Dealing with toxic leaders

Business & Growth
November 4, 2021
January 5, 2021

Toxic bosses create hostile and unhealthy work environments. They are terrible to work for and need to be managed. Sooner or later, we all come across the toxic leader. We all know the sort, whether it's the Montgomery Burns clone, the pathological micro-manager, the school-yard bully or screaming lunatic who flies off the handle.

The first thing to remember is that no matter what sort they are, they tend to have common traits. For a start, anyone who challenges their vision is considered to be a traitor. You’re either with them, or you’re the enemy. Secondly, they’re always right. They take input from a limited group of men or women. Retribution from these sorts of people can be swift, and cruel. And when anything good happens, they take all the credit for themselves.

Toxic bosses are easy to spot. There are always warning signs - disrespectful behaviour, visual cues as they scan you from head to waist and waist to head as they extend their hand to greet you. defensive body language, bad attitude, excessive nervousness, distrust of others, bad choices of words, extreme and over-the-top friendliness and self-absorption.

How best to handle it?


Avoid responding in kind as that accomplishes nothing and only makes the situation worse. Document all your work and use objective measurements for what you’ve achieved. Be clear about performance measurements. Keep your network active, confront with evidence where you have to, don’t burn bridges, learn from experience, use humour to cope. And be careful when you’re talking to your boss’s boss -criticism of your boss could be taken as you attacking your boss’s boss and could cause you even more problems. Don’t get into whistleblowing. That will backfire. And taking lots of sick leave is career limiting.

Get help:

There are many avenues here. First, you can seek support from friends, family, mentors and colleagues. They would be the first port of call as you know them and vice versa. An alternative is taking it up with someone in human resources. Or you can get professional support from an Employee Assistance Program, a counsellor, psychologist or general practitioner. At the same time, it’s a good idea to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep, eating the right foods and getting plenty of exercise is a great way to build some sort of resilience when you’re under pressure. It also builds your confidence.

Don’t isolate yourself:

Get out to as many events as you can manage. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cultural event or mixing with the local community. In these sorts of situations, one of the best ways to protect yourself is by networking and in effect, building up a support base.

Know when to pull the pin:

With a lot of toxic bosses, there’s only so much you can do. You can only hit your head on the wall so many times. When you’re starting out on this exercise, set yourself a time limit. During that time, it’s wise to look around and see where else you can go. Most people fit the time limit around the availability of the next job. And when the time is up, you’ll know it’s time to go