Don’t get bogged down by a toxic leader

In our career, we come across all kinds leaders- the effective kinds, the ones who are the perfect inspiration for us, or the totally forgettable kinds who can give you the ‘Monday blues’ every week. There are a number of ineffective leaders like the angry ones, the demanding ones, the ones who work odd hours, or the perfectionist. However, the most dangerous ones are ‘toxic leaders’.

What is a toxic leader?

If you do a quick search for ‘toxic leader’ on Google, it will throw up a huge number of results. A toxic leader has a set of psychological traits that define him- autocratic, intimidating, irrational, inconsistent in behaviour, not a good listener etc. A toxic leader is the one who is unpopular and tends to create a negative environment, not only in his immediate team, but also amongst his peers. He is generally seen to be aloof and one who can lose his cool, without much reason. 

Such irrational leaders tend to take credit of the good work done as well as have an inflated ego and hence, are hypersensitive to criticism. They thrive on demeaning the good performers as they feel threatened with their existence. They are control freaks who get comfort in being at the centre of all the action and keeping track of the minutest activities of their team members. They exhibit temper tantrums and make false promises. They raise hopes and then end up not agreeing to anything you would have anticipated, thereby adding to your frustration levels. Also, they tend to change their goal post based on circumstances.

In the past, I have worked with toxic leaders and they tend to have similar behaviour patterns. They will ridicule and demotivate you in public (for no relevant reason), snatch your credit, criticise you in front of your team, question your knowledge and commitment and try to position you as a someone who has low self-confidence and limited grasp of your subject. Also, they have no qualms in creating a negative image about you amongst their peers, as they may feel threatened because of your presence.

Toxic leadership thrives only in select workplaces

Toxic leadership is agnostic to industry type or size of an enterprise. However, it is interesting to note that it does not flourish in professional environments where a system of checks and balances provides subordinates the opportunity to give feedback to senior leaders. 

A toxic leader can be detrimental to an employee’s performance

A toxic leader can have a long-lasting and negative impact on an employee’s performance. Working with a toxic leader can be an ongoing challenge and it becomes difficult for the team member to concentrate, stay motivated and put in his/her best. Employees subject to working with such leaders tend to suffer from high stress levels and low self-esteem. They tend to live in constant fear of being insulted or ridiculed and shown that they are ‘good for nothing’.

An employee working with a toxic leader tends to have lower productivity levels. According to studies, some of these employees can demonstrate rebellious behaviour including providing inaccurate or misleading information, and not helping when a co-worker needs assistance. This could in turn have an impact on the team culture and organisation’s productivity.

Because of these detrimental outcomes, it is critical that organisations understand how to effectively manage toxic leaders.

How to manage a toxic leader

There are no defined rules to manage a toxic leader. However, some of these cues may be handy.

Stay Positive

A toxic leader is negative and can get you to think negatively about yourself and your work. Infact, toxic people feel better when others join them in feeling powerless and stuck in a negative state. The daily struggles can make it difficult for you to sport that smile on your face. However, the best solution to tackle such leaders is to ‘stay positive’ and continue to focus on your priorities. This will make them frustrated and they might go on the back foot for a few days, to think of a new idea to bother you.

Believe in yourself

If you work with a toxic leader for long, you may end up in situations where you will be questioning your knowledge or your skill set. There will be constant criticism, unnecessary questions and unpleasant conversations, due to a toxic leader who thinks he knows it all. It is important to believe in yourself and your capabilities. Do not get bogged down by toxicity.

Don’t respond to angry/impulsive outbursts

Toxic leaders are generally frightened leaders who have developed ineffective behaviours to deal with their irrational fears. They have a pattern of shouting in public and insulting people. This gives them an ego boost. You should try that these behaviours do not affect your moods. You have to ensure that no matter what, you do not react to these angry and impulsive outbursts. Take a breath and respond to the leader as calmly and rationally as you can. Remember to maintain your dignity.

Document your conversations

It is important to document all your conversations with a toxic leader. This will ensure you clearly understand the expectations of the leader. It will also ensure that the leader cannot change his stance, on a future date. There might be days when your leader goes on an overdrive and sends you numerous nasty emails, trying to pin you down for no reason. There is no reason for you to respond to these emails immediately. Take your time and then respond when you are in a calm mood. Remember to never ever show your anger in emails you send out. 

Don’t isolate yourself

Find a confidant at work or otherwise, who can listen to what you have to say, patiently. This person can be your soundboard and help you think logically. Isolating yourself will not help as it will result in you overthinking about the same issue. It is always good to vent it out, but in front of a trusted person.

Focus on the bigger picture

It is advisable to always stay focused on what is best for you in the long-run — rather than short-term. Believe in your larger vision and goal in life and keep moving ahead. Do not let a toxic leader derail your plans in life. Stay focused on what you need to live a healthy and happy life.

To sum it up, you can cross paths with a toxic leader anywhere. It is important that when you meet a toxic boss, don’t let that impact you and your career. Remember, it’s not your fault. It’s hard, but don’t ever take it personally. Be kind to yourself and maintain your self-belief and self-esteem. Toxic co-workers and leaders are bad for your physical and mental health. Continue to follow your dreams and hold your peace.


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha is a seasoned brand communications professional with over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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