In my research examining the leadership literature for nearly 20 years, I've ascertained that leadership in its purest and most unadulterated form comes down to one overarching theme: serving the needs of people so they can reach their fullest potential.
Truth be told, however, not every person chosen to be in the esteemed position of influencing others is created equal. Some, in fact, have no business being there.
As I investigated the flip side of the coin--the "Bizarro" of true leadership, if you will--I found some toxic management behaviors that can disengage employees and tear down organizations. Here are seven of the most common.
1. Narcissistic tendencies.
If you report to such a manager, there's a likelihood he or she suffers from a mental condition known as narcissistic personality disorder that requires medical attention. Joseph Burgo, author of The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age, says this person "will belittle your work product or ridicule you at meetings. When he needs something from you, he may become threatening. At his most toxic, he will make you doubt yourself and your ultimate value to your employer."
2. Too much bureaucracy.
Want to see toxic, top-down management structure at work? Just look at the approval process to get a purchase order for a box of pens. In a hierarchy, there are so many levels of approval, so many committees, work groups, and councils that meet, and so many layers of management and steps required to make a final decision, employees get their motivational wind knocked out of them and ultimately suffer from the bureaucracy. It clearly communicates to them, "We don't trust you."
3. Failure to share information.
Managers with a penchant for hoarding information do it to wield their power and control their environment and the people in it. And the stifling exercise of power and control over people is the most effective way to kill trust. The reverse is a leader who acts responsibly by sharing information and displaying transparency with their team.
4. Stealing the spotlight.
The team puts together a wonderful product and rolls it out on time. The client is jazzed. And then it 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.
5. Poor communication.
Clear communication is rare and often results in this type of manager saying one thing on Monday and changing direction by Wednesday, often without telling the team. It's the classic case of "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing."
6. Absentee leadership.
Research shows that one of the most common forms of incompetent and destructive management styles is "absentee leadership." While they may enjoy all the perks and privileges that come with being in a leadership role, the reality is that they're psychologically disconnected from their teams and avoid meaningful involvement with them. A 2015 survey of 1,000 working adults published in Harvard Business Review found that "eight of the top nine complaints about leaders concerned behaviors that were absent; employees were most concerned about what their bosses didn't do." Chances are good that your company is unaware of its absentee leaders, since they operate on stealth mode. But truth be told, absentee leaders are often silent organization killers.
In 2016, I conducted an independent workplace survey and received hundreds of responses to the question: "What is the one mistake leaders make more frequently than others?" Micromanagement was the No. 1 mistake employees across the globe felt their managers make. Well, no surprise here. Managers who dominate people, decisions, and processes will ultimately derail a team's morale. One tip-off that you may be working for a toxic micromanager is hearing a phrase that should never come out of that person's mouth: "I am the boss."