As a former HR management professional now in practice as an executive coach and trainer, I have observed firsthand many counterproductive behaviors in middle and upper management that have sent people packing.
Here are six behaviors that I have recognized as "toxic." As the title suggests, if you can muster enough honesty to raise the mirror and self-reflect, answering yes to these questions could start your journey toward becoming a better leader.
1. Do you set unrealistic expectations for goals and performance?
While good bosses will set the bar high and stretch you to reach new heights while supporting you along the way, toxic bosses can sabotage the workplace by setting goals so high and expectations so unrealistic, it may often be impossible to complete the task, leaving employees disengaged and hopeless.
2. Do you call all the shots to ensure everything comes out your way?
Toxic bosses demand that things go their way all the time. And when a situation doesn't go their way, they naturally don't have the capacity to handle the problem without causing more problems. For example, if team members propose a better solution to a business challenge in a videoconference, toxic bosses will try to bully their way into changing their minds and ridicule their rationale, on the spot. Uninhibited emotions show up much easier over a computer screen when you operate through dominant behaviors like bullying. This "my way or the highway" campaign may later manifest in private virtual meetings in which toxic bosses will divide and conquer by turning team members against one another.
3. Do you find yourself deflecting responsibility and casting blame?
A classic saying coming out of a toxic boss's mouth may be: "I'm not responsible." Toxic bosses deflect responsibility and cast blame elsewhere to protect themselves at all costs. On the other hand, good leaders put their ego aside, because admitting to being human and making mistakes actually increases trust. When leaders model this type of authenticity, employees feel safe enough to take risks, make their own mistakes, and be able to say, "Hey, boss, I messed up."
4. Do you get energized by wielding your power over others?
While they may be good parents, spouses, and law-abiding citizens, toxic bosses will often lack a moral code in the workplace. They may be sneaky and manipulative with their hearts rooted in domination and the attainment of power. They hoard valuable information, pit different teams against each other, and are quite cliquish--forming an "in-group" of friends while excluding others.
5. Do you criticize your people in front of their peers?
Criticizing people in front of their peers is a common toxic boss trait, as one poll suggests. So is systematically turning down other people's good ideas and initiatives. The effects of working under a toxic superior are plentiful, the most prominent of which are growing frustrated to the point of losing interest, enthusiasm, or concern toward the day-to-day work.
6. Do you fear facing conflict?
Toxic bosses are often missing in action. 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. They're only interested in good news because they're not able to handle anything more. Got a problem? Talk to someone else.