Toxic Leadership Traits at Work


There’s a lot of talk about what makes a leader or how leaders can effectively lead at their workplaces. Plenty of resources are dedicated to the idea of the ‘good leader’, but amid all the leadership talk, people often forget that toxic leadership is one of the biggest workplace problems.

Morale and performance of the employees both suffer under a toxic leadership that seeks to prioritize their own self-serving interests at the expense of the team as a whole.

Toxic Leadership Traits at Work

We’re going to shed some light on the toxic leadership traits that you must know before you end up working for the wrong team:

Poor strategic thinking

Leaders are supposed to guide the team toward success. Doing so requires a lot of strategic thinking on the leadership’s part. However, leaders that lack critical thinking skills fail to lay down strategy to realize their business objectives. Contrary to what people might think, leaders aren’t supposed to have all the right answers in a moment of crisis, but good leadership’s ability to stay open to suggestions, and to think critically about their next moves, puts it a cut above the rest when it comes to leading from the front. Strategists make good use of all the available resources at their disposal instead of taking decisions on their own.

Gaslighting employees

Often these leaders will gaslight their hardworking employees into thinking that the organization suffers because of them and that they are there to correct the employees’ wrongs. Instead of taking blame for their own mistakes, they’ll gladly throw one of their subordinates under the bus.

Hardworking employees have no option but to put up with their boss’s tantrums, and, especially when they are looking to keep up with their business studies or online mba no gmat along with their ongoing roles, they’ll look the other way to avoid escalating tensions with the boss.

Dishonesty at workplace is toxic because it never lets the employees settle. They have to be on their toes constantly to keep up with the changing organizational policies. Leaders who are dishonest tend to backtrack on promises and statements.

An example of gaslighting would look something like this: the manager asks you to submit an assignment in a week’s time. The manager praises your dedication and gives you a pat on the back as well. But, later that day, the manager comes back to you asking for the same assignment to be delivered that same day before you leave for home.

In such instances, the leadership will take full advantage of the employees’ hard work to suit their own agenda. They’ll even pass the work handed over by an employee as their own work, without ever crediting the employee who actually did it.

Always unsatisfied

Controlling leaders are never satisfied with the work you do and want to micromanage you as much as they can. For them, a zealous adherence to organization’s hierarchical structure and order are the guiding principles for running an organization. Their unhealthy obsession with the rules of work can be draining on the morale of the employees who feel limited and constrained by all the inflexible and rigid rules.

According to statistics, toxic leadership is responsible for a 48% drop in productivity and a 38% decrease in work quality. In addition, because of toxic leadership, some companies have experienced as high as a 73% turnover rate.

Leaders who implement rigid rules on those working in the organization are driven by their need to control each and everything. They are often insecure and fearful of change and other employees who might outshine them. Such leaders are often respected and loved by the higher ups, while the employees suffer working under their iron fist. Working for a control freak is like crossing a minefield; if you happen to break some hidden but inviolable rule, you could end up paying a heavy emotional price for it.

Excessive irritability

As expected, toxic leaders tend to be highly irritable. It is important not to bother them with your problems because far from making an effort to address them, they’ll lay the blame on you for everything, making you worse off than if you hadn’t said anything. Toxic leaders hate answering questions and discussing ideas because they believe that nothing worthwhile can come out of an employees’ mouth. The organization fails to innovate or introduce ideas because the culture of the organization favors keeping things close to your chest over sharing openly.

Overly critical

Toxic leaders put others under extreme pressure due to their judgmental nature. No matter the amount of effort they put in to their work, the employees are rarely, if ever, thanked. An aura of negativity and pessimism follows the toxic leader that makes working with them a nightmare. Even a minor mistake can set them off on a tirade, which achieves nothing but demoralize employees even further.

Although this negativity may be due to an underlying health problem, like depression, a fact which might be illustrated with examples from history of leaders with mental health problems, but the heart of the matter remains that working under toxic leadership can cause mental health issues among the employees as well.

Prioritizes hierarchy

Toxic leaders control their teams via a hierarchy (the ranks and roles people have within an organization). Keeping power all to themselves, toxic leaders will create order to make sure that it stays with them, and is only delegated via tiers with them at the top. If a team starts to turn heads around with the quality of their work and effort on a particular project, they’ll intervene, and either take up the credit or end the project for fear of being eclipsed by the success of the team.

Toxic leadership exists because of the hierarchy it creates, and will soon wither away if that hierarchy is removed. When you work for a toxic leader, you are often under the pressure of the organization’s power structure. They control their teams by pulling rank and authority on the people below them.

Cannot face criticism

Toxic leaders are quick to criticize others but cannot bear to take critical feedback from others, even when the criticism is meant to be constructive. Their aversion to feedback makes them stagnant as they will shun recommendations for improvement.

Poor time management skills

People who have poor time management skills tend to rush last minute to meet deadlines. It’s the job of a leader to plan and delegate tasks, so that each individual knows exactly what to do and carries out the tasks accordingly. Unfortunately, with toxic leaders, the problem is that either they’ll delegate too little or too much work to others. Proper delegation of work in accordance with competency and skill can drastically reduce the time it takes to complete tasks.


It is no surprise that toxic leaders discriminate on the basis of sex, race, age, or other discriminatory characteristics.

Discrimination at workplace is the most toxic leadership trait that you need to overcome in yourself and identify in others. Employees working under a discriminatory boss are not only demotivated and dissatisfied but also have to face insults, racial slurs, verbal abuse, or even physical assault.


Although leaders are influential and directly affect the destiny of organizations, toxic leadership is destructive. The destructive behavior of the toxic leaders results in the organization’s ultimate failure.

Having a toxic leader harms the employees’ mental and physical health, resulting in high attrition rates for the organization, lack of innovative progress, and internal conflicts.


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