Red flags: how to recognize and deal with toxic management

Red flags: how to recognize and deal with toxic management

Red flags: how to recognize and deal with toxic management 1536 1024 Paulina Ryters

Story #1: Your colleague spontaneously asks you to present updates in front of the company during the meeting in 15 minutes, because he’s running late. No handover. You agree, because what can go wrong? It won’t be perfect, but it’s an emergency, so all good. After the meeting you are heavily criticized by his superiors and blamed for the presentation not being perfect.

Story #2: You are a product owner responsible for the strategic direction of future developments. You are not able to get a hold of the stakeholders ever and you’re not being involved in the conversations about the future of the products, but you are being blamed that your strategy is not aligned with the one of the company.

Story #3: You are an underpaid designer with a migration background, working 70 hours a week on a project with a tough deadline. Your superior is not engaged in the process at all, but a couple of days before the final date, he criticizes all you did so far based on feedback from the team. After days of stress and attempts to redo the tasks, you accidentally find out, that no one from the team actually gave feedback, that the client was happy so far and it was just a whim of your boss.

I could go like that for hours.

We’ve all heard the saying “toxic work culture,” but what about toxic management? Unfortunately, bad leaders (sounds like an oxymoron to me…) are all too common in the workplace, and they can have a negative impact on employee morale, productivity, and even physical and mental health. It’s important to recognize the signs of toxic management and know how to deal with it.

Let’s take a look at some obvious signs:

  • Constant criticism and negative feedback: A toxic leader may consistently criticize your work, even when it meets or exceeds expectations. This can be demoralizing and erode your confidence in your abilities.
  • Lack of communication and transparency: Toxic leaders may be secretive or unwilling to share important information or updates with the team. This can create a sense of distrust and confusion, and make it difficult to do your job effectively.
  • Unfair or arbitrary decision-making: Toxic leaders may make unfair or arbitrary decisions, without considering the impact on the team or the organization. This can create a sense of injustice and undermine trust in the “leader”.
  • Lack of accountability: Toxic leaders may deflect blame or avoid taking responsibility for their actions or decisions. This also can create a sense of injustice and lead to a culture of blame and finger-pointing.
  • Bullying or aggressive behavior: Toxic leaders may use bullying or aggressive behavior to control or intimidate others. This can create a fearful work environment and is a topic on its own.
  • Disrespect for boundaries and personal time: Toxic leaders may disrespect boundaries and invade personal time, expecting employees to be available at all hours or to prioritize work over their personal lives. This can very quickly lead to burnout as work-life balance would be non-existent.

If you’re experiencing any of these behaviors, it’s a clear sign of toxicity. It’s important to address these issues as soon as possible before they escalate and have a bigger impact on your well-being and performance. However, sometimes the signs of toxic management are more subtle:

  • Gaslighting or manipulation: A toxic leader may use gaslighting or manipulation tactics to distort the truth or make you question your own perceptions. This can be confusing and disorienting and can undermine your confidence and trust in yourself. This process happens slowly and the moment you realize what has been going on, you’re already in deep… hole. Quite difficult to catch in the early stage and again a topic for a separate article.
  • Isolation or exclusion from important decisions or information: A toxic leader may exclude certain team members from important decisions or information, either intentionally or through neglect. This can create a sense of isolation and undermine your ability to do your job.
  • Constant change or inconsistency in expectations or policies: A toxic leader may frequently change expectations or policies, often without proper communication or explanation. This can create confusion and make it difficult for employees to meet expectations or fulfill their responsibilities. It can also undermine trust and make it hard to plan or build long-term strategies.
  • Lack of support or resources: A toxic leader may fail to provide the necessary support or resources for employees. This can include a lack of training, tools, or funding, leading to frustration and feeling undervalued or unsupported.
  • Failure to recognize or acknowledge contributions: A toxic leader may fail to recognize or acknowledge the contributions or achievements of employees. This can be demoralizing and undermine motivation and engagement. It can also create a sense of inequality and lead to resentment among team members.

Even though these behaviors may be harder to spot, they are just as damaging, if not more. It’s essential to pay attention to your own feelings and experiences in the workplace and to trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. If you spot a toxic leader I would highly recommend doing the following:

  • Documenting the behaviors and any negative impacts on your work or well-being.
  • Talking to a trusted colleague or mentor about the situation, ideally outside the organization.
  • Considering reaching out to HR or a higher-level manager to raise your concerns. Might be counterproductive, depending on how common toxic behavior is across the organization.
  • Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own well-being. This may mean setting boundaries or seeking support outside of work.
  • If the situation is severe or unmanageable, just go. It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it.

Dealing with toxic management can be intimidating and overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that you have options and resources available! Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself and your colleagues in order to can create a healthier and more positive work environment for all.

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