Leadership only works if it is about other people and not just yourself. You can turn this on its head and say that toxic behaviours are not just down to others, but also can be the characteristics you typically display as a leader.
These characteristics matter. There is a connection between poor leadership and the UK’s inability to solve its long-term productivity puzzle – the significant gap in productivity between different regions in the country.
Mark Cushway, leadership coach and experienced entrepreneur, expands on the dangers of toxic leadership, and how individuals can watch out for tell-tale behaviours in their own attitudes and actions.
How Leaders Behave and React
Toxic leaders are bad for their employees and bad for business. However, while there are certain marked characteristics of toxic leadership, they can stem from behaviours that might feel, to some, like they are instinctive.
“Your behaviour can become toxic to others when you feel everything is centred around you, or is about you, both the good and the bad.”
“Typically, toxic leaders take things far too personally, whether this is bad news or good. By the same token, toxic leaders often lack empathy. They are unable to put themselves in others’ shoes and the results can be brutal.”
“Cruelty comes from toxic leadership, where individuals are singled out and humiliated in front of others, or where they are constantly put under unreasonable pressure.”
“Toxic leaders can be autocratic, focusing very much on a command-and-control style of leadership. At the same time, they may be narcissistic, and behave manipulatively in how they shore up their position”
“They may also display an unhealthy level of competitiveness and a discriminatory approach to people different to themselves. The result can be that they surround themselves only with people they perceive to be like themselves, creating a kind of leadership echo-chamber.”
Needless to say, toxic leaders react badly to criticism, however constructive, and will react with a forceful style that may be intimidating to others.
The Legacy of Toxicity
“Toxic leadership can seep into the entire culture of a company, leaving an atmosphere of distrust and dysfunctionality.”
This kind of leadership will also undermine itself, so it is toxic to the practitioner as well as the people on the receiving end of it.
“It is vital that leaders are aware that they could be taking on toxic behaviours, and may not realise how this appears to others”
This may stem from an inner lack of confidence. Much toxic leadership arises from uncertainty around how a leader should be, or even what they should do.
“Good leadership not only involves awareness of others,” Mark concludes, “but also of yourself and your impact on those who work for you and with you.”
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