Several years ago NPR published a great article about the impact of something that I think we all would agree is a problem, and not just in the military.
Aside from the horrifying findings of the research (toxic leaders playing a role in the suicide of our soldiers), the article painted a vivid picture of a very special kind of leader, one that I have encountered in many places. The article speaks to a new definition printed in the Army’s leadership bible (Army Doctrine Publication) that I think most, in and out of the military, can relate to:
“Toxic leadership is a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance. This leader lacks concern for others and the climate of the organization, which leads to short- and long-term negative effects. The toxic leader operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest. Toxic leaders consistently use dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves. The negative leader completes short-term requirements by operating at the bottom of the continuum of commitment, where followers respond to the positional power of their leader to fulfill requests. This may achieve results in the short term, but ignores the other leader competency categories of leads and develops. Prolonged use of negative leadership to influence followers undermines the followers’ will, initiative, and potential and destroys unit morale.” Army Doctrine Publication 6-22
The article provides clear insight into and examples of the damage that can be inflicted by toxic leaders. While the suicide rate of corporate employees may not be spiking, the effects are no less dramatic in overall organizational impact (outcomes). Setting aside the emotion laced conversation of suicide, simply replace that with voluntary resignation. Toxic leadership negatively impacts the investment made in every new hire (military or corporate) by limiting the potential return (outputs) from that investment and significantly impacting the life cycle of the asset itself (separation or quitting without leaving). Longer-term, my bet is that while suicide may not be a typical result of toxic leaders in corporate America, the damage it does or has potential to do to our current employees and future leaders themselves, personally and professionally is significant.
It’s really pretty simple, just not easy!