A few days ago, I wrote about a 10-year study with an alarming conclusion: Employees who report to toxic bosses are 60 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.

What exactly comprises a toxic boss? According to the research, when employees are continuously exposed to these four traits in their managers, it contributes to serious health issues:

  • Managers were incompetent.
  • Managers were inconsiderate.
  • Managers were secretive.
  • Managers were uncommunicative.

These are the traits that managers with true leadership capacity will rarely display. Lets drill down on each cardiac-inducing trait for a closer look at how to reverse this unfortunate trend.


In this age of knowledge workers and savvy Millennials knowing more than their bosses, great leaders will gain influence by first demonstrating their own competence.

Leaders that hold their own and show keen knowledge, insight, and expertise in both leadership and industry- or technology-specific business acumen will gain their followers' trust faster.

But it goes beyond that. In a leadership sense, they will carry the vision forward, communicate the vision, and actively engage their tribe in pursuing the vision. This takes competence, and builds confidence in their tribe. And a tribe's confidence in such a competent leader will ultimately deliver excellence.


According to research by Christine Porath, professor of management at Georgetown University and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, disrespectful, rude or insensitive behavior, can derail people and organizations.

She says, "Incivility takes an emotional and physical toll on employees, and organizations pay the price in a variety of ways, from health care costs to losses stemming from poor performance, absenteeism and turnover."

Additionally, says Porath, the research suggests that even if people want to perform well, they cannot when they are operating in a disrespectful and inconsiderate atmosphere. The productivity and creativity of those who experience incivility takes a nose dive. Employees eventually lose their conviction and contribute less.


Great leaders are totally opposite of the heart-attack-inducing secretive bosses. They instead leverage the power of transparency and share information at all levels.

One clear example is The Mighty, a startup digital media company with the inspiring, larger-than-life, mission of improving the lives of people facing disease and disability. Its founder and CEO demonstrates transparency by sending all 13 employees the same e-mails he shares with investors and board of directors.

Porath's extensive research on thriving workplaces drives home the point. She says "Information sharing fuels thriving at work because it helps employees better understand the meaning of their work and envision how they can competently contribute." She adds, "It gives them the requisite knowledge to quickly uncover problems as they arise, make good decisions, and to integrate and coordinate actions across the firm."

Giving employees access to strategic and financial information helps them do their own jobs effectively and provides them with a broader, more holistic picture of the company's health.

Other ways to foster a sharing culture is to involve employees in their own sharing. Ritz-Carlton lets employees exchange stories daily (in 15-minute meetings) about how they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help customers. The Mighty's CEO begins meetings by asking employees to share their best experiences at work.


In a manner of speaking, the best leaders will never allow their people to be left in the dark by not setting the right goals, clarifying expectations, and being visible when needed. They make room for frequent, open, two-way feedback to guide communication and provide learning moments for their people, which helps them know where they stand in terms of performance and career development.

Great leaders communicate in "we" rather than "I" or "you" language. For example, "I want this done like this" or "I need you to make this happen for me" are good examples of "me first" or "I" lingo. Negative "you" lingo that is deemed as critical or judgmental may sound like this: "You didn't keep your promise" or "You showed incompetence in that meeting."

On the flip side, "we" language implies that the challenge or problem is the concern and responsibility of both leader and follower. It suggests inclusion, immediacy, cohesiveness, and commitment. Example: "We need to figure out a system that works more efficiently."

"We" language is especially crucial for bringing a team under crisis together, not to mention winning the trust of your customers.

Great leaders also walk the talk. They refuse to cut corners and will speak their truth. They don't say things to sugarcoat, to try to please others or to try to look good in front of their peers. They don't betray themselves or others by using words or making decisions that are not aligned with who they are. That's why they usually have great reputations. When they make a promise they do everything possible to fulfill it. The actions fit the words.