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Are You a Bad Boss? 3 Signs of Toxic Leadership 4.71/5 (28)

In the workplace, the tone that the leadership sets is the largest determining factor in how those underneath them will respond in their work. I have worked under absolutely terrible “bosses,” and over incredibly hard-working employees. The single greatest thing a new manager can learn is a healthy self-awareness, and how their leadership will determine their team’s success. Here are a few hallmarks of a bad leader that I’ve experienced (and, frankly sometimes practiced. No one’s perfect).

1.) Poor Communication

“My way or the highway! If you’re not making money, I don’t c- Gee, why’s everybody leaving?” (

Are you communicating enough with your employees? I can say with certainty that you probably aren’t. Frankly, you can never communicate too much with your team – checking in, identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, and even just getting to know the people that work for you. This is much different from micromanaging; you are showing your employees that you care, you want them to succeed, and you’re willing to get your hands dirty alongside them (not for them) to make that happen. So many complaints that employees have about their leaders can be solved simply by communicating efficiently with them.

While working for The Container Store a few years back, I underwent some pretty rigorous training to make sure that everything we did aligned with the core values of the company, and ultimately, made the store more successful. (It’s one of the reasons that TCS has been listed in Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for almost two decades.) The biggest lesson that has stuck with me after all those years is the statement: “Communication IS leadership. They are the same thing.” We wore headsets at all times and talked with each other non-stop throughout each shift to make sure everyone got the help they needed quickly. Questions were answered by co-workers and managers in the moment they were asked. Customers were helped within seconds. I know for a fact that our sales increased because customers saw us move quickly and get things solved for them. Everyone on the job also got along much better because we knew we could count on each other.

I can’t stress this enough: communication breeds trust, and trust breeds pride, loyalty, and hard work from your team. If you cannot communicate, refuse to communicate, or ignore your subordinates, you are not a boss; you’re a figurehead earning a paycheck, and your employees will not trust or respect you. Period. In the best case scenario, they will remain enthusiastic about the job but disillusioned as to their worth or importance. In the worst case, they will treat their work like you treat them, and ignore it.

2.) Following the Golden Rule

Treating everyone the same can turn your team from dynamic to an army of robots.

You might think that this is a sign of GREAT leadership. Nope. It’s a sign of passable leadership. You don’t want to be just “good.”

We all know the Golden Rule; to treat others the way we would like to be treated. It’s a good first step, but your employees will likely all want to be treated differently because they are driven by different things.

For example, you might be training several new customer service reps in your new role as a team leader. One of them is intense and extroverted, bringing up the energy of the whole team. He loves getting public praise for his accomplishments but can be very sensitive about critique. A couple of others are more soft spoken, but you learn quickly that they have excellent phone skills. They prefer to get their kudos or reprimands on your one-on-one sessions, and one of them likes to get very specific feedback on how they can improve and rise to management over time. One employee is a bit more brusque, but is incredibly detail-oriented and systemizes everything. Praise is nice, but she’s more interested in getting paid what she’s worth.

You cannot treat these people as yourself because they are not the same people. They have vastly different motivations in their work, and they will all want something different from you. If you meet them where they are, find out what makes them tick, and play to their strengths, you will end up with a cohesive team that knows that you respect them, and that you have their back.

3.) Taking the title “Supervisor” literally

If you’re just there to make sure they’re at their desks, delegate tasks, and collect data, you’re doing it wrong. Really, really wrong.

You are in a position of leadership. That does not mean that you just make sure everyone does their job and assign projects, it means you teach and train those people to do their job better to achieve the results you want. Ideally, they will move up in your company. Perhaps they’ll take their skills elsewhere if need be. But if your people are not leaving from work better at something than when they arrived, you are missing the entire point of being in your role.

Another TCS anecdote from my sales days: “1 great person = 3 good people.” Want to turn those 3 good people into a team of nine? Mentor them. What’s not working? What do they not understand? If you can’t necessarily spend the time to train them on everything, what other tools can you give them?

As a leader, you are poised to make a positive impact on the lives of the people who work for you, each and every day. The opportunity that this brings you will either yield massive employee loyalty, or you’ll be scratching your head wondering why turnover is so high. There is always room for improvement – ask yourself what you can do to lead others better than you have been.

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Sylvia Gaenzle

Sylvia Gaenzle

Sylvia is the storyteller-in-chief at American Grit, with over 200 articles written and 1,000 edited. A photographer, videographer, and avid reader, she believes that stories are the most powerful way to inspire, educate, and motivate others.