Four Ways to Handle a Toxic Leader

I recently spoke to some very close friends, each of whom had a negative experience with their supervisor.  When I say negative, I am being kind.  These leaders were toxic—they were critical, rude, selfish, accusatory, looking for what’s wrong and preoccupied with their own needs. They’re mute when it comes to encouragement, deaf when it comes to hearing the cries of those under them and blind when it comes to seeing the damaging affect they have on others. One friend told me she was consistently asked to lie regarding their company’s income (her boss claimed to be a Christian). Another told me her leader knew absolutely nothing about her and didn’t care to build any kind of relationship. (Her company employed only four people.)

These leaders are toxic. They can harm you if you stick around. So, how do you handle these leaders if you serve under them? Let me offer four ideas.

1. When asked to act against your values or to lie to someone, let your boss know you’re uncomfortable and that you’ll send the person to whom you’re supposed to lie—to them. Let your boss commit the crime if they choose to do so.

2. When your leader sends you texts or emails that are loaded with emotion, ask to meet face to face. Email and texts are meant for information not emotion. Force them to exhibit some backbone to face you and have a conversation.

3. When you receive all criticism and no encouragement—let your boss know you want to please them and you feel you’re not doing a good job with that. Ask to meet and clarify expectations. Ask if there’s anything you’re doing right and focus on that.

4. If you cannot sleep at night or consistently get an upset stomach from the mere thought of working under your leader—it’s likely time for a change. Toxic leaders may pay well, but the damage they can do to your emotions isn’t worth it. Get out, and do with diplomacy. Never burn any bridges.

Bad leaders are usually unhealthy people. Because they’re hurting, they hurt others. When they feel intimidated, they intimidate. In fact, I’ve noticed they often act out and accuse underlings of the very “sins” they commit themselves. Don’t lose your empathy for them, but don’t lose your objectivity either. If you plan to stay with an unhealthy leader, identify healthy friends who can support you and hold you accountable to stay healthy yourself.

Your thoughts?  Have you ever been under a bad boss? What did you do?


Four Ways to Handle a Toxic Leader