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Managing Toxic Leaders: HR's Role in Mitigating the Impact of Toxicity at Work

Managing Toxic Leaders: HR's Role in Mitigating the Impact of Toxicity at Work
From Recruiter - October 2, 2017

HR professionals, employees, leaders, academia, and leadership scholars conclude toxic leaders increase stress on employees, organizations, and other stakeholders. Left undetected, toxic leaders lower morale, retention, and productivity rates.In extreme cases, toxic leaders create hostile work environments. In all cases, workplace toxicity creates an economic burden.

Employees and HR professionals report toxicity and the subsequent damage imposed from CEOs, VPs, directors, team leads, etc., describing behaviors of incompetence and demanding, controlling, aggressive, dishonest, arrogant, and strong personalities. However, these leader characteristics do not fit the full scope of what represents a toxic leader. A leader who has a soft voice or who appears sincere can be toxic. Leader toxicity is not exclusive; instead, it is inclusive of all levels of leadership systems (toxic leader, culture, organization, etc.).

In her 2015 dissertation, business scholar Sabrina Michele Maxwell suggests mitigating toxicity requires proactive preventative methods through early detection and individualized leader development/training, thereby protecting subordinates, organizations, and other stakeholders from the impact toxicity imposes. A 2014 report published in the journalStress& Health states the implications of not having a proactive approach include unwanted turnover, reduced productivity, and increased absenteeism. In Handling Toxic Emotions: New Challenges for Leaders and Their Organization, business scholar Peter J. Frost suggests toxicity must be addressed in the designing of an organizations architecture and regulatory processes. These scholars confirm the findings ofArt Padilla, Robert Hogan, and Robert B. Kaiser, who studied three characteristics critical for the fertility of destructive (toxic) leadership: a toxic leader, a follower, and an environment conducive to toxicity.

The Leader

Bad ethics and behavior could be motivated by an individuals attempt to satisfy personal needs, an attempt to increase their personal status or power, or as a result of personal prejudice toward a group(s) of people. Pre-exposure to toxicity in a persons life or career or lack of competency in management/leadership skills may be the root of the problem for some toxic leaders, according to Marcia L. Whicker. The toxic leader may not recognize or consider their behavior toxic, but instead may view their behaviors as socially normal. Likewise, Maxwell asserts theymay not understand the effect their behaviors have on others.

The Follower

Followers of toxic leaders report a multitude of personal harms as the result of exposure to toxicity, including physical, emotional, psychological, and financial harms. Participants in theStress & Healthstudy cited abovereported physical harm (e.g., colds, hair loss), emotional harm (e.g., stress, anxiety, anger), and psychological harm (e.g., self-doubt, loss of confidence) because of toxic leaders behaviors. It is common among followers of toxic leaders to either not report the behaviors or to do so anecdotally rather than through formal channels for fear of being socially excluded or receiving little support from the organization. When an employee becomes a victim of aleaders toxic behaviors, the performance, health, and financial well-being of the employee, organization, and other stakeholders suffer.



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