Is Your Boss Creating a Toxic Work Environment?

boss-454867_1280As we all know, there are as many different leadership styles as there are leaders. The most effective leaders actually know how to adapt their style to the one that best meets the needs of a current situation.

Although advantages and disadvantages exist within each leadership style, there are a few styles that we definitely could do without in our work environments. These leadership styles do more harm than good, for everyone involved. And despite creating a temporarily false inflation of the ego of the leader himself, the one most negatively damaged in the long run is in fact the leader.

A toxic leadership style

One of these toxic leadership styles is the commanding leadership. Despite its name, this is not a well-functioning military leadership. On the contrary, some of my most successful clients have been former military leaders with a deeply rooted servant leadership foundation – learned and taught well in the military.

Interested primarily in her own image and advancement, a commanding leader’s main objective is to be saved. Self-preservation and personal image is at the forefront of most decisions and entitlement of the position is more important than its responsibilities.

For a commanding leader, co-workers are seen and treated as inferiors. Since its important for a commanding leader to create an atmosphere of dependence on her – using power of position to influence and positioning herself – her team members are rarely invited to participate in decision making or offered important information. If her team members get invited to join the discussion, their input is most often bypassed. The commanding leader’s need to “secure her role” is also the reason why she’s only easily accessible to her closest co-workers.

“You ARE going to listen to me, I’m the BOSS!” 

Contrary to the desires of servant leaders, a commanding leader wants others to first listen to her. She – most often aggressively – rejects constructive criticism, takes credit for accomplishments, condemns others for mistakes and very reluctantly accepts responsibility as for her, that’s a sign of weakness.

The commanding leader uses intimidation to silence critics – she’s defensive and aggressive in nature – and she wins support for ideas through deception, power plays and manipulation. Since her authority is not based on voluntarily followership from her employees, she needs to use external controls in the form of rules, restrictions and regulations maintained by force.

An important quality of a great leader is his ability to discover “in-house talents”. A commanding leader however has little to none interest in developing competent successors. On the contrary, she does everything to ensure her own survival, hence promotes individuals who are pliable. In fact, she rarely trains or coaches others to function effectively as she does not want “competition”.

A commanding leader is subconsciously controlled by her fear – fear of being disrespected, not having control, not being seen as “someone important/successful/talented”, being “found out” etc. Although she would not admit to fear based actions – her main objective is after all an image of being “perfect” – this fear is so strong it consumes her work life. Which is why you often see or hear her complain about being “stressed out” or having “so much on her plate”.

My boss is a commanding bully – what can I do?

It’s absolutely not a pleasant experience working for or with a commanding leader. Unfortunately there isn’t very much you can do about your boss or her problems. A commanding leader most often has a fantastic talent for manipulation, hence manages to stay in an organization until it becomes very clear to her superiors that the one common denominator for reoccurring “issues” – high turnover, employee and/or customer complaints etc. – is her and not all those other employees who either was terminated (on her suggestion) or resigned (as fast as they could).

For you, however, the best thing to do is to get out – leave the sinking ship – and find a good organization to work for! A top executive who do not have the awareness of noticing a commanding leader in his organization at an early stage, rarely have the courage to act on the toxic work environment until his leadership and capability to run the organization is questioned.

Although that breaking point is usually the time when we are contracted as consultants, it’s a long process and for you as an employee it’s rarely worth it. Start looking for something else – it’s always easier when you already have an employment -, approach this as a learning experience and move on to an organization and leadership that values its employees. There are plenty of them out there!

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