Leadership is one of the most important roles within any organisation. Toxic leadership can often stem from the top, with undue stresses being placed on senior management. This toxicity filters down throughout the organisation and can have truly disastrous effects on whole teams as well as individuals. From high staff turnover to increased absences, lower productivity, and overall employee dissatisfaction, the effects of toxic leadership cannot be ignored.

Workplace wellbeing is becoming more important, with an emphasis on mental health. One of the best ways to eliminate toxic leadership is to identify the root cause, which will allow you to grasp the bigger picture and find a way to resolve the issue(s). This blog post is here to help you to identify toxic leadership within your organisation and suggests some practical steps to address it.

What is toxic leadership?

Abrasive leaders create a culture of unnecessary anxiety. In severe cases, the destructive behaviours of toxic leaders can become abusive. Their engagement with staff is often overly-authoritative, abrasive, unkind, unempathetic — and not least of all — damaging. 

Toxic leadership can succinctly be described as a misuse of power. A lot of the time, it stems from one source. Let’s take a closer look at the cause(s) of toxic leadership.

What causes toxic leadership?

In many cases, toxic leadership stems from a fundamental flaw (or more than one) in the leader’s leadership or management skills. The toxic leader is commonly ill-equipped to deal with the stresses that come with their role. They don’t have the skills, experience, or knowledge to hold themselves or their team accountable for their actions.

As such, they behave in distasteful, damaging ways. Forced to work within a culture that fosters fear and anxiety, the toxic leader’s subordinates often refuse to speak up about the toxicity and continue to suffer in silence. Unfortunately, and all too often, it’s only when things go wrong on a project, or a key team member starts to call in sick often, that the issue reveals itself.

How to eliminate toxic leadership from the workplace

If a leader is to eliminate toxicity in the workplace, they must consider how to do so from a leadership perspective and that of an employee. This is what will allow them to succeed in their mission. Below are some major steps to take.

Start by identifying toxic behaviour

This can be done through regular feedback sessions, asking for employee feedback on their managers, and having open conversations around the feedback received. It can be difficult for an employee to open up about the toxic environment, and they may be reluctant to share information even if you encourage them.

As long as you provide a safe space for employees to voice their concerns, they’ll be more willing to detail incidences of damaging behaviour and help you identify the person who is creating a toxic environment. However, the only way to resolve this will be through constructive engagement. You must approach the problematic employee respectfully, even though they are creating a negative situation through their actions.

Conduct reciprocal evaluations

This method requires an employee to submit evaluations of their manager’s performance and behaviour, much like their managers must do so during review sessions and quarterly appraisals. This holds managers and their teams accountable for their actions, knowing that they’ll be ‘called out’ for damaging behaviour.

Offer opportunities for professional development and coaching

Perhaps you’ve identified the toxic traits in some managers across your organisation, or you’re taking proactive steps to avoid a toxic situation in the first instance. 

Professional development courses can move the needle when it comes to tackling the root cause of toxic leadership — which is a manager’s inability to perform their duties well because they don’t have fundamental management and leadership skills. Not only will these courses attempt to resolve existing toxicity, but they can also be a valuable learning opportunity for managers and aspiring leaders to develop and enhance their skills. Effectively, you’ll play a hand in creating the next generation of leaders when you choose this option. 

Improve the way managers handle workloads

That applies to their own workload and to their team’s. 

Stress will only amplify negative behaviour. Changing the way workloads are handled will pave the way for a better distribution of tasks, reduce stress, and improve efficiency. Allowing employees to organise and manage their workloads empowers employees and spares managers some unnecessary stress. 

Consider providing training for managers who are struggling with aspects of their role. This is a vital step towards helping them to regain control over a major stress factor practically.

Set practical boundaries through codes of conduct

Outline a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and make all managers and staff aware of the repercussions they could face if they are identified as transgressors. Foster open communication surrounding these policies and offer solutions for staff who are struggling to cope with the pressures and demands of their roles. This will go a long way in ensuring a level playing field, creating a positive and inclusive environment, and eliminating toxicity at all levels of the business.

Consider all employees when addressing toxicity

Toxicity tends to stem from higher management and filter its way down. Be sure you’re assessing the behaviours of all your staff — not only senior executives. A toxic approach to work can infiltrate any level of the business and having a clear goal for how you can address toxicity on all levels is paramount. Perhaps some staff are struggling with personal issues, or they might be inundated with unrealistic deadlines. Having a plan in place to support them, and providing a way for them to help themselves, will help eliminate damaging behaviour at all levels.

Become a great leader with In Professional Development

Providing support and resources to employees is a reliable way to empower them. They can go on to perform better and to lead better. Great leaders can identify their strengths and weaknesses and take meaningful steps to improve their skills. We’ve created our professional development courses to provide the right support, tools, and skills to enable effective leadership during challenging times. 

Why not book a place on one of our upcoming leadership courses or programmes? If you prefer the convenience of online training, our virtual classroom provides practical resources to help develop your leaders. We also offer in house training, well suited to larger groups. 

We’re dedicated to finding the right courses and training for your professional development. Contact us by filling out this form


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