Company Culture, leadership | Article

9 Signs You’re a Toxic Boss (& More Effective Ways to Lead)

“Employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.” The classic quote holds truth but it’s not just a matter of retention. It’s also a matter of productivity, engagement, and satisfaction.

Despite strides that have been made to improve workplace environments, the toxic boss still exists. In fact, they’re everywhere according to a recent Harris Poll survey. About 71% of workers have had a toxic boss at some point and 31% say they currently have one. Toxic bosses often lead people to look elsewhere for work, or at least remain disengaged.

When managers have toxic behaviors, they are not always aware of it. Turn inward and reflect on whether or not you exhibit any of these nine behaviors as a people leader.

The Nine Toxic Behaviors
  1. Sets unreasonable expectations (51%)
  2. Gets too involved in the details of my job when it isn’t necessary (49%)
  3. Gives unfair preferential treatment to certain team members (49%)
  4. Gives an impression of being unapproachable (49%)
  5. Does not give credit to team members when appropriate (48%)
  6. Takes credit for the ideas of others (45%)
  7. Engages in unprofessional behavior (45%)
  8. Assigns blame to others to protect themselves (43%)
  9. Discriminates against employees for specific characteristics (33%)

How to Go From Toxicity to Positivity

Now that we’ve identified toxic boss behaviors, let’s explore practical tips for leaders to combat them and create a positive work environment.

Set Realistic Expectations

Unrealistic goals and expectations often lead to stress and burnout. To avoid this, establish clear and achievable goals with each of your employees. Touch base on progress frequently during one-on-ones to ensure they are on track. Regularly ask them how they feel about their workload and make adjustments as necessary to prevent burnout.

Encourage Autonomy

Micromanaging can be a significant source of frustration for employees. Trust your team members and empower employees to take ownership of their tasks. Provide guidance without being involved in every single little detail. Allowing autonomy creates more job satisfaction and enables creativity.

Promote Fairness

Favoritism erodes trust and damages team morale. Ensure you demonstrate fairness in decision-making processes. Whether it’s for promotions, awards, or recognition in general, consider all of your team members. When favoritism is present, address it promptly and openly.

Be Approachable

A leader who appears unapproachable creates a barrier to communication and collaboration. Be open to feedback and actively listen to both direct reports and peers. Maintain an open-door policy to encourage frequent communication, or at least have some open office hours where people can stop by.

Recognize and Appreciate

Acknowledging employees’ contributions and saying thank you fosters a culture of recognition. They’re more likely to go above and beyond in this type of environment. Celebrate your team members efforts and achievements through a recognition platform. Praise is the most positive (and effective) form of feedback and making it public can be truly inspiring.

Share Credit

Stealing credit undermines trust and discourages innovation. Rarely are successes achieved with the efforts of one individual. It typically takes an entire team, and you should always acknowledge those that helped you get there. Highlight the contributions of each team member privately or publicly in front of the team or the company depending on preferences.

Model Professional Behavior

Unprofessional conduct such as inappropriate language or disrespectful behavior sets a negative tone. It can create a hostile environment and damage employee morale. Set a positive example for professionalism. Your behavior as a leader is contagious and your employees will often follow suit. Address any unprofessional behavior you witness right away.

Embrace Accountability

It an be easy to deflect blame onto your team members, especially when you fear repercussions. Create a culture where it is okay for anyone to make mistakes and fail. Acknowledge when you have made mistakes and take responsibility for them. The most crucial part is that you and you learn from them to avoid repetition.

Promote DEI

Discrimination based on gender, race, or other characteristics leads to a very toxic workplace. As a people leader, it is of utmost importance to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Get rid of any of your own unconscious biases through education and training. Help your team do the same.

Effectively leading others is already a difficult task. It becomes even more difficult if your employees perceive you or the environment you create as toxic. That’s why it is paramount to foster a positive work environment. One where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated. It is through thoughtful leadership that your organization and your people can truly thrive.