We have all encountered toxic leaders and they exist in all walks of life from the business world, the military, government departs and even some entrepreneurs

We have all encountered toxic leaders and they exist in all walks of life from the business world, the military, government departs and even some entrepreneurs. Toxic leaders are those individuals who because of their destructive behaviours and personal dysfunctional qualities inflict serious harm on the people they lead and their organizations.

There are many psychological theories which try to explain why some leaders become toxic. However, what really matters to most of us is not the reason why people become toxic but how to handle them more effectively. It has been suggested that we all need authority figures and people who we feel will create good conditions for our survival. However many toxic leaders hide behind grand illusions and noble visions promising a great deal but often delivering little. We can become deluded into thinking that they are strong leaders when in fact they are often narcissistic and ineffective in the leadership role.

So just how do you deal with a toxic leader to minimize the impact they have on you, your colleagues and the organization in which you operate?

Firstly find out if the toxic leader who is causing you concern has a history of unacceptable behaviour. When did they operate before coming to your organization? Can you talk with any individuals who have worked with them in the past? If you can build a history of the toxic leader’ share it with your colleagues and those who are affected most by the unacceptable behaviour.

Secondly form a group of those individuals most affected by the toxic leader to avoid you personally becoming a victim on your own if all develops in the wrong direction. Avoid solo confrontations without witnesses as you don’t want to shift from being the ‘rescuer’ to the ‘victim’ in the situation. Get the group to offer to work with the leader to try to sort out the problems she or he is causing. As with most human situations, reconcillation is more beneficial than ongoing conflict.

Thirdly if the group approach does not work create a strategy for undermining and ousting the leader. Although this can be a tough moral and political decision it is a necessary course of action in many circumstances. Your strategy should be plausible based on Aristotle’s ethos, logos and pathos approach. You, your group and your strategy need to be credible and believable. Focus on the impact of the toxic leader’s behaviour rather than her or his personal traits. You need to ensure that your arguments are logical and are presented in a way which is emotionally intelligent rather than out of control emotionally. This is the ‘pathos’ issue.

Fourthy insist on all managers including the toxic leader undergoing a 360 degree assessment exercise where each individual is assessed by their peers, the person to whom they report and by those people who report to them. A consistent picture will tend to emerge with the consistently toxic leader and this can be to your real advantage.
Number five is that you always have the right to leave the organization and the toxic leader making it clear why you are so doing. Whilst this may seem a drastic move it is often for the better particularly if working alongside the toxic leader is causing you stress and eroding your quality of work life. It may well be that the time is right for you to move on from that organization and do what many disillusioned executives are doing and starting their own business. You can then say ‘goodbye’ to your toxic leader and start afresh on a new career.

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