Five Signs You’re a Toxic Leader

toxicThere are so many scapegoats available these days that it’s easy to explain away any undesirable outcomes in business. We blame low sales on a flat economy and lack of marketing budget. We bemoan reduced training budgets and believe they are the reason for stalled career advancement and staggering employee disengagement. As turnover rates increase, we accuse Millennials of being entitled, arrogant and disloyal. But at what point do we stop pointing fingers and start identifying trends? Remember, people leave managers, not companies.

The toughest trend to spot is the one we create. Few leaders lack the insight, self-awareness, and courage to admit that they are the problem. And yet, we can’t change until we take ownership of our actions. The first step to leadership recovery is admitting there is a problem, and it’s you.

Here are a few signs that you’re a toxic leader:

  1. Compared to your peers, your employees have a higher turnover rate.
    Let’s be honest, if you’re a bully, aloof, or generally disconnected from your team, they likely don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback on your behavior. Instead, they just leave. So, if you can’t get an honest review of your performance, you’ll need to collect some data. What is the average tenure of employees who work for you vs. your peers? If your team turns over more frequently than your peers, then you might be the problem.
  2. No one stays connected with you.
    The last time you switched jobs, how many of your coworkers kept in touch with you? People want to stay connected with warm, kind, inspiring, successful colleagues. They will go the extra mile to keep in touch with people who made a positive impact on their lives. When a really great leader leaves, their team members often look for opportunities to join the new adventure. If you left your employer today, how many of your team members would drop everything and go with you? If no one wants to join you, then you might be the problem.
  3. You have unattainable expectations.
    Stretch goals are wonderful. They give employees a challenge, but also remain realistic enough that with hard work and perseverance, the goal can be attained. Unrealistic goals and unattainable expectations create a negative, hostile work environment where nothing is ever good enough. When you consistently set the bar too high, the team will stop trying. You may see this as a weakness, laziness, or disengagement, but they see it as a toxic environment. If no one ever makes you happy, then you might be the problem.
  4. You’ve never lost a fight.
    This is a tough one, because some leaders believe winners never lose a fight. That’s not necessarily true. Often, winners know which battles are worth the fight, and which ones are worth conceding. No one wants to work with a bully. If you win all of your fights by being aggressive, intimidating, confrontational, and manipulative, then your opponents likely let you win just to disengage from the situation. If you find that no one wants to work with you, and instead they back down from every challenge, you probably aren’t a winner. You might be the problem.
  5. You don’t have anything nice to say.
    There’s no such thing as the perfect company, job, role, team, or project. There will always be at least one source of frustration, if not many, that make every day a challenge. Effective leaders recognize and accept those challenges, meet them head on, influence what they can control, and work around the things they cannot control. Toxic leaders fixate on the negative. They talk about the problems endlessly and make excuses instead of pursuing solutions. If you find yourself in a negativity loop, you might be the problem.

The next time you find yourself cataloging the errors of everyone around you, stop and re-evaluate the situation. If the common denominator is always you, then you might be the problem. Identifying and acknowledging the problem is often the hardest step to take on the journey of self-improvement.