On to success through a new perspective.
In our society there is still the image that real bosses are a thing of the past. They have long since been replaced by modern leaders who inspire and empower. Unfortunately the reality is different. There are still managers and directors who behave like authoritarian figures, without an eye for the human side of leadership. These toxic leaders, they are both men and women, thrive on sabotage and stealing successes. In this longread, I’ll take a closer look at how to deal with these ruthless rulers. Most importantly, I offer you advice on how to counter them. Because it is impossible to grow as long as manipulation, backstabbing, idea hijacking and divisiveness persist. Discover how together we can end toxic leadership and its devastating impact on individuals and organizations.
Not everyone will immediately see their manager as a toxic leader. Many managers will not see themselves that way either. And right there we have part of the problem. Stop for a moment and look at your own environment and ask yourself the following questions. Always think of your own team leaders, managers and directors. And for the managers, ask yourself these questions and take a critical look at yourself and your organization. Do this without pointing fingers but just as a reflection.
- Do you trust your manager?
- Does the manager give you the space to do your job?
- Does your manager rely on your professionalism? Both in terms of knowledge and behaviour?
- Does your manager stand up for you in the organisation?
Were you able to answer “yes” to all questions? That is beautiful! If not, let’s take a closer look at the questions. As you have also done it reflectively, I don’t want to point the finger with this longread. I also want you as a reader to reflect in order to work together on a solution. Because there is always a solution. Let’s go through the questions.
Do you trust your manager?
Trust plays a crucial role in the dynamics within teams and organizations. Toxic leaders create a culture of distrust through their manipulative behavior. Their lack of transparency and ignoring the needs and concerns of their employees. The lack of trust has very serious consequences for individuals and the organization as a whole. When you as an employee have less or no confidence in your leader, you become reluctant to take risks, share your ideas and fully commit yourself. You feel insecure about your position and sometimes even afraid of retaliation if you criticize or raise issues. This leads to a culture of silence and conformity, in which innovation and growth are definitely stifled.
Toxic leadership also undermines trust between colleagues. Employees are encouraged to distrust and compete with each other. Consequence? A toxic and unhealthy work environment! Collaborating on common goals becomes more difficult. Teams are divided into camps that fight each other instead of working together. The effect is devastating. Employees experience stress, burnout, perform less and drop out. They feel powerless and do not dare to express their ideas and opinions for fear of reprisal. The organization stagnates and lags behind the competition due to a lack of innovation and creativity.
Toxic leaders create a high turnover rate of personnel, causing the organization to lose talented employees. Recruitment costs are high when recruiting new people. The source seems inexhaustible, but eventually (and much faster than you think!) it will dry up for good. At the same time, the image of the organization suffers from the negative reputation that toxic leadership brings, making it increasingly difficult to attract talented professionals. A second factor that causes the source to dry up very quickly.
Does the manager give you the space to do your job?
Do you have a manager who is always looking over your shoulder? Is your manager one who always wants to know all the details? Do you experience a lack of space and freedom when performing your tasks? Effective leaders understand that it is essential to give team members the necessary space and freedom to do their jobs. They recognize that employees perform best when they have the autonomy to perform their tasks independently, without constant interference or micromanagement. This means that managers must set clear goals and expectations, but at the same time provide space for employees to find their own way and develop their own ideas and solutions.
Toxic leaders, on the other hand, tend to create a suffocating atmosphere in which employees feel limited in their ability to do their jobs. They often exercise excessive scrutiny, making employees feel they are constantly being monitored and criticized. This lack of confidence and freedom leads to reduced motivation and commitment to work, negatively impacting employee performance.
Does your manager rely on your professionalism?
At a time when organizations strive for a healthy and productive work environment, the role of a manager is crucial. An effective leader is often characterized by his ability to rely on the professionalism of his employees, both in terms of knowledge and behavior. A toxic leader does not rely on the professionalism of his employees, but rather tries to control and suppress them. The effect of such dynamics on employees’ ability to fully utilize their knowledge and skills is devastating. An important consequence is a lack of self-confidence and a reduced sense of self-esteem among the employees.
In addition, toxic leadership will hinder the professional development of employees. A leader who does not trust the professionalism of his team will be reluctant to present them with new challenges and opportunities. This limits the growth opportunities of employees and inhibits their potential to develop further. As a result, employees can get stuck in a state of stagnation, which has negative consequences not only for their own career development, but also for the innovation and growth of the organization.
Does your manager stand up for you in the organization?
Do you notice that your manager supports you in your decisions, but stands for you in case of problems? Are you kept out of the wind by your manager? When a leader fails to do this and disappoints the team, it creates a negative and unstimulating work environment in which employees feel undervalued, opposed and demotivated. Under conscious or unconscious toxic leadership, people do not feel free to express their ideas and points of view, knowing that they will be targeted by their supervisor. This prevents a culture of innovation, creativity and involvement, in which employees have the confidence to take risks and explore new ideas. This style of leadership causes the team to lose sense of ownership and team spirit, resulting in loss of productivity and poorer performance.
