Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is your Management poisoning your Company

A blog some months ago had a post by someone who had recently been handed the pink slip.  He was ranting about the  Managers responsible for his termination.  The post was tailed by several comments posted from other employees who at different times had been removed by the same Managers.  The organization shut down recently and while that may or may not be related to management glitches but it is worth a think.

The worth of any organization, large or small, is always the sum total of the worth of its individual members and particularly its leaders. A bad leader is a pain but a toxic leader is poison.
 A large organization may host a dozen toxic leaders and not notice the difference for a while until it gets caught up in frauds, malpractices, employee harassment suits and the like.
But the smaller the organization the more significant is the presence of a toxic leader because even one can lead to its disintegration in a very short while.
Toxic leadership is indeed very common even in large well run institutions like the Army or the Church and even there, is difficult to eradicate.

What is toxic leadership and why is it so difficult to spot and remove a toxic leader particularly in organizations which are people oriented?

Marcia Whicker defines a toxic leader as a leader who is “maladjusted, malcontent, and often malevolent, even malicious.”   Every leader, good or bad, is a person with vision but a toxic leader has a vision for self rather than the organization.  Such a leader will seek to rise above the team rather than with the team. Such a leader is successful but the toxic leader’s success is not the company’s success and more often achieved by clawing the company’s back.

Toxic leadership is the more difficult to spot because at first look such leaders come across as intelligent and very performance oriented.  They project an attitude of confidence.  On the job, they are often to be seen ordering, commanding, rushing around, their reprimands, praises, communications very public and visible; and their presence very much felt.  They may not always be loud though. A toxic leader may be soft spoken and quiet too.  But loud or not toxic leaders display a common characteristic. With the boss they are compliant.  A toxic leader will never argue with the boss. They are the “yes bossers”, the  essential “babus” the ones who are always assuring the boss  “the job will be done.”

And indeed initially the job is done.  The toxic leader will deliver value by making sure there are enough intelligent, performing   people on the team to provide value. If there are mistakes, there will be elaborate cover ups and scapegoats firmly in place.

But any value provided by such leaders will be strictly short term. In the long term toxic leaders do not add value to the organizations even if the unit performs successfully under them.

This is because toxic leaders succeed by tearing others down. They are fiercely protective of their territory and will go to any extent to stop anyone encroaching on what they see as their turf.   They are completely in control of their team but they rule by intimidating rather than uplifting. The most lethal characteristic of a toxic leader is the tendency by the leader to weed out more intelligent members of the team.
A toxic leader is always wary of anyone who is smarter and will immediately remove anyone who could be a threat. Such a leader is intelligent enough to be able to pick out the persons on his team who although capable, have low levels of confidence and esteem and are prepared to work without threatening the leader’s position.  If any member of the unit threatens to overshadow the leader, there will be no hesitation in using any weapons, even a resort to criminal practices in an attempt to eliminate the member.

This is the chief reason why such leaders cause the downfall of the organization they serve.   At some point the performing unit members will wake up to the reality, that there is no scope for them to grow. There is always a higher rate of attrition in an organization, with such a leader.  Moreover, toxic leaders in the long run do not engender the level of confidence in their team that is necessary to lead to an esprit de corps.  The team becomes dysfunctional because the members will seek every excuse to escape either out of the team or if that is not possible out of the organization itself.

An organization would do well to be on the watch for tell tale signs which betray the presence of a toxic leader-a general sense of dissatisfaction among the team members, a tendency for the more intelligent to leave the organization, a reluctance among the team members to speak out freely, signs of fear.  The best way to spot toxic leadership is to get the team assessed by an independent manager.  Invariably the team members whose qualities have been played down by the toxic leader will turn up trumps.

However, despite spotting one, companies very often find it difficult to remove such a leader, usually because such leaders are spotted too late and by then have so much influence and control over their teams that it is hard to break the bond.  Such a leader often engenders with his team one of  two states of relationship-one where the team consists of entirely sub standard employees who know they will survive only under the aegis of their leader and the other where there has developed a poisonous bond between the leader and the follower- a bond which the followers their spirit too long broken- lack the courage to break.

(Until next time,then and hoping to post more often. Also just noticed the new followers. Welcome.)

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