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10 Things I Hate About Toxic Leaders (And What To Do Instead)

10 Things I Hate About Toxic Leaders (And What To Do Instead)

by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

To be an effective leader, you don’t need to have a specific personality type or set of skills. You just need to avoid these 10 common characteristics that may make people think you are a toxic leader.

Being a leader is hard, but it’s even harder when you have to avoid being seen as a toxic leader. If you want to be a good leader, avoid these 10 characteristics like the plague. People will be much more likely to follow you and respect you if you are a leader who is confident, honest, and has good communication skills.

Followers of toxic leaders often end up feeling disappointed, unfulfilled, and even resentful. If you want to avoid being a toxic leader, focus on cutting out your negative, self-serving traits and creating habits around empowering and developing your team.

1. Wishy-washy

When you’re a leader, people look to you for guidance and direction. If you can’t make up your mind about what you want, it will be very difficult for people to follow you. Even worse than not choosing a direction, is changing your direction depending on who you are speaking to.

What to do instead:

People expect leaders to have integrity, strength and be decisive. If you find it hard to make decisions, try following these steps:

First, get clear on your values. What is important to you? What do you stand for? Once you know your values, it will be easier to make decisions that are in line with them.

Then, get all the information you can before making a decision. Once you have all the facts, it will be easier to make a decision that is best for everyone involved.

Finally, trust your gut. If you have done your research and thought about your values, then chances are your gut will tell you what the right decision is.

10 Things I Hate About Toxic Leaders

2. Know-it-all

Nobody likes a know-it-all, especially when that person is a leader. This type of person is usually more concerned with being right than actually getting things done. And, even worse, doesn’t see the need to keep learning and improving.

What to do instead:

Real leaders believe in continual learning so they can keep improving. They also hire people who they think are smarter than them in different areas. Diverse teams with a variety of expertise and backgrounds often create the best solutions. Groupthink sucks, read Orwell’s 1984 if you don’t believe me.

In order to create an environment where everyone can contribute their best ideas, it’s important to encourage open communication. Leaders should ask for input and welcome dissenting opinions. It’s also important to give credit where it’s due and not take all the credit yourself when things go right.

3. Make decisions based on your ego

If you’re constantly making decisions based on what will make you look good rather than what’s best for the team, you’ll come across as selfish. Leaders driven by ego might take credit for other people’s work (you know who you are), or make decisions that are risky and could potentially backfire, just to prove that they are in charge.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are humble and put the needs of their team above their own. When you’re making a decision, always ask yourself “what’s best for the team?” Not “what will make me look good?” or “what’s the easy way out?”

4. Manipulative

Manipulative leaders are often skilled at getting people to do what they want. However, this type of manipulation is usually based on fear and intimidation, rather than respect and trust. Over time, people will catch on to your manipulative tactics and they will lose respect for you as a leader.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are able to get people to do what they want by inspiring them and making them feel like they are part of something bigger. When you’re trying to get someone to do something, ask yourself “how can I make this person feel good about doing this?” rather than “how can I make this person do what I want?”.

5. Micromanage

Micromanagers are the worst. They are always looking over people’s shoulders, second-guessing their decisions, and generally making everyone’s life a living hell. If you’re a micromanager, chances are your team is constantly feeling stressed out and overworked.

What to do instead:

The best leaders know that they can’t do everything themselves and they need to delegate tasks to their team members. When you delegate, make sure you give clear instructions and trust that the person will do the job to the best of their ability. Also, resist the urge to check in all the time and give people the space to work.

6. Play favorites

Nobody likes a leader who plays favorites. This type of leader is usually more concerned with personal gain than actually leading their team. If you play favorites, chances are you’re not being fair to everyone on your team and you’re creating an environment of resentment.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are able to treat everyone on their team equally. They know that every member of their team is important and they make sure that everyone feels valued. When you’re making decisions, always ask yourself “is this the fair thing to do?” rather than “what’s in it for me?”

7. Arrogant

Arrogance is a major turn-off, both in leaders and in general. People who are arrogant tend to think they know everything and they are often unwilling to listen to other people’s opinions. This type of behavior will only alienate your team and make them less likely to respect you as a leader.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are humble and always willing to learn from others. When you’re interacting with your team, resist the urge to be the one who always has to be right. Instead, ask questions and listen to what others have to say. You might be surprised by how much you can learn from them.

10 Things I Hate About Toxic Leaders

8. Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive bosses are the most awful kind. They tend to avoid conflict and will often communicate indirectly, through backhanded compliments or veiled criticisms. This type of behavior makes it difficult for people to trust or respect you as a leader.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are direct and honest with their team. When you have something to say, say it directly. Don’t try to be subtle or indirect – it will only confuse and frustrate your team.

9. Liar

Lying is never a good quality in a leader. If you’re constantly lying to your team, chances are they will catch on and they will lose respect for you. Not to mention, it’s just plain wrong.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are honest and transparent with their team. When you make a mistake, own up to it. Your team will respect you more for your honesty than for your ability to spin a story.

10 Things I Hate About Toxic Leaders

10. Bad Communicator

If you’re a bad communicator, chances are your team is constantly in the dark about what’s going on. This can lead to confusion, frustration, and a general feeling of being out of the loop.

What to do instead:

The best leaders are clear and concise when they communicate with their team. They make sure that everyone is on the same page and they are always available to answer questions. When you’re communicating with your team, always ask yourself “how can I make this clear?” rather than “how can I make this sound good?”

These are just a few of the things that I hate about toxic leaders. If you’re a leader, make sure you’re not guilty of any of these behaviors. And if you’re not a leader, make sure you avoid working for one!

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Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is a thought leader in the area of positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

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