Toxic leadership? What's that?
Is toxic leadership real or just an improper understanding of both words?
I recently had a conversation with my students about toxic leadership. While discussing this topic of constant debate, leadership, a senior member of our organization said toxic leadership does not exist.
Aside from the loud internal laughs some members of the crowd displayed, a conversation was generated in the classroom where countless examples of this non-existent “thing” were given in a room of 15 people.
Cackling laughter everywhere, and wide eyes were more than enough for me to think, “there's something here.”
This is a good conversation to have. Let's have it.
What does toxic mean? Poisonous. Thanks to my iPhone's dictionary, I know this (sorry Merriam).
Leadership, on the other hand, is hard to pin down but generally is viewed as the skill to lead, influence, or guide individuals or organizations.
Ok, now that the stage is set. Let's go!
Toxic leadership = poisonous leading, influencing, or guiding individuals or organizations
Ummmm, what do you think? Does this exist?
I wager, it does. And it does not.
The lens which we use to view the world is crucial in understanding what we define and how we define it.
Toxic leadership exists because a manager or leader has incredible power and influence surrounding their team. If a leader shows up late often and only reprimands their team members when they show up late, you can chalk one point over to the toxic leadership side. This is also the case for those leaders who bark orders at others and never follow through with themselves, embodying the ever famous “do as I say not as I do.” a very ridiculous worldview considering as observational creatures, we learn more by watching what others do.
In the examples above, if the results of the team are adequate or in many cases beyond adequate, we believe the leader is doing the job expertly. Why else would a team reach its goals? A team under massive pressure, stress, and scrutiny can be a successful one and we don't need to look further than some of the accounts of Apple employees during the company's early years with Steve Jobs at the helm.
On the other side of this coin are teams that reach or do not reach the goal but are led by a more positive and involved leader. These teams are also successful.
Ok, if both teams get to the finish line, then why does the approach matter?
You may already be answering that question for yourself, but I guess I’ll say some stuff and then wrap this post up.
Yes, it matters. You’re effectiveness as a leader matters long term. Short-term matters for sure, however, long term is the real game. Leading for the long term is how you drive change and influence people to continue a legacy. This is what drives behavior both negative and positive. A toxic leader will produce toxic leaders. A righteous leader will produce more righteous leaders. In the long term.
This idea of “no toxic leadership” could mean one of two things.
In the literal sense, there is no toxic leadership.
Toxic leadership does not exist because both words are opposites. No such thing is leadership that is toxic because the toxicity of the leader negates their title of leader.
But also, I don’t know what I’m saying I think. I’m probably wrong.
What do you think? Is there a such thing as toxic leadership?
And remember. Long term.
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