Stretching or a poor work-life balance are also common in toxic leadership. It simply ignores the fact that employees are not only productive professionals, but also individuals with personal responsibilities and needs. These executives torpedo flexibility and understanding, leaving no room for employees to balance work and personal life. The result is guessable.
When you are dealing with conscious or unconscious toxic leadership, it is important to put an end to this as soon as possible.
Raising awareness is the first step in the fight against toxic leadership. It is important for employees and organizations to recognize the signs of toxic behavior, such as constant criticism, lack of communication and transparency, and minimizing the performance of others. Organizations must take a clear stance against toxic leadership and foster a culture of respect and trust. This can be achieved by setting clear expectations for leadership behaviour, providing training and coaching to managers and creating channels for feedback and reporting of wrongdoing. For victims of toxic leadership, it is important to seek support from colleagues, mentors or HR professionals. Sharing experiences and building a support network can help mitigate the negative impact and take possible steps. In addition, organizations must foster a culture of recognition and reward, where success is shared and individual achievements are valued. This reduces the need to steal successes and undermine others.
Ending toxic leadership takes courage and determination, but the benefits are significant. A healthy work environment in which employees feel valued, are stimulated and can realize their full potential promotes productivity, innovation and growth of both individuals and organizations.
If you work with dogs, horses or other animals, you know that trust is key to getting a connection with them. No roaring or brute force, that only produces fear, insecurity and defensive behavior. The environment will then quickly say that is a “bad dog” or “that horse cannot be trusted”. At such a moment they name the consequence of toxic behavior. The correct comment would be that it is a fake boss or an executive who cannot be trusted.
Restoring trust is a critical step in combating toxic leadership. This can only be achieved by leaders who are committed to open communication, honesty and respect for the opinions and contributions of others. Transparency is essential so that employees understand why certain decisions are made and how they contribute to the organisation’s vision. In addition, leaders must also actively listen to and take employees’ concerns and feedback seriously.
Building a culture of trust requires creating safe spaces where employees can speak freely and where their input is valued and applied. Restoring trust takes time, consistency, and genuine commitment from leaders. But when trust is restored, employees flourish, teams become resilient and organizations can flourish. Trust forms the basis for a healthy work environment in which everyone feels valued and can fully commit to the success of the organization.
A manager who gives you space to do your job
The moment there is trust in each other, there is also room for each other. Together you create a culture of trust and open communication. Executives who exhibit toxic leadership often struggle to build trust with their employees. In contrast, effective managers encourage open and honest communication with their employees. They encourage employees to share their ideas and concerns and provide a safe environment where mistakes can be made and learned. This open communication contributes to a sense of involvement and ensures that employees feel free to perform their work in the best possible way.
A manager who gives employees the space to do their job recognizes the importance of autonomy and independence. They provide clear guidelines and goals, but leave employees free to determine their own working method. They rely on the expertise and capabilities of their team members and encourage them to take initiative and take responsibility for their tasks. This space enables employees to develop their skills, to develop themselves and to go to work with more satisfaction. An important aspect of giving employees space is encouraging open communication.
Effective leaders encourage employees to share their ideas, concerns, and suggestions. They create a safe environment in which employees feel free to speak up and provide feedback. This open communication promotes a culture of collaboration and innovation, in which employees can contribute to improving processes and finding new solutions. In addition, executives who give space to their employees understand the importance of a good work-life balance. They recognize that employees are not only professionals, but also individuals with personal obligations and needs. These leaders promote flexibility and understanding, enabling employees to balance work and personal life. This results in more satisfaction, well-being and higher motivation among employees.
A manager who leans on you for your professionalism
A manager who gives employees the space to do their job recognizes the importance of autonomy and independence. A leader who trusts his or her team and leans on their professionalism is an essential factor in an effective and successful work environment. A leader who leans on the professionalism of his or her team recognizes the unique skills, knowledge and experience each individual brings. Instead of trying to take all control, such a leader gives his or her team the space to excel in their respective fields. This not only fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility among team members, but also enables them to further develop their professional skills.
An important feature is the ability to build and maintain trust. This leader understands that trust is a two-way street and it must be mutually earned. By promoting open and transparent communication, the leader shares information, goals and expectations with the team, creating a culture of trust. This trust encourages team members to take initiative, to take responsibility and to use their professional abilities to the fullest.
In addition, a leader who leans on his or her team appreciates the different perspectives and ideas each team member can contribute. They recognize the importance of embracing diversity and encouraging team members to express their views. By creating an environment where ideas can flow freely, this leader encourages innovation and creativity, which can lead to new and improved ways of solving problems. A leader who leans on his or her team also acts as a mentor and coach to his or her team members. They provide support, guidance and valuable feedback to promote the team’s professional growth and development. This leader believes in the potential of his or her team members and invests time and resources to help them develop their skills. Through regular evaluations and targeted conversations, the leader helps the team achieve their professional goals and take their performance to the next level.
