I've been part of many conversations with executive clients who are quick to blame their employees for bickering and lackluster performance. They get their information, of course, from management teams bickering and complaining about their employees.

While there's no quick-fix solution, I tell them, usually the reasons managers aren't getting the best from smart, creative, and talented employees have to do with job dissatisfaction -- common human reactions to unfulfilled work expectations and/or stressful environments -- and managers, not employees, are primarily to blame.

A Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults found that 50 percent of employees left their jobs "to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career."

As you inspect your managers closely, you may find certain negative people practices and untrustworthy behaviors that are consistent with what research has confirmed will lead to adverse conditions that affect human performance. 

Here are seven of the most toxic management behaviors that will stifle the human spirit and suck the soul out of an organization.

1. People are treated as objects, not human beings.

Because compassion and empathy are virtually non-existent, employees are considered objects or expenses rather than assets, and there is little concern for their happiness or well-being. As a result, you'll encounter high levels of stress, turnover, absenteeism, and burnout.

2. Employees compete against each other.

Employees must compete internally, which management enforces with a performance-assessment system that focuses on individual performance rather than team performance.

3. Passive aggressiveness.

Research documented in the book Toxic Workplace! found that most toxic personalities are passive aggressive, meaning that they often distrust others and are very territorial and seek to remain in control. They also reject negative feedback, because they don't see themselves as the problem.

4. A focus on the negative.

Management brings down the morale of workers by focusing solely on what they are doing wrong or correcting problems; rarely, if ever, do they give positive feedback and reinforcement for the things that are going right. 

5. Stealing the spotlight.

The team puts together a wonderful product and rolls it out on time. The client loves it and then this happens: The manager takes all the credit for the work. No praise for the team, no celebration of everyone's success, no recognition of team members for their contributions. This type of manager will hog the spotlight, and when that happens, team morale plummets. 

6. Missing in action.

Managers are checked out physically, mentally, or both. If they're in the building, they're behind closed doors to avoid personal interaction and are conveniently "busy" at crucial times when their input or direction is needed. They'll take shelter in incessant meetings that are really façades to mask their insecurity or fear of facing conflict. 

7. Gossiping.

Arguably, this is the most toxic trait you'll find in a toxic boss. Gossip hurts teams and kills collaboration because it creates a work atmosphere filled with suspicion and distrust. And coming from a manager, it's just lethal. When a boss spreads rumors, it's the total and complete opposite of what a true human leader would do.

How to fix the problem of toxic bosses

Toxic behaviors gone unchecked, over time, strip people of their dignity and create a sense of powerlessness in co-workers. That's never good for business. So what's the solution?

It always, always comes back to character and integrity. Even billionaire Warren Buffett publicly called integrity the most important trait in hiring, above intelligence.

Science seems to agree. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology​, stopping the toxic boss crisis may simply boil down to finding the virtues of moral integrity and goodness in the people you promote into leadership roles.

Published on: Dec 7, 2018
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