Sunday, January 12, 2014

Toxic Leaders

Forbes magazine defined Toxic Leaders this way:

"Toxic leadership is a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance. This leader lacks concern for others and the climate of the organization, which leads to short- and long-term negative effects. The toxic leader operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest. Toxic leaders consistently use dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves. The negative leader completes short-term requirements by operating at the bottom of the continuum of commitment, where followers respond to the positional power of their leader to fulfill requests. This may achieve results in the short term, but ignores the other leader competency categories of leads and develops. Prolonged use of negative leadership to influence followers undermines the followers’ will, initiative, and potential and destroys unit morale."

I've seen some awful bosses - and some good ones. The awful ones were catastrophes: self-centered, sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing, trying to take credit for others' work, wreaking havoc wherever they went. They had no understanding whatsoever of how to be a good leader.

One guy in particular was caught having some sort of sexual activity on company property with a woman he had hired. He was cheating on his wife, too. The Big Guns came down from New York to fire him, but his boss talked them out of it. He, unfortunately, couldn't see this sleazeball for what he was, and so protected him.

Finally the sleazeball screwed up so badly the Big Guns transferred him out of state, although they did not fire him. Not so surprisingly, people were uncomfortable in his presence, and he was referred to as "a bad man" and "evil." I always felt like walking out or leaping over his desk and strangling him.

I was reminded of all of this when I read an article about suicides among soldiers in Iraq. One thing most of them had in common was what was called Toxic Leaders, who pushed their soldiers and were not concerned with their welfare, just their own self-interest. The military was clueless about this. Ignorance and self-deception will do that to it.

The problem, really, is not listening to subordinates. And promoting narcissists because supposed "leaders" cannot see through them. Some of them aren't even mere narcissists, they're malignant narcissists, defined as "an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder combined with narcissistic elements that is manifested in a person who is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation, and with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism."

If the guy protecting had listened to his workers, who complained about the sleazeball continually, he would have been fired. He was making his workers' lives a living hell, as apparently are some leaders in the military.

I've thought for many years that when you get enough complaints about a boss, he should be fired. Not transferred. Fired.

This problem is what happens when the Top has too much power and does not listen to the Bottom. The Bottom will always get revenge. They'll walk off the job after sabotaging the place. I've seen it.

Societies have developed mechanisms to hold these narcissistic monsters at bay. The military, if they ever had them, has now lost them. Now they're trying to rediscover them. Society is still figuring out how to handle politicians.

One big thing that kept this people under control was firing them - which is expelling them from the tribal workplace. Shaming and ridiculing worked, too. Execution is a good one, which I've thought for a long time if you can prove a person needed killing. Nothing should be done to the killer. Maybe a five-dollar mail-in fine, or perhaps a nice medal. Maybe even a parade!

Society has lost some of its mechanisms for controlling toxic behavior. It's losing more as I write this.

As Forbes put it: "The problem of toxic leadership is not confined to the military. It will be a cancer in any social organization that lacks the mechanisms for controlling it."


zalto said...

"Execution is a good one, which I live I've thought for a long time if you can prove a person needed killing, then nothing should be done"

B, just trying to follow you here. I am not following the sentence.

Bob Wallace said...

I fixed it.

Anonymous said...

I work for a large employer. More often than not, such leaders go too far sooner or later and get shown the door. The downside is that it usually takes a long time and the higher-ranking the toxic leader, the longer it takes to happen. By then a lot of damage has been done.

Bob Wallace said...

That has been my experience, too. They go too far, sooner and usually later, and are transferred or fired. But boy do they causes trouble until it happens.

Quartermain said...

I noticed the toxic leadership when I was in the Army in the early 1980's. There was a captain who was burn crazy, I would love to salute him on the battlefield. There was a platoon sargant who destroyed the cohesion of his platoon, same thing. The toxic leadership goes farther in a government body.

Oh here is an article more or less touching on the same subject: