Virtually every single week of the year, I hear from at least one professional from around the globe who needs guidance about one deeply challenging problem at work, and that is a toxic or disrespectful boss who is in some obvious and irrefutable way treating their staff in demeaning and demoralizing ways.
The tales of cruel and unacceptable forms of managerial behavior and communication are endless, and it’s a wonder why these managers are allowed to stay in their jobs or aren’t fired on the spot.
Why aren’t these individuals removed or given remedial training? Often it’s because many of these managers are high producers and the organization doesn’t want to address the problem for fear they’ll leave. Another reason is that the organization doesn’t care enough to do something proactive about the issue, or they don’t have their finger on the pulse of the true feelings and levels of engagement of their workforce to understand the situation needs addressing. And in many cases, the organization and its leaders and HR managers simply don’t know what to do to change it. In short, thousands of organizations simply haven’t a clue as to how to ensure employees are being treated with respect and fairness, or as highly valued contributors.
Several years ago, I wrote a post on LinkedIn titled 6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them. To my surprise, it quickly went viral (3+ million views) and thousands of people commented privately and publicly, sharing that they finally recognized the toxicity of their own behavior and were ready to address it. To me, that was very inspiring—that people of all walks of life and at all levels of organization hierarchies were able to muster the courage to finally see how they were negatively impacting those around them , and decided it was time to change.
If more managers engaged in this exercise, the working world would transform overnight. And levels of engagement in the workforce would dramatically rise. Research has revealed that one potent reason people quit their jobs is feeling disrespected—believing that the boss or the organization doesn’t care about them at all.
Based on research I’ve read, and the information I’ve gathered working with thousands of professionals about what makes them want to leave their jobs (and what contributes to the real health and emotional risks of working under a toxic boss and how toxicity spills over into other areas of our lives), below are the 6 management behaviors that need to stop.
If you’re engaged in any of these in your approach as a manager, it’s time to take stock and make significant change before more damage is done.
The six damaging managerial behaviors to address are:
Demeaning and ridiculing your employees publicly or privately
If you put your employees down and ridicule them in any way for their behavior, ideas, communication or other traits—even if you think you’re just being “funny”— you’re not managing people, you’re hurting them. Get some help to transform your communication style from cutting and hurtful, to helpful and encouraging.
Suppressing or not allowing questions to be asked that employees need to, to do their jobs
When people are working on projects, presentations, program execution, administration, etc., all sorts of questions come up, especially for those who are new and just learning the ropes. Employees’ questions need to be addressed as fully and openly as possible. If you suppress questions, refuse to answer them, or make your employees feel humiliated for posing a question, you need to revise your thinking about what it signifies when someone asks a question. It’s not necessarily ignorance or laziness when people offer a query or inquiry. If there are questions you feel shouldn’t need to be be asked, give some guidance and context about why, and fill in any gaps in their understanding so they can do their jobs effectively.
Making employees feel “stupid,” inadequate, or inferior when they struggle or don’t meet expectations
If you’ve ever read a psychology book, you know that when people are shamed, they go underground with their thoughts and feelings. It sucks the energy, confidence and enthusiasm out of them, as they feel the need to preserve their ego and avoid getting hurt in the future. Shaming someone and trying to make them feel stupid or inferior when they’re struggling will get you absolutely nowhere. Or more accurately, it will make you lose the best work and contributions your employees have to give because they’ll experience you as someone who is not safe or trustworthy.
Refusing to make regular time to meet with your employees and give them the constructive guidance, training and feedback they need
Part of the job of any good manager is meeting with your staff and offering constructive feedback, training and information to support their growth. If you say you’re too busy to have regular meetings with your staff members, or don’t understand the value of continuous feedback and support, you are crippling your employees and preventing them from reaching their highest potential. Share your institutional knowledge with them and be the mentor and sponsor they need to have, to thrive.
Blaming your employees for under-performance when you’re actually responsible
Managers who blame their employees for less-than-stellar performance, and managers who won’t take accountability for what happens in their groups, are weak and destructive. Don’t blame the people beneath you for what isn’t going well. Step up and take responsibility. You’re in charge and blame will only push people farther away.
Not eliciting regular feedback from your employees and asking them for (and listening to) their candid feedback on how you’re doing as a manager, and what could be improved
Finally, managing isn’t a one-way street. You’re only as good in your managerial role as how the people who report to you perceive you to be. If you are siloed off and not asking for feedback on your management approach, you’re simply not getting the full picture you need to become the successful, growth-oriented manager you need to be. Regularly ask for feedback about your approach and how you can improve it to help your employees do their best work.
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It’s not difficult to become a more inspiring and empowering manager, but when you do, the positive results are dramatic. It involves growing in your compassion, understanding, patience, communication skill, and openness to feedback. And it requires more self-awareness and emotional intelligence than many of us currently possess or have ever focused on developing.
But more than all those traits combined, it requires the bravery to admit that you are not perfect in your role as a manager, and the strength to elicit feedback from others about how you can grow. If you don’t actively evolve beyond these behaviors above, your own potential for success and that of others will be greatly diminished because of it.