional sources that drive a need for control.

In my experiences, I believe control comes from a place of insecurity, ego and a lack of self-worth. In most cases, a controlling leader doesn't understand that their true power lies in their ability to empower others. Instead of giving their power to others, they hold onto it because it's the only thing that can satiate their ego or cover up their insecurities.  

Preventing people from owning their domain, or their role, stifles their abilities and creativity. It also robs them of the human desire to contribute. It makes people feel inferior and incapable - and those are the last things you want your employees feeling.

3. Failing to lead by example

Too many leaders, from the C-suite to our government, are failing at their opportunity to lead by example. Our society is facing serious pressure to maintain a standard for how to treat others.

As a leader, it is on you to set the tone. It is on you to be the change you want to see in the world. It is on you to demand that everyone on your team is in-line with the standards you set for culture, performance and conduct. It is your responsibility to make inclusion and diversity a priority. It is on you to treat people well. It is on you to build great teams and empower them.

4. Playing favorites

Favoring certain team members over others is a sure-fire way to create resentment and frustration in your organization. This can take shape in the form of favoring certain people, creating cliques and/or promoting certain people who are undeserving. Another subtle example is not giving credit where and when credit is due.

This sends a strong signal that your organization is inequitable. By doing this, you're communicating that no matter how hard someone works, or how well they perform, they may not advance or receive raises at the same pace as team members who are favored by leadership. What do you think that does to morale?

Final Word

At the end of the day, you need to decide what kind of leader you want to be. You need to decide what kind of company culture you want. As a leader, it's all on you. If you look at your team, and your business, and you don't like what you see - realize that you have created that dynamic (actively or passively) and you have the ability to turn it around.