A manager who stands up for you in the organization
In an organization, the role of a manager plays a crucial role in the success and well-being of the employees. However, an effective leader goes beyond just delegating tasks and monitoring performance. A manager who stands up for the team and the employees in the organization is a true beacon of support and empowerment.
First, such a leader is a strong advocate of honesty and fairness within the organization. This leader is aware of the challenges and obstacles his team members face and takes active steps to address them. He advocates equal opportunities, transparent decision-making and a culture of open communication. By committing to honesty and fairness, the leader creates an environment in which employees feel valued and heard, which in turn strengthens their involvement and motivation.
Second, a leader who stands up for his team acts as a strong bridge between the employees and upper management. For the team, he understands that the team’s interests must be represented and defended in decision-making processes. This leader is ready to communicate and defend his team members’ performance, needs, and concerns to management. He is an advocate for appropriate recognition, rewards and development opportunities for his team.
For the management, he is the indicator and representative of the temperature in the team or even the organization. By standing up for his employees, the leader creates a sense of trust, loyalty and mutual support, which benefits team dynamics and performance. Moreover, a leader who stands up for his employees plays a crucial role in stimulating growth and development. He recognizes the unique skills and talents of his team members and encourages them to reach their full potential. This executive provides support, mentoring, and opportunities for professional growth. He promotes a culture of continuous learning and encourages employees to take on challenges and develop new skills. By investing in the growth and development of his employees, the leader not only promotes their individual success, but also the success of the organization as a whole.
No roaring or brute force, that only produces fear, insecurity and defensive behavior. The environment will then quickly say that is a “bad dog” or “that horse cannot be trusted”. At such a moment they name the consequence of toxic behavior. The correct comment would be that it is a fake boss or an executive who cannot be trusted.
In short, tackling toxic leadership requires a coordinated effort at different levels within the organization. Here are some options to help you combat this destructive behavior:
- Develop Leadership Programs: Invest in comprehensive leadership training that focuses not only on developing management skills, but also on cultivating empathy, communication, and fostering a positive work culture.
- Promote diversity and inclusion: Create a work environment where you value diversity and encourage inclusion. Toxic leadership often thrives in environments where power and control are concentrated with a select few. Embracing diversity allows different perspectives and ideas to flourish.
- Implement a Whistleblower Policy: Establish an effective system where employees can safely report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation. Take reports seriously and take appropriate action to address the situation.
- Support victims and provide aftercare: Victims of toxic leadership often need emotional and professional support. Provide a safe environment in which they can go for advice, guidance and possibly legal assistance.
- Make leadership evaluations transparent: Implement a feedback system where employees can provide anonymous feedback about their leaders. These evaluations can provide valuable insights and serve as a basis for further development and improvement of leadership within the organization.
Eradicating conscious or unconscious toxic leadership takes time and commitment, but the positive impact on the well-being of employees and the organization and of the leader himself. It’s well worth the effort. By working together on a culture of respect, empathy and effective leadership, we can build healthy, successful and sustainable organizations.
As a manager, it is important to always strive for improvement in your style and approach. If you feel there is still room for growth, we strongly encourage you to start the conversation with us. With our expertise, we can help you refine your leadership skills. We use direct and accessible exercises that have a significant impact. By following these exercises, you will notice that creating and giving space has a positive effect on your team. Not only will this boost your self-confidence, but you will immediately notice that you gain more confidence from your team members. We understand the importance of being an effective and inspiring leader, and we’re here to support you in achieving that goal.
On the other hand, as a team member you may need more connection within your team. In that case, we encourage you to start the conversation with us. We can also strengthen your team and provide your team leader with tools to grow your team. We understand the importance of a close and collaborative team and we are ready to help you create an environment where everyone feels connected and valued. Together we can work to foster positive and productive team dynamics.
Have a great day!
Take on the challenge and improve your skills or look for more connection. Make use of our expertise, direct exercises and strengthen yourself, as a manager or as a team member. Create space, increase your self-confidence and gain the trust of your team members. Start today and make a difference.
More about group dynamics and change in
the blocks (chapters) positioning, advising and evaluating in our book Cement (in Dutch)
Edwin is not just a visionary expressed through his longreads, but also adept at conveying his ideas through presentations and real-world client interactions. He is a lover of Scandinavia and that's noticeable. Through an array of examples and metaphors, his infectious enthusiasm becomes a catalyst for inspiring, motivating, and fostering connections among individuals. Collaborating closely with his wife and partner, Mirjam, Edwin leads individuals through periods of change. Their shared mission revolves around forging impactful connections – connections that ignite leadership inspiration, foster team cohesion, and catalyze organizational transformation.
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