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A toxic leader can be defined by many qualities. Toxic leadership can quickly destroy the culture of any organisation. And make coming to work a more difficult task than it should be. Workplaces can become toxic based on the leadership structures in place. But it’s never too late to make some improvements.

Below is a list of poor leadership traits to help you reflect on your organisation and your own behaviour, and think about whether any adjustments are needed.

1. Micromanagement

Great leaders have trust in their team. It is not hard to fall into the trap of micromanaging and perhaps second-guessing your team, particularly in busy and stressful times.

Leaders can easily get caught up in the detail and lose focus on the big picture issues. This type of leader tends to believe they can do any task better than their team, and this can impact on the team’s motivation at work.

Take, for example, Steve Jobs. He was known for being an extreme micro manager in his early days. During this time at his company NeXT, he reportedly micromanaged just about everything. Randall wrote in the New York Times:

“In this period, Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. While the company’s strategy begged to be re-examined. Mr. Jobs attended to other matters . . . while delegation of visiting Businessland executives waited on the sidewalk. Mr. Jobs spend 20 minutes directing the landscaping crew on the exact placement of the sprinkler heads.” 

As a consequence of his micromanagement, NeXT was a commercial failure. His  Improvement as a more capable executive at Apple saw him delegate many of the important tasks to others that he knew could do them better.

Apple is now one of the most iconic companies in the world as a result of his leadership. This extraordinary journey of a reformed micromanager shows us that it’s never too late to change habits.

One of the key elements to effective leadership is trust, which is having faith in your team and being able to create an environment with clear standards and boundaries.

If your team can feel safe and supported, and not feel micro managed, this will enable them to thrive. They will become highly valued and productive contributors to your organisation.

If on the other hand, if your team does not feel the same level of trust and comfort – it creates an environment where employees are not motivated to do their best.

2. Lack of support and nurture

A great and authentic leader provides honest, constructive feedback and never fails to give credit where it’s due to support and nurture their team. However, a poor leader is someone who only has a self-serving nature.

Founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson was quoted at the  National Retail Federation’s Retail’s BIG show in New York explaining that he was “ . . . a great believer that as a leader, you should be praising as much as possible, not criticising, and looking for the best in people, and I think we have a very loyal staff at Virgin.”

One of his key leadership qualities is allowing his team to make mistakes and not jumping down people’s throats with criticism. This approach helps nurture a team to improve on their competence without demotivation.

3. Ineffective Communication

Great leaders are able to handle team issues in an effective manner that will positively reflect on their ability to lead their teams.. A commonly overlooked issue is inappropriate communication.

Let’s take Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL for instance. Forbes reported that he suddenly lost his temper and publicly fired an employee – Abel Lenz, who was recording a conference call to 1, 000 employees of AOL’s struggling news service.

WIth this being said, publicly humiliating someone will reflect badly on a leader.

A key to strong leadership is having effective conversations and addressing issues in an appropriate time and place.

A good leader needs to outline the situation, name the behaviour and address the impact of that issue with a team member in an appropriate way. This will help a team look up to their leader as someone who is fair and addresses issues in a justifiable way which ultimately generates respect for their leader.

4. Lack of vision and focus

When great leaders settle on a vision, they will motivate and inspire their team with their goals. Without forward thinking and communicating the organisational vision, there is a possibility of not producing positive results.

Elon Musk is a visionary that shares his future ambitions to inspire his teams of people across Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX. His focus on forward thinking and innovation is a culture that he has embedded with his visionary leadership.

He says: “If something is important enough, you should do it. Even if the probable outcome is failure.”

Dolly Singh, former HR head at SpaceX told Fast Company: “The thing that makes Elon Elon is his ability to make people believe in his vision.” Not only is he a great leader because he is transparent about his thoughts, he leads by example. His dedication and focus is shown by working an impressive 85 to 100 hours per week to achieve his goals.

5. No Adaptability

The ability to adapt and change is the key to survival, and great leaders do this well. If a leader is not adaptable or flexible in their approach, there is a possibility that their team will also mirror this behaviour and the organisation may not survive.

An example of an extraordinary leader is former Antarctic expedition leader, Rachel Robertson who led the 58th Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) to David Station in 2005.

Prior to her expedition, she hated the cold and had only seen snow once. Today, her Keynote presentations have included insights on adaptive leadership, arguing that leaders who thrive and succeed, understand and anticipate what challenges may emerge, and have the flexibility to respond to any given situation.

“Whether leaders are born or bred, the ability to lead can be developed and improved by nurturing their experiences and exposure. Recognising the need for some improvement is the first step to succeeding and short courses can do wonders to improving a set of skills.”

Written By
Biljana Stanojcic is an expert in leadership and management from TAFE NSW . After an extensive career in marketing and management for global blue chip organisations such as Procter & Gamble and Sony Pictures Entertainment, she ventured into her own small business. Biljana continues to consult for small to medium businesses to enhance her industry experience.

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