A few years ago, I interviewed a candidate for a high-level IT management position. He was competent, engaging, personable, and showed all the leadership traits that, in our eyes, would lead to success for that position. So we hired him.

The first week into the job, I dropped by his office to say hello. He was on the phone with a vendor, and in the few minutes I listened to his interaction, I saw a totally different person than the one we had hired.

He was crass, aggressive, short-tempered, and unprofessional. It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde experience. I was embarrassed for him.

He managed to survive in his role but at the expense of his subordinates. After a while, his department had a revolving door. But he's not alone.

Over the years, I have observed firsthand many counterproductive behaviors in middle and upper management. Here are 10 traits I have recognized as toxic.

1. Only looks after number one.

Forget the mission, or aligning team goals to organizational objectives. It's about individual performance and getting that annual bonus. Managers with this attitude are playing for the name on the back of the jersey and are only concerned about their accomplishments and how they look to superiors.

2. Steals the spotlight.

The team puts together a wonderful product and rolls it out on time. The client is giddy with joy about how much money and time the new system will save. And then it happens: The manager takes all the credit. No praise for the team, no celebration of everyone's success, no recognition of team members for their contributions. This type of manager will steal the light and thunder away from the team. Not cool.

3. Triangulates.

Picture a sensitive situation in which a manager will not communicate directly with a subordinate or peer, but will gladly reach out to communicate with a third person, which can lead to that person (who may not even be involved in the situation) becoming part of the problem. Sometimes this manager will even play the two people against each other. Welcome to triangulating. This is a typical dysfunctional pattern of managers who don't have the courage to deal directly with an issue by communicating authentically to diffuse the situation.

4. Has no self-awareness.

Ever worked for a manager who doesn't see the elephant in the room? What seems so obvious to others about her behavior and how it affects team members, she misses. Even if it's pointed out to her by her superiors, you won't see her fixing the damage by apologizing or trying to make things right. Hubris does not have 20/20 vision.

5. Is never wrong.

Ever work with a manager who's always right and you're always wrong? He has a hard time taking blame or ownership for things and will never admit to having made a mistake. He's more concerned with preserving his reputation and saving face. 

6. Doesn't communicate well.

This manager, for whatever reason, will withhold information, or not tell you the full story. He doesn't say what he means, or mean what he says, so people don't know where they stand. Clear communication is rare, and often results in saying one thing on Monday and changing direction by Wednesday, often without telling the team. Have your magic decoder ring handy; you'll need it with this manager.

7. Likes control.

This person micromanages to the last detail. The situation is overbearing and stifling, because she wants control over decisions; she distrusts the team and doesn't delegate. There's no room for group discussion or input, because the leadership style is autocratic. Creativity or learning something new is absent under this dictatorship. Just take your marching orders and report back.

8. Is often invisible.

This manager is missing in action, or if he's actually around, he's in his cave (a.k.a. his office) with the door shut. He avoids personal interaction, especially when things are going south. When you need his input or direction, he conveniently has a meeting to attend at that time. He will manage by e-mail and text, and avoids communicating in person for fear of facing conflict (which, if he knew better and faced with courage, would eliminate most of it!). He's only interested in good news, because he's not able to handle anything more. Got a problem? Talk to someone else.

9. Plays the blame game.

The first thing you'll notice with this person is the blame game. But you know the saying, "For every finger you point, there's three pointing back at you." Her behavior is directly related to a lack of personal accountability, which is often a character issue. In which case, one must ask and confront the powers that be: How did this person get promoted to management in the first place? 

10. Manages like a dictator.

Similar to No. 7, this type of manager will create a culture of distrust in which it's not safe to disclose information or work in close collaboration. Job survival here is day to day, owing to the unpredictability of the environment. Everybody is on his or her own. So who can you trust? In the volatile and politically charged workspace under a dictator, trusting your peers is risky--they may really be your enemies. Trusting your manager is just corporate suicide. Consider updating your résumé.

Published on: Aug 10, 2016
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