Six Symptoms Of Toxic Leaders Who Derail Positivity In The Workplace

When it comes to work, we’re all expected to do more with less. Less time, less resources, and oftentimes less guidance (absence of leadership, inspiration and mentorship.) It’s no wonder the Gallup poll on employee engagement spits-out such low numbers on this issue.

People thrive based on the environment they’re in. In negative environments where criticism, finger-pointing, the launching of virtual “heat-seeking missiles” as I like to call them – when people seek to immediately bring-down creative ideas BEFORE even thinking about them (drives me nuts!), and general negatively lurk, it’s easy to assume similar behavior.

Conversely, the opposite is also true.

Laughter is contagious. Positivity is contagious. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious.

In “The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment that Energizes Everyone”, author and leadership consultant Shawn Murphy addresses the challenge of increasing positivity in the workforce and contends that there are six symptoms that lead to destructive work environments (and ultimately crush employee happiness). Having experienced this directly myself, I wholeheartedly agree:

Symptom 1: Blind Impact. A leader who is unaware of how her actions, attitude, and words impact others damages any opportunity for workplace optimism. She consistently underestimates people’s value and often fails to connect the dots between their work and organizational direction.

Symptom 2: Antisocial Leadership. An antisocial leader lacks the ability to encourage, build, and evolve a community of people united by a shared purpose. Autocratic and sometimes distrustful of people, this leader dictates what workers should do and rarely praises or credits them for good work. Creating a void of connectedness, this symptom tends to leave people feeling used and abused.

Symptom 3: Chronic Change Resistance. If there’s one thing that plagues individual and organizational growth, it’s resistance to change. However, change is what keeps us relevant. Without change, we won’t learn; if we don’t learn we can’t grow; if we don’t grow we don’t get any better and the competition usurps our pole position. For leaders who are chronic change avoiders, they either A) avoid change altogether or B) change too late, which means only incremental change is possible at this point.

Symptom 4: Profit Myopia. Leaders with profit myopia cling to the outdated belief that profit is the only success measure. Yes, making money is a good thing, for sure, but if people are unhappy in their work roles then they’re just not going to work optimally, which means profits suffer.

Symptom 5: Constipated Inspiration. Boy, doesn’t it just. When a leader is too focused on her own needs and insecurities, she gives little attention to what her employees experience at work. As a result, she doesn’t see what inspires or demotivates them. This symptom stems from ignorance to personal values and a lack of self-awareness. When a leader knows what she stands for, she has greater capacity to learn about the people on her team. You can’t lead others until you know how to lead yourself.

Symptom 6: Silo Syndrome. A leader afflicted with silo-syndrome cannot see beyond his immediate responsibilities or see how work affects life outside company walls. They resort to cognitive biases of availability and confirmation bias, to form their judgments because there’s limited exposure cross-culturally. For instance, people in marketing know nothing about sales, so it’s easy for a marketer to take a mental shortcut and assign a label to sales as whole, thus degrading optimism.

Over and out.

MaxCo Advisors
November 11th, 2015

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