5 Signs You’ve Reached Toxic Boss Status, Congrats: Now, How To Save Your Career

Many employees leave their jobs due to toxic workplace environments, which have led to declining workplace safety, mental health, and well-being. Frontline leaders' confidence has decreased, resulting in a negative impact on the organization's workforce and strategy execution. Reports highlight bribery and bullying tactics used to compel employees to work on-site, leading to a toxic organizational culture. Studies show that bad bosses have cost companies billions in turnover, and 20% of employees reported poor treatment due to their political views. Toxic leaders often unknowingly exhibit harmful behaviors such as intimidation, micromanagement, and unrealistic work standards. Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI, has identified five warning signs to help leaders recognize and address toxic behavior before it drives employees to leave.  

  1. You fail to see your employees as whole people. Dr. Byham suggests asking yourself if you encourage your team to focus on the task at hand and leave their personal worries behind. The reality is that every person has a set of personal and practical needs, she points out, which include the feelings and challenges they are experiencing in other areas of their lives. “Rather than demand that employees try to compartmentalize their lives, help your team members see the connections between their work and life and practice empathy to understand your team’s needs holistically,” she advises. “To build trust as a leader, you also must be willing to show your humanity by displaying vulnerability and being transparent about the pressures in your life—whether it’s caring for a sick child or an aging parent.”
  2. You give vague or damaging feedback or no feedback at all. “Every time you interact with someone as a leader, you have the power to impact how they feel about themselves,” Byham asserts, “and with that power comes great responsibility to either maintain or enhance their self-esteem. She states that when you give feedback focused on the person (such as “you’re not a warm person”) or assign someone a label (like “uncooperative”), you risk permanently damaging their self-esteem and alienating them from the organization. When delivering feedback, she recommends it’s best to focus on the facts and ask questions to clarify the person’s motives before making assumptions.
  3. You’re solving too many of your team’s problems. According to Byham, many leaders spend the bulk of their time telling rather than seeking solutions—when really that ratio should be flipped. “While you may have the best intentions, always giving your team the answers makes them feel disengaged and hinders their development of critical thinking skills,” she stresses. “Make asking for help and encouraging involvement your first choice by responding with open-ended questions like, ‘What ideas do you have?’”
  4. You micromanage because you don’t trust your team. Byham acknowledges that remote work requires more trust from leaders since you can’t physically see what your team is working on. But she adds that constantly pinging your team members for status checks and expecting them to always be online and responsive creates unrealistic pressure that leads to burnout. “Trust is a two-way street, and for your team to trust you, you need to give them meaningful work and the autonomy to execute it,” she explains. “Ownership is critical to employee engagement, so you should provide support without diminishing a team member’s responsibility.”
  5. You waste your team’s time on unproductive meetings. Endless meetings are a constant drain, and 70% of them crush productivity and prevent employees from focusing on their tasks. Byham insists that a single, one-hour meeting can make or break your mutual respect with everyone attending. She suggests that you choose your meetings wisely. “Calling a meeting without being entirely sure of its purpose sends the message you don’t value your team’s time,” she concludes, adding, “Instead, use meetings as an opportunity to draw out ideas or foster involvement from your team.”

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