Toxic Leaders Need to Take a Seat
A friend of mine recently shared her struggles at work with dominating, manipulative, and mean-spirited leaders. I was stunned that a leader would be concerned with such insignificant details. Micromanaging is more about the leader’s self-confidence, fear of being exposed for what they don’t know and feeling a sense of control. Because of the lack of identity and control they often experience in their personal lives, work becomes a place to command others. Their importance is rooted in position—not who they are without the title. It’s sad to say I’ve had my share of bad bosses whose insecurities created toxic work environments. They saw leadership as an opportunity to control, manipulate and dictate using power as a weapon instead of an instrument to cultivate talent, mentor, and guide.
In one of my favorite books, “Leadership for the Disillusioned: Moving Beyond Myths and Heroes to Leading That Liberates” author Amanda Sinclair, discusses the leaders of Enron and WorldCom, two major corporations that fell because of unethical and power-hungry leadership. Sinclair documents the difficult childhoods of the leaders and demonstrates that because they did not deal with the wounds of their past, they recreated a narrative that hurt others. This happens all the time.
Toxic leadership is detrimental on so many levels. According to Gallup, “active disengagement from a toxic boss costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year. A Harvard Business School study discovered that avoiding a toxic hire, or letting one go quickly, will save you $12,500 in cost.” The cost of toxic leadership has psychological, emotional, and physical implications. It’s even worse when toxic leaders are in professions that are designed to help others like healthcare, nonprofit management and the church. Places that are designed for healing become battlegrounds of depressed individuals who suffer with a deflated self-image, devastated aspirations, and destroyed dreams.
Leadership is not to be taken lightly. I think we fail to realize that we will be held accountable by God for the way we steward relationships not just in our homes but even in the workplace. We must recognize that leadership is something God is interested in and as we are elevated into roles, we must know that God will hold us accountable and there are consequences. “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. It is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.” (Psalm 75:6) As Believers, the model for leadership must be Christ. “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28). As leaders, the responsibility is great and the requirement for how we care for others that we are leading is not to be taken lightly: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48)
Leadership requires humility. We often hear the expression, “There is no ‘I’ in team. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have expectations of others or there is no accountability, but it does mean that we recognize the gift of those who we work with. We see their value. They are not below us—we are in partnership. When we study and pour into our teams, set a vision with clear, measurable directives with open, two-way communication, the possibilities for success are unlimited. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:13–17)
Jesus understood his role as leader and the power of the position. He did not use it to harm but to edify and encourage others to fulfill their God-given abilities. I think for many people, we don’t want to see others shine and our inability to see who we are because of unprocessed and unresolved pain jades our vision to fully see others the way God created them. Great followers are not cultivated under poor leadership. If your team isn’t thriving, maybe it’s time to examine your leadership, the way you view your team and your understanding of power.