5 Ways Leaders Become Toxic and How to Deal With It

To avoid having toxic leaders, you need to look at your leaders, notice which ones are heading the wrong way, and act immediately.

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5 Ways Leaders Become Toxic and How to Deal With It

Here's what you need to know about 5 ways leaders become toxic and how to deal with it:

  • A lot of leaders start out really well. They're hard-working people who are doing everything that they can to improve the business.
  • Mentors should have been in the new leader's position and will let them know that they need to reach out to their team members; especially when it's the hardest.
  • One type of toxic leader often borrows from the future to "pretty up" the present. They will sacrifice the organization's future growth to make the present numbers look good.

A lot of leaders start out really well in their journey. They’re hard-working people who are doing everything that they can to improve the business they’re working in. But along the way, they either fall into certain traps or change because of new responsibilities. And before you know what’s happened, they’re ineffective and toxic.

Since those new changes don’t always make them better, we will cover the 5 ways leaders become toxic in the workplace and how you can deal with it.

5 ways leaders become toxic and how to deal with it

There are 5 distinct ways leaders can slip down the slope and become toxic. Although our list is not all-inclusive, these are the most frequent culprits of behavioral change.

The best way to deal with problems is when they’re small. Once the issues become big, they affect everyone in the organization.

1.   Toxic Imposter syndrome

When your employees suddenly become (team) leaders, they may start feeling like an imposter—like they didn’t deserve the position. This, in small dosages, is quite normal. But it happens that some leaders start to feel this paralyzing doubt about their skills.

Their constant doubt in their skills leads to poor results for the team and the company, creating additional challenges. On top of that, the leader then sees those poor results as a reflection of their inadequacy, and they stumble even further down.

Leaders who behave like this are difficult to influence with feedback. They have a strong internal perception of their skills and refuse to listen to feedback. This can cause a negative spiral, resulting in multiple problems in the team where the leader simply doesn’t believe they can effectively manage themselves and the team.

If these leaders start noticing dissent in their team, they might become paranoid and think their team members want to get them out.

The best way to handle this kind of leader is to have them undergo self-awareness training. They’re in this position because they don’t understand themselves and can’t accept feedback. The self-awareness training will help them reflect on their thoughts and actions, leading to higher self-esteem.

2.   Rationalizing mistakes with externalities

This type of toxic leader has a problem facing the current reality. The first thing they will do is try to ignore any problems in the team altogether. After they can’t ignore the problem anymore (because it becomes too big), they will find an external reason for why the problem occurred.

The external reasons will often be tied to:

  • The productivity levels of their team members
  • Not having the necessary budget
  • The market reacting poorly related to their initial plans and forecasts

This kind of leader will try to rationalize the problems in any way possible instead of taking responsibility for themselves for the poor results. This behavior is infectious and will spread through the organization like wildfire if not dealt with. The leader will soon see that it’s impossible to hold anyone in their team responsible for anything that’s happening.

Soon enough, they will face additional problems and challenges from the team members, and that will cause a negative spiral of the issues:

  • Nobody will do anything
  • There won’t be any results
  • It will be impossible to hold anyone responsible for the lack of results

To handle this kind of leader, you should have them undergo leadership development training where they will learn how to admit mistakes they made. That’s the first step in them overcoming the problem of rationalizing mistakes.

3.   Seeking glory

Leaders who are glory seekers are concerned with their status and reputation. They’re not interested that much in creating sustainable value for the organization. All they’re looking for is:

  • Money
  • Fame
  • Power
  • “Glory”

The problem with this kind of toxic leader is that they often borrow from the future to “pretty up” the present. They will sacrifice the organization’s future growth to make the present numbers look good. Because that will make them look good in front of others.

This kind of decision-making will not only steal from the future but will also set a poor example to any team members observing this kind of behavior.

On top of that, they will make decisions based on how others will perceive them. That means they will oftentimes ignore any risk in their action plans because they don’t want to have any percentage of failure. This will stifle creativity and make people reluctant to even try to innovate.

The way that you deal with this leader is to change the metrics of their success. They’re all about the numbers of the now, but if you change their success metrics, they will start behaving differently. With this kind of leader, you should focus on measuring their sustainable growth over time and the satisfaction of their team members (low turnover rate).

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4.   Being a lone wolf

This is one of the easiest traps to fall into, especially for new leaders. Most employees that have been promoted to a leadership position have gotten it because they’ve:

  • Been productive
  • Were ambitious
  • Had massive drive

The problem with leadership is that you need different kinds of skills to lead your team successfully. You can no longer rely on just your individual capabilities—you need to start leading and depending on your team.

But an individual like that most likely becomes a lone wolf, secluding themselves from others. They start doing everything by themselves, ignoring the fact that they have team members. They seclude themselves from everyone, ignoring feedback and keeping their team in the dark.

Once the project fails, the leader only starts sharing information with the team members, but it’s too late at that point.

The easiest way to deal with this kind of leader is to give them a mandatory mentor. This mentor should be someone who has been in their position and will let them know that they need to reach out to their members when it’s the hardest.

It’s not about turtling themselves when situations are the most challenging, but about opening up and asking for help.

5.   Becoming a shooting star

A leader that becomes a shooting star makes rapid advancements in their career, but that comes with a cost. They’re often shining the brightest, but that’s why they don’t shine for long.

They rise the ranks fast but then crash and burn when the tasks start spiraling out of control. They’re the type of leader who agrees or offers to do everything and don’t know their limitations. That’s why they overwork themselves, and then everything spirals out of control, and nothing gets done.

The shooting star is the type of leader who agrees or offers to do everything and don’t know their limitations.

The stress that amasses spills over to the team members, and the leader starts pushing the members to the breaking point. This makes the team members burn out along with the leader.

The best way to deal with this kind of leader is to slow them down. You should limit how many tasks and responsibilities they can simultaneously take on themselves. Because if left unattended, they will spend themselves and everyone else around them.

Deal with the problems until they become too big

The best way to deal with problems is when they’re small. Once the issues become big, they affect everyone in the organization. That’s why you need to look at your leaders, notice which ones are heading the wrong way, and act immediately.

If you need additional help with leadership development, you should check our Developing Leaders: How to Help Employees Transition to Management on our blog section.

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