Another strong reason for rooting out toxic bosses

The immediate impact of toxic bosses on their teams’ productivity, creativity and other factors that contribute to good performance has been well documented. Now, however, evidence is emerging that the poison spreads more widely, even after they are long gone. A recent study from Angela Ruskin University[1] reveals that people who report to an aggressive manager often go on to emulate the same behaviour when they become managers.

How can organisations prevent this? One key action is to identify the problem early. In a bullying atmosphere, people are afraid to speak up to outsiders, for fear of making things worse. Practical remedies include:

  • A confidential bullying helpline. When several people raise concerns in the same team, that’s a red flag
  • Training for all staff in how to resist bullying behaviours
  • Regular psychological safety surveys (much more realistic than traditional 360s, which tend to be distorted in favour of sociopathic bosses!)
  • Educating mentors about the signs to look for.

Another action is to provide counselling of members of teams, where bullying has taken place. It’s important for them to be able to put the experience into context and make conscious choices about which behaviours they want to absorb into their own leadership approach and which they want to avoid.

A standard question for all promotion interviews and hiring interviews should be: “Tell us about the most toxic boss you had. What did you learn about yourself?” Understanding how people have internalised such experiences provides clues into how they will behave.

The clear message about toxic bosses is Identify early; Act Swiftly; Prevent further contagion

[1] Reported in The Times of London, October 3, p7

© David Clutterbuck 2022




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