How to Recognize And Weed Out Toxic Leaders

You invest a lot of your time and energy into your work, and part of the return on that investment is the benefit of being led by someone you respect and admire—someone you can emulate. But of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Far too many people end up working for toxic leaders.

As a leadership coach, I’ve seen the kind of damage toxic leaders can do. Left alone, a single toxic individual can undermine relationships, wreck teams, and destroy the fabric of an entire organization.

A number of strategies can be effective against a toxic leader, but the first step is to identify the problem. Here are some clear signs that your leader is toxic and not just overloaded or inept:

Toxic leaders speak but never listen. A leader who does all the talking is trying to cover up for the things they don’t know. Those who are secure in their leadership tend to listen more than they speak, because they know they can learn something new from everyone they listen to.

Toxic leaders dismiss other people’s ideas. It’s a terrible feeling when you share an idea or direction you’re passionate about only to have it ignored or even mocked. “My way or the highway” is the motto of toxic leadership.

Toxic leaders belittle and ridicule others. If you sit in a meeting and can hardly believe you’re hearing someone in leadership speak with such contempt to a member of their team—if you’re reminding yourself to stay silent so you don’t put yourself in the line of fire, you’re dealing with a toxic leader.

Toxic leaders are easily frustrated by teaching, mentoring and coaching. Patience is one of the hallmarks of effective leadership. And while some are better at it than others, most great leaders love helping their team members develop and grow. Toxic leaders, on the other hand, are unable to meet people where they are without quickly becoming frustrated.

Toxic leaders constantly micromanage. When a leader believes in their deepest core that their way is the only good option and no one else can do anything nearly as well as they can do it themselves, they micromanage. The result is that it’s difficult for others to bring forth their talent, state their ideas or even do their job.

Toxic leaders lack social skills and emotional intelligence. Knowing how to manage their own emotions and being aware of the emotions of others are among a great leader’s biggest strengths. But toxic leaders are unaware—of self and of others—a trait that seriously disables their leadership.

Toxic leaders take credit for other people’s work. There’s nothing more infuriating than someone taking credit for your work—especially when it’s being done by a so-called leader. The likely cause is that they don’t feel secure enough to give credit to others; if they don’t have the light always shining on them, they may feel they’re no longer in control.

Toxic leaders blame others for their own mistakes. When a leader points fingers for their own errors, their lack of responsibility and accountability is toxic—and it often causes others to feel they are at fault. Great leaders take the blame and are accountable; they find a lesson where others see only a problem.

Toxic leaders never admit to being wrong. How many times have you seen a leader pretend to ask for opinions when they’re really ask for validation of their own ideas? When push comes to shove their way is the only acceptable answer. It’s an attitude that breeds toxicity and demoralizes everyone, especially the smartest people on the team.

Unfortunately, recognizing toxic leaders is easier than dealing with them. One frequently successful approach to weeding them out involves talking to them and letting them know the effects of their behavior—respectfully, so you don’t become part of the problem. The longer their behavior continues the more acceptable it becomes, and ultimately the only way out may be to find a better environment.

Lead from within: Understanding your leaders, cultivating deep relationships with them, and supporting them can create a positive culture that will keep you and your organization on the road to success.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Michael Lapointe

    25. May, 2019

    My leader in February asked if I was questioning his leadership after why he was taking a certain action. Within minutes he was threatening to fire me. He has the power because he’s the owner of his business. The irony here is that I wasn’t questioning his leadership because I know that he isn’t a servant leader … he’s a “father-knows-best” leader (authoritarian). Lately I’ve asked several times over the past couple weeks about my responsibilities after lumping more work on me beyond my scope of work. Suffice it to say I’m a little bit frustrated. Direct questions don’t work … so I’ll be passive aggressive and post your article in large FONT on my office wall for all to see including my ‘leader’ and his sycophant General Manager. I’m being so Canadian.

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