By Kevin Johnson, CEO, OnTrack International
Toxic leadership has a disastrous impact on teams and organisations. Such leaders often stop people from performing at their best. So, HR executives need to understand the consequences of such behaviour and take measures to help prevent it from taking root.
What is toxic leadership?
Good leaders, at any level, should equip, enable, drive, and support the success of their people so they can add value to the organisation.
Leadership becomes toxic when a leader attempts to coerce others. Toxic leaders may bully others or be aggressive, arrogant, dictatorial, or manipulative. Other behaviours common to toxic leadership include ineffective communication, micro-management and a lack of empathy.
A toxic leader can unfairly judge, attack, blame or ridicule others, often in an attempt to strengthen and defend their position. They may block ideas and exclude or ‘talk over’ team members.
Left unchecked, this behaviour can have five effects.
First, toxic leaders create an unpleasant working environment which stifles team passion, innovation and energy.
Second, it creates a false world of isolation where the toxic leader makes poor decisions. Afraid to speak up for fear of the consequences, team members hold back information from the leader.
Next, toxic leaders create a short-term focus. The leader focuses on results to the detriment of the long-term interests of the business.
Fourth, toxic leaders set a bad example. Other members of staff may see such behaviour as the benchmark for success. If that happens, line managers further down can start to replicate the negative example of a toxic boss. Such detrimental behaviour then starts to ‘infect’ leaders at all levels.
Finally, good people leave. Toxic leaders do not make their people feel valued, so talented individuals jump ship. What is more, by pushing out the next generation of leaders, toxic leadership puts the future of the business at risk.
So, toxic leadership harms employees and organisations. But how can HR executives prevent such behaviour?
Deterring toxic behaviour
HR teams can implement several steps to help prevent toxic behaviour from ever taking root in an organisation.
HR should instil the right way to lead at the outset. So, L&D teams should ensure that first-line managers are trained in vital skills such as interpersonal communication, giving and receiving feedback, motivating others and having tough conversations.
Early leaders should learn how and when to ‘flex’ their leadership style to suit the circumstances. They should also learn to value the contributions of their team, so they manage by praise and reward, not by finding fault in others.
HR executives can also do more to monitor leaders on an ongoing basis. If signs of toxic behaviour or derailment of any kind occur, HR teams can nip it in the bud.
HR teams are also well placed to provide leaders with feedback on their behaviour and whether their behaviour aligns with their values. Equipping managers with higher levels of emotional intelligence helps them lead by example. It also helps facilitate behavioural change.
Last, HR teams should develop trust among managers, their teams and customers. A development programme on building trust – both within the organisation and outwith – can be run for all employees. This can help to champion the value of competence, integrity and compassion in the business.
Getting it right
By preventing toxic leadership, HR teams can help create a high-trust culture with high-performing teams.
In such a culture, employees are often more innovative and loyal. The organisation will have better recruitment and retention and ultimately enhanced productivity.
When toxic leadership is never far from the headlines, it’s never too soon for HR executives to put the right programme in place to deter such behaviour.
In doing so, they’ll ensure leaders, teams and the whole organisation performs at their best.