Do a quick google search and you’ll find a plethora of articles about “toxic” leaders. It’s clearly a hot topic and a lot of people are writing about it. Psychology Today writes that toxic leadership and toxic workplaces are on the rise, partly due to a belief that if you achieve your targets as a leader, you can act however you like. Other reasons provided are that narcissistic personalities outwardly display the qualities of the stereotypical leader, leading to their promotion and success. This is regardless of how the people around them feel about their behaviour.
Given the amount of writing about poor leadership and the frequency with which we hear war stories involving bad leaders, it’s easy to think that in general, leadership within organisations has gone down the toilet.
I myself have experienced a number of what I would call “toxic” workplaces and terrible leaders and I’ve written an article or two about bad leadership.
Do we expect too much of leaders?
Sometimes I look back at some of the times where I’ve experienced poor leadership and I wonder whether people (including myself) are too harsh on leaders. Do we expect too much of leaders, when we should cut them some slack?
No, we don’t expect too much of leaders. Some of them struggle in terrible work environments, but you can always tell when a leader cares and is trying. You can also tell when they just don’t give a shit about the people around them or improving. Many are more focused on keeping their jobs.
Why we should hold leaders accountable
Leaders should be held to high standards. When they treat people poorly, we should hold leaders accountable. If they don’t care about other people, they shouldn’t be allowed to lead at all. There are a number of reasons why leaders already have it good, so they need to perform better.
1. Leaders are paid more. Yes, in general, leaders are paid more than the people in the teams that they lead. As a leader, if you need to put up with some difficult times, you have already been duly compensated for this.
2. Leaders occupy positions of higher prestige. Leadership is a prestigious position. Sure, you might not be the President of the US, but leading a team looks good on the resume compared to being on the team. This additional prestige is a form of compensation in itself.
3. Leaders affect how their people feel about going to work. There are some people who just hate their jobs. But there are many people who hate their jobs mainly because of their manager. If you are a leader who is responsible for somebody hating coming to work for five days every week, you should be ashamed of yourself. Five days per week where you wish you were doing something else is not pleasant. As a leader, you can’t make everybody happy, but you shouldn’t be actively making them hate their life.
4. Stress and disliking work has knock-on effects in home life. So, you’re a leader who is out of your depth, treats your team poorly and people hate coming to work for you. These people are probably stressed at having to face you every day. This manifests itself in stress outside of work too, as your employees fight with their spouses, become depressed and dread Monday even when it’s still the weekend. What right do you have to affect somebody’s life like that?
Don’t let poor leaders off the hook
If a leader has no leadership skills and is floundering, they shouldn’t be there. If they don’t care about the people who work for them, then they have no right to be in their position. We need to hold leaders accountable for their behaviour.
Frankly, I don’t care about the results they achieve. If you achieve results by being an arsehole and making the people around you miserable, then you are short-sighted and have no place in managing people.
Don’t let poor leaders off the hook. We need to hold leaders accountable for what they do and how they act.
The answer is no, we don’t expect too much of leaders. We expect them to treat people with respect and to put some thought into how they lead.
And that’s just how it should be.