There is nothing worse than a toxic boss. We all know the dangers of working in a toxic workplace and around toxic people, but what if you’re the source of that toxicity?
That’s a pretty harsh realization to come to, and definitely not an easy one.
No one wants to consider the fact they are a toxic boss or that they might be the problem, but as a leader, it’s your job to always be thinking about what could be causing problems—including yourself.
It’s going to take some extreme honesty and pragmatism to look at the situation and determine if you’re the reason the workplace is toxic. But if you can understand the truth, you’ll find there’s a way to come out the other side much better as a leader, boss, and employee because of it!
Signs You Might Be a Toxic Boss
Time to put on your “big-boy pants” and take a good, hard look at your style of leadership and management to see if any of these signs below might apply to you:
You feel the need to manage everything. No one likes to hear the word “micromanaging” applied to their style of handling things, but it’s often the case. Yes, you may want to be directly in charge of everything because it’s the way you feel is best to get things done correctly and promptly. However, if you end up overseeing every tiny detail, that is, in fact, micromanaging.
People HATE being micromanaged. They want to feel like they’re trusted and valued, and that you, the leader, can rely on them to do their work without looking over their shoulders. If you’re always checking up on everything—even if you feel it’s being done for the right reasons to keep your team on track—you might be creating a negative work environment.
Team behavior has changed recently. It’s understood that there are going to be times of stress or situations where people are feeling under pressure and simply respond negatively. But if negative responses—such as yelling, confrontations, internal strife, bickering, bad-talking fellow employees, or visible signs of stress—are the common, it might be a sign that there’s a toxic work environment.
Often, these problems are caused by pressure exerted from the boss (you) or the result of a high-stress workload. Noticeable negative changes in behavior are definitely a sign that there is a toxic culture brewing, if not already in place.
You’re not a fan of feedback or criticism. Let’s face it: no one wants to hear how things aren’t being done right or how they could be done better, especially when it feels like WE are being blamed for the problem. However, as a leader, it’s your job to accept both praise and criticism in equal measures. It’s part of the burden you bear.
But if you respond negatively to even the slightest negative feedback or criticism from your employees, it’s definitely going to create a toxic environment. Seriously examine your reactions to what people tell you and how you handle criticism.
You don’t like apologizing or admitting fault. As a leader, it’s your job to lead the team the best you can. Granted, you’re human and you make mistakes, which is part of life. That’s the reason you’ve got the team in the first place, to help you get everything done with the right expertise.
But another part of being human is admitting fault and apologizing for those mistakes—not only to your bosses, but also to your team members. This isn’t a sign of weakness, but humility is actually a show of strength. It takes real strength to tell the people you’re leading that you made a mistake and ask for their help.
You’re very focused on what matters to you. Your goals for the team, your current project, and your career are all very important. That drive is what elevated you to your current leadership position in the first place, so of course you’re going to be highly motivated to do what benefits you.
But if you’re doing so at the expense of others, that’s going to create a toxic workplace. You are a part of your team, and their successes and failures are directly related to yours. If your only purpose for putting together this team is to make you look better and raise yourself up, you’re definitely the reason that the workplace environment feels negative.
So Now What? What Can Be Done?
If you read over these signs and realized that you might be doing something that could lead to workplace toxicity, what can you do about it? The answer is actually a lot simpler than you think:
- Ask your team. Ask how they feel about working with you. Prepare to accept their honest—and negative—feedback at face value. Getting input from those in your immediate vicinity is a good way to know if you’re the source of the problem.
- Be honest with yourself. You know yourself and your approach to these situations. Now that you know what to look for, can you honestly say that you’re not doing one of the above-mentioned things that contribute to a toxic workplace? If you can admit it, it’s a good first step toward solving the problems.
- Study and learn. Learn from other leaders how to make your team better, how to lead more effectively, and how to improve your work environment. Study all the resources at your disposal so you can be a leader people want to follow.
- Adjust your leadership style. Trust your team more, and let them handle their work without your direct input all the time. Find the leadership style that works for both you and them, that makes them feel trusted and valued without any important tasks slipping through the cracks.
- Get help and counseling. If there is some underlying problem causing the toxic workplace, it’s a good idea to ask a professional for help. Therapy and counseling are vital for healthy and productive leaders. Ask fellow leaders and your bosses for help as well. Form a support network of people who will make you the best leader possible!