in Leadership, Leading People, Leading Projects

Invisible Cost of “Toxic” Leadership

Many organizations today are plagued by so-called leaders who don’t carry a leadership mindset. Their title may read “Project Leader” and they may be managing a few people, but that does not make them real leaders. We all know that leadership is a mindset, a way of thinking and attitude. It has little to do with title/designation.

Few years back, I heard a project manager saying, “I will screw him up if he does not complete this module today”. This rather harsh statement was spoken in front of all team members! Statements like these tell us more about the attitude of the project manager. That is why they say that if you want to judge the character of a leader, see how he thinks, acts and talks when he is handling a difficult situation.

You can identify a toxic leader by following traits:

  • Does not promote initiatives
  • Behaves destructively
  • Often shouts at his people when they make mistakes
  • Micromanages
  • Suppresses innovative ideas
  • Always tends to find something that is not going right and fix people on that
  • Tries to be in control all the time
  • Does not openly communicate in a straight-forward fashion
  • Does not trust people
  • Encourages and then enforces “conformance” to his ideas
  • Assigns blame to someone else in the team rather than protecting them
  • Succeed mostly by showing others down

Leaders who are not conscious and careful about the way they think, act and talk set a wrong example for their people. With wrong examples around, people are bound to underperform, get de-motivated and hence, disengaged. This (invisible) cost is huge and most of the times, beyond the scope of recovery.

People tend to derive some “meaning” from everything you do – specially if you are a leader. Your thinking, approach, method, statements and actions are your tools to ensure that they derive the “right” meaning that helps them become more engaged with their work, be more productive and stay motivated.

Toxicity in words, deeds and thoughts of leaders builds an organization culture that is very difficult to unwind.


  1. Tanmay,

    Very insightful post! From your description of a “toxic leader”, I bet most people can remember having a leader like that.

    I hear many stories (almost daily) of de-motivated people sadly (and angrily) explaining what their manager said or did that day to de-rail their positive energies. The rant goes like this… “Instead of focusing on the positive, great things I did today, he focused on the one think that I agree could have been done better!” Then they start questioning whether anyone even notices ALL the good work they are doing and whether it really makes a difference.

    I wonder if these “toxic” leaders ever wonder how much damage they are causing. Simply changing the way they feedback (verbally and non-verbally) can inspire and motivate their people. I like to focus on the positives first then on one item that can “make them better”. Works wonders.

    Most of the time, these “toxic leaders” are not conscious of the damage – they are acting exactly how their managers are/were with them.

    Your article has inspired/reminded me to continually self-observe and self-evaluate my own behavior by seeing how people react to the things that I say and do. It’s never too late to “detoxify” and make things better! “Detoxifying” is exactly what my present mission is all about: helping people offer and ask for powerful, inspiring feedback!

    I truly believe that this mission can help to create better working and living environments where performance is valued, supported, recognized, and improved.

    Thanks and looking forward to following your future articles!
    .-= Sonia Di Maulo´s last blog ..A Tip for Giving Powerful Inspiring Feedback =-.

  2. Sonia,

    Thanks for that very insightful comment and adding value to the post. Toxic leaders are much like termites that eat things out. These leaders drain the organization.

    As a leader, one needs to constantly assess their behaviors and ensure that they are building the right culture.

    As I read this somewhere, the true legacy of leaders/managers is the culture they create. Why not create a great one?

    Keep reading/commenting!


    .-= Tanmay Vora´s last blog ..Invisible Cost of “Toxic” Leadership =-.

Comments are closed.


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