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Why Your Toxic Boss Keeps Getting Promoted

When bad bosses get ahead, it is a sign of organizational dysfunction

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Ever had a bad boss who seemed to fool everybody? I am sure you have. You know the type. They fire off indiscernible last-minute requests. Play favorites. And take sole credit for the product team’s efforts. But here is the most frustrating part — they keep getting promoted. And that hurts.

Yes, sometimes it seems like the most toxic people are the ones who get ahead the fastest. However, it is not because people do not see through them — it is because there are cracks in the organization. And the effect of those cracks is measurable. A report from Gallup showed that one in two surveyed left their job to get away from a bad manager at some point in their career.

When dysfunction reigns, toxic leaders thrive. And organizational dysfunction is the number one reason these ineffective bosses get promoted.

I hear about these unhealthy scenarios all the time, especially at companies in dire need of enterprise transformation. The stories follow a familiar trajectory. When a company has no clear vision, it is fueled by chaos. Without a strategy to follow, managers make decisions based on their own pride and greed. There are no collective goals, so pleasing upper management becomes the focus.

In all likelihood, these managers did not start out toxic. But in a rudderless workplace like the one I just described, very few leaders can muster the strength to rise above the cesspool of infighting, groupthink, and downright nastiness.

If you are watching one of these less-than-inspiring leaders get promotion after promotion, you likely have a sinking feeling that it is time to check out, quit, or both.

There is a reason that you feel this way. These promotions are not rewarding strong leadership. They are a reward for behavior that does not disrupt the status quo — even if that behavior is accomplishing nothing.

There is another way. Your future is not dependent upon how well you can weather your manager’s septic climb. Here is how to create your own path to success:

Make a plan
Your company may not have any clear goals, but you still can set and reach meaningful milestones. Take a few minutes to think about your career. Where do you want to be in 5 years? What you can you do with your current projects and company to get there? Start by setting your most lofty goals, and then write down three key actions necessary to achieve them.

Keep learning
I know it is hard to stay motivated when you are working under a cruel boss, but do not give into stagnation. This is your opportunity to be proactive, build your knowledge base, and invest in your future. Do this by reading more industry-related books or signing up for a course to get certified in a new skill. Success comes to those who never stop learning.

Be kind
Poor management can trigger an onslaught of gossip, sarcasm, and putdowns. And it is probably leaving you exhausted. One study found that negative workplace behaviors are actually “contagious” and can lead to mental fatigue. Why give in to this? It only hurts you and those around you. Instead, focus on kindness. It will allow you to stay in control and keep your mind sharp.

Move on
You owe it to yourself to persevere and overcome your work challenges. But sometimes you get smacked with a painful reality — you are fighting a losing battle. Maybe your boss is simply too toxic, and your work and health are suffering as a result. If the warning signs are there, move on. There is nothing shameful in that, especially if you gave it your all.

Toxic bosses may get ahead for a while, but they will eventually hit a roadblock. It always comes — even if they make it to the top.

You deserve a boss — and a company — that will help you reach your highest potential. And if you are not currently in a situation where that is happening, you need to pave your own way.

Have you seen toxic leaders get promoted?

Originally published on the Aha! blog

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