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5 Signs to Immediately Recognize a Toxic Manager at Work

One simple conclusion I've made after having coached leaders for two decades is that managers at all levels of the corporate hierarchy must be leaders for their organizations to grow and thrive. Do you agree?

The reason for this bold statement is that I've seen enough corporate disasters ending in failed businesses because of catastrophic mistakes by managers who lacked successful people leadership skills.

It shouldn't come down to this, but here's the plain truth that will save your bottom line: Stop hiring or promoting people and putting them into leadership roles when they don't have the human skills and traits to do the job well. Period.

If you're not sure who belongs and who doesn't to the privileged and demanding position of leadership, pay attention to these unfortunate and toxic warning signs. They could indicate that your employees may soon be headed for the exits.

1. Crushes team creativity

Managers who say they want an innovative team or culture and then turn around and kill any new idea brought forth are subconsciously sabotaging the creative process through a top-down approach. The solution is easy for me to recommend, but not so easy for top-down bosses to pull off. It's to pivot to a "bottom-up" approach of supporting and nurturing innovation from "idea people" who want to contribute and make a difference.

2. Lacks accountability

Managers who lack accountability are often critical, can't admit to their own mistakes, are never wrong, and will blame other people (typically their subordinates) when something goes wrong, even if it's not based on reality. They are simply not accountable for their own actions. They are more concerned with preserving their reputation and saving face.

3. Has no interest in their people's personal lives

I've spoken to countless disengaged employees (many who quit) at different client sites who've personally shared how their managers have little interest in them as human beings--their personal lives, their aspirations, and their interests. In my assessments and surveys, I've discovered that these managers are disconnected and disengaged from their workers; they don't develop personal relationships or foster collaboration, and they spend considerable time making and communicating decisions behind emails and through formal company announcements.

4. Manages through fear

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen in my coaching practice is managers who micromanage every move. Big mistake! Whether they know it or not, they have fostered an unpleasant climate where employees are constantly watching over their backs. Facing such a manager during the day probably means bad news because the exchange is never positive. This type of manager will create distrust where it's not safe to disclose information, offer input, or work in close collaboration. Unfortunately, they miss the grand opportunity to allow freedom for others to experiment, grow, stretch, and make mistakes (which will unleash discretionary effort that will produce great results).

5. Fails to listen

Finally, this is a big one that flies below the radar for people-challenged managers. It's the lack of active and respectful listening and two-way communication (sending without receiving). This is a clear shortcoming for managers who lack leadership skills. The willingness to listen to constructive feedback--especially the kind you don't want to hear--or to the ideas, opinions, and expertise of others is a strong quality of a good leader, but non-existent in a toxic, micromanaged environment where people don't feel valued. Unfortunately, if you've ever worked with this type of manager, it can be downright exhausting and suck the life out of you. Which of these have you personally experienced?

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