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Toxic Leaders

Few leaders would intentionally set out to make their subordinates unhappy, especially to the point of causing psychological distress.  It is well known that stress can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy immune system and cause mental stress to turn into physical illness. It is also well known that an unhappy employee will experience more absenteeism and less productivity.

Research was conducted to see if certain types of leadership styles can cause psychological trauma to employees, whether done intentionally or not. What they found was a resounding yes. Sadly, an approximate 75% of employees report that the worst part of their job is their direct supervisor. Toxic supervisors can be detrimental not only for the employee, but also for the organization as a whole.

Two problems exist with dysfunctional leaders. They either possess a lack of leadership skills or they possess disturbing personality traits. While a lack of leadership skills can be remedied with training, possessing personality traits that create dysfunction in the workplace is much more problematic and may result in removing the toxic leader altogether.

Negative behaviors from leaders have a greater impact on psychological health than do positive behaviors – five times greater impact to be exact. The following traits were found to have the greatest impact on employee mental health:

  1. Unpredictable integrity. It is interesting to note that the lack of predictability had a greater negative consequence than predictably poor integrity.
  2. Controlling
  3. Lack of support
  4. Unclear about expectations
  5. Lack of positive feedback
  6. Routinely harsh or critical in communications

BossCertain types of occupations may have a larger proportion of leaders that tend to exhibit at least some of these traits more readily, including military, police and fire. While it is understood that autocratic leadership styles are more warranted in these occupations, it may be that leaders need training to tone it down a bit or, better yet, be able to switch into a less confrontational style as the situation dictates. There, of course, is never a need for integrity issues (#1) or unclear expectations (#4).

Research has demonstrated that leaders who tend to be demanding and offer little support or positive feedback cause psychological distress for employees. Military, police, and fire personnel already experience high levels of stress. Adding a toxic leader to the mix not only causes unnecessary grief, he or she will also cause retention problems within the unit or organization. Workplace bullying by leaders is not uncommon. Bullying is defined as systematic aggression towards one or more individuals.  Toxic leaders may enjoy having power over others and become abusive towards subordinates. It is imperative that those who cannot be trained into behaving appropriately be removed from leadership positions where they can cause significant psychological harm to individuals or teams.

A transformation leadership style tends to have the greatest positive impact on personnel. This style includes giving individualized attention to workers, encouraging them to problem solve, inspiring them to be high performers, and role-modeling the type of behavior that the leader wants from their people.

If the goal is to accomplish the mission, whatever the mission happens to be, it is well worth the time and effort spent in developing an organization’s leadership. Teaching leaders how to become transformational leaders will improve their ability to lead and bring contentment to their personnel.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Laura Samples

Laura Samples has over 18 years of law enforcement experience and currently serves as a police lieutenant in Texas. She is a graduate of the Leadership Command College from LEMIT at Sam Houston State University, a graduate of the Denver Paralegal Institute, and has earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management, from Fort Hays State University.She is also a veteran of the U.S. Army where she served as a Military Police Officer in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Laura Samples

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