I'll never forget it as long as I live. While reporting to a previous CEO as the head of talent management a few years back, I had to present a report outlining the top five reasons people were quitting in droves.
I also had to break the news that confidential exit interview data showed that he was "reason No.5." Bullying, disrespecting, and belittling others, and other uncivil behaviors were common reasons people bailed as a result of his toxic leadership style.
For any other leader with a measure of accountability, humility, and a conscience, growing and learning new skills to overcome blind spots that are a detriment to the company's success is par for the course. Not for this guy.
His stern-faced response? "I want the names of all the people that quit on that report."
Yes, the top dog of the company asking the head of talent for confidential exit interview data. Surreal.
8 Ways to Instantly Judge if You Work for a Toxic Company
As a senior leader or owner, your job is to build an organization where jerks, bullies, and troublemakers don't thrive. Because if your good people and loyal knowledge workers are seeing any of these eight toxic habits in action (the first four are about management; the rest are about the workplace), the leadership battle at the top may already have been lost.
1. Self-serving snakes for managers.
If you work for a manager whose sole interest is for the world revolving around him to satisfy his personal needs or penchant for greed, status, or power (is his BMW parked in front of the building, a few steps from the front door?), you know he's only in it for himself. You can pretty much judge this to be a clear sign of toxic leadership.
2. Employees are stifled by a dictatorship.
In such an environment, managers are puppet masters who seek total control over everything and anyone, under all circumstances. He or she distrusts the team and doesn't delegate; there's no room for group discussion or input because the leadership style is autocratic. It's their way or the highway.
3. Managers hoard information.
Here's the real reason your managers may be hoarding and withholding information: It's about power and control. And control is one of the most effective ways to kill trust. A leader hoarding information to control her environment and the people in it cannot be trusted. Future leaders will have to responsibly share information and display personal and organizational transparency with their people.
4. Managers are MIA.
Ever wonder where your manager is? If they're in the building, they're behind closed doors most of the time to avoid personal interaction, especially when things are going south. You'll note they are conveniently "busy" at crucial times when their input or direction is needed, and often take shelter in incessant meetings that are really façades to mask their insecurity or fear of facing conflict or leading the troops. They are only interested in good news, because they're not able to handle anything more. Got a problem? Talk to someone else.
5. Co-workers display destructive and counterproductive behaviors.
People play the blame game, there's backstabbing and gossip, internal competitiveness is fierce, and you'll find colleagues lacking in personal accountability. Even worse, you'll find such places are politically charged; people form alliances and managers pit employees against one another. If you work here, it's not safe to disclose information or work in close collaboration. T-o-x-i-c.
6. Absenteeism, lack of contribution, and turnover are on the rise.
Why? Because employees aren't valued as worthy human beings, so morale takes a nose dive. When the expectation from the top down is that people's personal or family lives have to be sacrificed for the job as evidenced by 50-hour-plus workweeks, little or no vacation time, and 24/7 availability for work communication, you've reached the height of a toxic workplace.
7. Unethical behaviors such as theft, fraud, and workplace sabotage.
In Gallup research, the worst kind of employee is the one referred to as "actively disengaged" (which, according to Gallup, makes up 17-20 percent of your workforce). These employees are walking zombies (my term)--emotionally checked out or just going through the motions while contributing to gossip circles (and collecting a paycheck in the process!). You can bet that unethical conduct like theft, fraud, and sabotage that disrupt morale and productivity will be on the rise once employees mentally and emotionally check out.
8. The health of employees is going downhill.
Research over the years has shown that abusive workplaces add insurmountable amounts of stress on employees, greatly decreasing their ability to focus and be productive. Researchers found that employees who had managers with toxic traits were 60 percent more likely to have suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.
Which of these eight most apply to your workplace?