Toxicity in leadership often stems from our inability to control our egos in our interactions with others. If you have ever been in a conversation with a supervisor or boss and feel unlistened to, put down, diminished, your opinion discounted, or attacked verbally, you have experienced an unhealthy ego that needs to be right, superior and get its own way.
These behaviors destroy trust, create cynicism, hurt hearts and shut down important conversation. At the least is it destructive and discourteous behavior and at the most it is destructive to the very staff who make possible the mission we represent.
Leaders do not fully understand the power of their words, actions and attitudes to lift up or diminish those who work for them. When ego gets in the way, their staff and the organization suffer greatly.
This is not an uncommon issue. However, as we mature as leaders it is an issue that we must confront and deal with it because not doing so will eventually destroy our leadership. And can destroy our organization as the best people leave because of the toxic behaviors of the senior leader(s).
In my experience there are several key's to ensuring that we lead from health and not the toxicity of our egos.
First, you have to want to lead from health! While that may seem obvious it is not because the only way to know how your words or behaviors negatively impact those around you is to openly ask for feedback and very few leaders are willing to do that. The very question is a threat to their fragile ego's.
When I led an organization I would regularly ask those who reported to me if there was anything I did that created issues for them, anything they wished I could change about my leadership or any advice they had for how I could be a better leader. The responses were always very helpful for me in understanding myself and the blind spots I had in my leadership. If a leader is not willing to regularly ask those kinds of questions they are not serious about wanting to lead from health. The most significant risk we run as leaders is that we are not self aware of our own impact on others and the only way to understand that impact is to ask the right questions.
Second, when we learn that we have some significant issues we need to get help. Professional help! Ego will tell us we don't need it but our ego is wrong. Most leaders do. The negative behaviors listed above come from a deep place inside of us. The need to be right, the inability to listen well to others, the tendency to put others down or disregard their opinions, the belief that we should call the plays are all behaviors rooted in our own dysfunctions and often stem from childhood. Unless we understand where these negative behaviors come from, we cannot modify them in a healthy manner.
This is not an easy journey but a necessary one. It is a journey I have had to take and in my coaching practice I have the privilege of helping others in this journey. The willingness to take that hard journey is a sign of strength rather than weakness and the more disclosing you are to those around you about your journey, the more respect you will have. Those around us know what our issues are even though we may try to pretend they don't exist. They know and they appreciate the efforts to become a better leader as it impacts them.
Third, we must create open atmospheres in our teams and organizations where candid and honest dialogue can take place. This is the most critical factor in creating healthy organizations and holding everyone, including the leader, accountable for words, actions and decisions.
The key factor in how open or closed an organization is to honest and candid conversation is always the senior leader. The organization will mirror his/her oppenness or closedness because self preservation will require people to not challenge where their leader will not allow you to go. Those who do find themselves looking for another job. They are marginalized and choose to move on.
In fact, consider asking your team this question. What are the subjects or topics or issues that you wish we could talk about as a team but you are afraid to put on the table. And then just listen. Make a list on the white board and commit to taking them one at a time until all have been discussed. Only leaders who are serious about leading form health will take that step but it makes a powerful discussion.
"Ask any group of employees to describe an ideal team or organizational culture, and they will tell you: supportive, transparent, authentic, collaborative, trusting. But inquire about their current company's culture, and the list will usually look very different: competitive, political, territorial, untrusting, conflict adverse."
This quote is from Ego Free Leadership by Black and Hughes and is an excellent resource on this topic.