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Do You Feel Incompetent And Shaky At Work? You May Have A Toxic Boss

28/03/2016 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Scissors cutting puppet strings from businessman being squeezed in large fist

Every workplace has myriad types of leaders. Each of them has different ways of functioning, engaging and influencing those around them.

In my experience, if you look at it very broadly, there are three types of leaders. There are those who make their interactions truly memorable and one looks more for opportunities to interact with them. This could be because of number of reasons: they challenge to do better, they mentor, they listen or they just make you feel special. You tend to remember them for a long time to come. The second group of leaders are those who do not leave any impression and you tend to forget them over a period of time. The interactions are transactional and more to accomplish the task at hand. The third group of leaders are those whom who also remember, not because they add value but because they leave a bitter after-taste after every interaction. Every time you meet such a leader you come out feeling they only had his own interest in mind and that they tried to attenuate your self-esteem. These are the toxic leaders.

Sometimes he'll be overtly nasty and at other times warm and kind... but that doesn't mean you should let down your guard

The self-centredness and obnoxiousness of a toxic leader have an adverse impact on everyone at work. Not only does team performance plummet under their leadership, the organization at large suffers too. One toxic leader is sufficient to kill the vibrancy of a workplace and slowly sully the culture that once made it high performing.

Ideally, a business organization should not have any toxic leaders, but such bosses are all too common due faulty recruitment, weak human resources practices to identify and weed them out, and their own ability to successfully manage upwards.

So how do you identify a toxic leader in a workplace? Here are some common traits to watch out for.

They make people feel small

Interacting with this kind of boss is like having a silent battle. He (or she) always tries to dominate the discussion and prove his superiority. For him it's always "my way or the highway". If you have a different point of view or resist an idea proposed by him, he will try to put you down and could go to the extent of questioning your credibility and even the core competence for which you are known.

For him it's always "my way or the highway". If you have a different point of view, he will try to put you down.

On a good day, he's patronizing and will try to imply that he is the benefactor of all good things in your life. He may also try to manipulate you by blowing hot and cold--sometimes he'll be overtly nasty and at other times warm and kind... but that doesn't mean you should let down your guard; something nasty could be up his sleeve. If you don't have a high self-esteem to begin with, this kind of boss and leave you feeling devastated and worthless.

They look for scapegoats and lay blame

When his team does a good job, he takes all the credit and hogs the limelight. When things aren't going so well, though, it's everyone's fault but his. He will look for scapegoats and pin the blame on them. He will never own up to any culpability even if the team in question acted in accordance with his instructions. If he makes a mistake, he will never have the humility to say: "I am sorry" or "It was my mistake". Even if he does say these words, it's usually for his own agenda. It goes against his character to actually take ownership of shortcomings.

When his performance is sub-par and his boss asks for reasons, his first reaction is to blame others--the team's work wasn't good enough, they weren't creative enough...

When his performance is sub-par and his boss asks for reasons, his first reaction is to blame others--the team's work wasn't good enough, they weren't creative or strategic enough, there weren't enough funds, other departments messed up and so on and so forth.

He is a know-all and shows off his connections

This person knows everything and everyone. Sports, politics, the economy, you name it and he has an opinion and a self-conferred honorary degree. Artfully displayed books, many of which he may have never even ready, in his workstation and cabin will be props pointing to his passion for knowledge. In meetings, when someone, even another leader, is presenting on something no way connected with him, he will interrupt not to add value but to show off his knowledge. He will also drop names of influential people both within and outside the organization. He will display on his table pictures of himself with eminent personalities (who were probably dragged into the frame for a quick photo at a conference or social gathering).

He is insensitive and a bully

Despite his claims about being people-centric, he is insensitive to the needs and wants of people around him. He believes that if people have to be led it has to be done through fear. He intimidates those in his team and even his peers. If a team member does not meet his expectations, he rebukes him in public. He believes that when you shame people in public they do what you expect them to do. He does not shy away from using rude language. He bullies people by being sarcastic, shouting and threatening to sack them. For him it's all about his personal goals and achievements.

He's the one who'll hound you with phone calls on weekends and holidays.

He's the one who won't give you time off to admit your child to kindergarten. He's the one who'll hound you with phone calls on weekends and holidays.

He will favour a few people who are close to him and be indifferent to everyone else. Those close to him act as his informers, lackeys and confidants. They can get rewarded even if their performance is sub-par.

He manages upwards and looks down on subordinates

It's amazing to see the two faces of this leader. While he treats his subordinates and peers with contempt and disregard, he manages his relationships with those above with care. He treats his bosses like demi-gods. The nasty exterior confronting all those unfortunate enough to work under him transforms into charm and personability in front of those who decide his fate in the organization. Those he perceives as influential or important will be blessed with birthday wishes and Diwali gifts from him, while his team members or peers will be treated like something the cat dragged in.

The nasty exterior confronting all those unfortunate enough to work under him transforms into charm in front of those who decide his fate in the organization.

A business organization cannot afford to have toxic leaders. Top management should inculcate a culture wherein leaders hold each other accountable for such behaviours. Immediate feedback should be provided to those who show these behaviours. Even after mentoring and coaching, if the behaviour continues you need to take a call if the person should still be in the organization.

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