How to Avoid Being a Toxic Boss

Drazen Zigic/iStock/GettyImages

One of your business’s greatest assets is your employees. They serve customers, implement growth strategies and help you reach your organizational objectives. Be sure to treat your employees with respect, trust their instincts and reward them for their work. Avoid being a toxic boss who fosters fear and negativity in the workplace.

What Is a Toxic Boss?

A toxic boss is every employee’s worst nightmare. Often, toxic bosses don’t take responsibility for their own negative actions and are physically or mentally disconnected from their employees. They don’t have an understanding of how employees view them, and they have no interest in bettering themselves.

Toxic bosses behave in a number of negative ways:

  • Coming in late, leaving early or missing large amounts of work

  • Not being in tune with the feelings of their employees

  • Nitpicking over every task like a micromanager

  • Communicating poorly with employees and other managers

  • Caring more about optics than real impactful results

  • Favoring an employee over others

  • Focusing only on themselves and their performance like a narcissist

  • Not acknowledging their own toxic behavior

Overall, toxic bosses negatively impact their employees and the workplace as a whole. Their behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome and can result in poor performance, low sales and slow productivity.

How to Identify Toxic Behavior in Yourself

If you’re worried that you may be a toxic leader, it’s time to look for the warning signs. Avoid creating a toxic environment at work so you can help your business thrive. When you behave like a positive leader, you become the type of boss employees admire, not loathe.

Signs of a toxic boss include:

  • Not taking employee or customer feedback into account to improve the business

  • Being accused of unprofessional and unethical behavior such as sexual harassment, discrimination or prejudice

  • Never admitting mistakes or apologizing to your employees when you’re wrong

  • Throwing your employees under the bus and blaming them when something doesn’t go according to plan

  • Taking credit for positive results your employees garnered

  • Spreading gossip about other employees, competitors or stakeholders

Identifying the signs of a toxic manager in yourself isn’t easy, especially when you feel you may not be the problem. Be honest with yourself and look back to specific situations at work where you feel you could have handled things better.

For example, if your team didn’t meet its sales targets, did you say it was all their fault and had nothing to do with you? As their leader, some of the responsibility also falls on your shoulders, as it’s your duty to train, encourage, motivate and manage their performance. However, if you blamed their performance solely on them, that is a sign of toxic behavior.

The Negative Effects of Being a Toxic Boss

If your behavior is creating a toxic workplace, you’re going to see the effects in the numbers. Not only does toxicity affect the mental health of your employees but it can also impact your own well-being as well as your company’s revenue. Pay attention to how you react in difficult or bad situations so you can begin working on your toxic behavior.

Being a bad boss can lead to:

  • High employee turnover and attrition

  • Low employee engagement and satisfaction scores

  • Lack of company morale

  • Poor customer service

  • Low sales and customer loyalty

  • Bad reputation as an employer

  • Slow productivity and poorly organized internal processes

How to Tell What Your Employees Think of Your Behavior

Focus on how your employees feel about your toxicity. Ask other leaders within your business, such as the human resources manager, how you are viewed within the organization. Request an honest opinion so you can begin your road to improvement. Consider administering an anonymous survey about the business’s leadership so you can get constructive feedback.

Be sure to pay attention to how employees act around you. Is their body language reserved? Do they make eye contact or look away when you’re talking to them? This will also help you understand how your toxic behavior may be affecting them.

Look at how employees interact with each other when you’re present versus when they are with other leaders in the business. If they are more relaxed around others than they are with you, it could be because your toxic behavior is making them fearful or stressed. Consider whether your toxic situation is benefiting your business or hurting it.

How to Get Rid of Your Toxic Behavior

The first step to becoming a better leader is acknowledging that you have a problem. A good boss makes the decision to work on his own emotional intelligence and behavior for the benefit of the company. Start by outlining your ideal behavior. How do you want to act in the workplace?

Make a list of behavior traits you want to see in yourself, such as empathy, understanding, levelheadedness and responsibility. Develop a plan for how you can become an admirable and motivational leader for your team members.

  • Consider your reactions and judgement: Think about how you behave in difficult situations. Write down a recent example of when you reacted poorly or judged employees too quickly. Consider what the ideal reaction would have been and focus on that next time you’re in a similar situation.

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses: Outline your strengths, including skills, behaviors and beliefs. For example, you may be good at making quick decisions during difficult business situations. Do the same for your weaknesses. This will help you identify your toxic behavior as it happens so you can replace it with your strengths.

  • Start small and think big: You cannot change your toxic behavior overnight, so remember to be realistic in your expectations. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t control your impulses right away. Continue trying to be a good boss by being aware of your weaknesses and identifying when you’re entering toxic territory.

In order to get rid of your toxic and micromanaging tendencies, you can involve people you trust within the business to hold you accountable. This may include human resources or other leaders within the business. Ask them to remind you of your goal to improve your behavior when you begin exhibiting toxic traits.

Ways to Instill Positivity in Your Business

There are a number of ways you can develop a positive environment in the workplace to encourage better behavior for yourself and others. Create a workplace charter that outlines acceptable behavior. Be sure to include your team in this process so they can provide their perspective as well. Remember that this charter should apply to all employees within the organization, including yourself.

One of the most important aspects of being a good boss is listening to your employees. You don’t have to agree with them on everything, but it’s critical to let them feel heard. Have regular face-to-face check-ins with your team members and ask them about their day-to-day challenges. Use your experience to offer them solutions and career advice.

Be sure to embody the traits you want to see in your ideal employees. This way, you not only engage and motivate your team but you offer them an example of something to which they can aspire. By focusing on acknowledging your toxic behavior and working actively to improve it, you will start feeling like a new boss. Plus, you will start seeing the positive results in your business too.

References

About the Author

Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.