Containing toxic leadership damage: The courage to act

toxic leaders 147205278It is often only after toxic leaders/managers have exited an organization that the depth and breadth of the damage they leave behind is understood by senior leadership. There are few situations that benefit more from immediate intervention.

Damage to Managers and Individuals

The longer that incompetence, insincerity and narcissism are allowed to reign unchecked and good people adjust to survive, the more the emotional impact becomes a form of PTSD.

Many people are unable to turn their attention away from the carnage, reliving it in various ways, and allowing it to color their worldview and quality of life in all aspects. Some are probably able to recover fairly quickly when the situation changes or they exit. For others, repressed anger and a sense of betrayal may stay with them for life. There is significant evidence to suggest that health and even life expectancy can be diminished due to prolonged exposure to toxic leaders. [Quick-read suggestion: “How Full Is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath]

Damage to Trust in Leadership

Toxic damage is never the responsibility of just one individual. Allowing a toxic culture to grow and flourish is a serious failure of enterprise leadership.

It is as insidious as harmful bacteria and can be as difficult to cure with lasting – perhaps permanent – effects. The most serious of those is the inability of everyone involved to trust in leadership – all leadership.

Lack of leadership courage begins to define the organization in many ways. When there is increasing awareness of a situation that is undermining a team’s ability to meet goals – and appropriate actions are not pursued to understand the root cause and correct it – trust in leadership is seriously diminished. This distrust is not just confined to leadership’s ability to recognize and correct toxic leaders; once judgment is questioned, the question mark hangs over all leadership communications, decisions and actions.

Damage to the Success of the Enterprise

The (largely unrecognized) loss to an organization caused by unrelenting blows to energy, engagement, productivity and goal-focus of people in the ‘line of fire’ is irrefutable and incalculable, but certainly significant.

More important, the reality of rewards and consequences becomes an unfortunate but very real model of what is expected of others in the organization. If the issue were embezzlement of enterprise assets rather than leadership toxicity, the course of action would be direct and immediate. But toxicity is a subtler crime. What will it take for leaders to understand that siphoning off human capital ROI has greater and potentially longer-lasting consequences to profits and organizational success?

Much has been written about ‘group think’ and its impact on many organizations – especially in the military. The literature makes a strong argument for leadership diversity in all facets. In addition, when leaders have low tolerance for dissenting opinion, and directly and indirectly discourage straight talk [often byproducts of autocratic leadership or group think], the dangers are obvious to anyone who pays attention.

Trusted leaders are courageous leaders.

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Another related blog: Did Lack of Leadership Courage Push Trust Off a Cliff? 

For more about Courageous Leadership, see No Courage, No Trust

© copyright 2013. Masters Among Us, Inc,  Marilou Myrick. All rights reserved.

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