Life is short and there is less tolerance or need to work for a toxic “bosshole” these days. Ten years ago, I wrote a column for the May/ June issue of Training magazine on “How to Be a Great Bosshole” (https://pubs.royle.com/publication/?m=20617&i=158811&p=68). In light of the pandemic and other events of the last decade, it is time to reflect on what we have learned, what new challenges we will be facing, and what—if anything—Training and Development can do about toxic bosses.
ATTRIBUTES OF TOXIC BOSSHOLES
1. Lack of empathy: A toxic boss may have little regard for their employees’ feelings, needs, or perspectives.
2. Poor communication skills: They may communicate in a rude, dismissive, or aggressive manner, and may not provide clear or consistent direction.
3. Micromanagement: They may excessively control or monitor their employees’ work, undermining their autonomy and creating unnecessary stress.
4. Favoritism: They may show favoritism toward some employees, creating resentment and division within the team.
5. Blame-shifting: They may blame their employees for problems that are outside of their control or responsibility, refusing to take ownership or provide support.
6. Lack of recognition: They may fail to acknowledge or reward employees for their hard work and achievements, causing feelings of disengagement and demotivation.
7. Unreasonable expectations: They may set unrealistic or unachievable goals, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction among their team.
8. Bullying or harassment: Toxic bosses may engage in bullying, harassment, or discrimination, creating a hostile, unsafe work environment.
9. Use of fear: They know how to instill fear into their subordinates and use that fear to get their subordinates to do their work, while taking all the credit.
10. Taking credit, not blame: They listen to their subordinates hoping to learn a good idea to claim for themselves while never acknowledging their contribution to mistakes or failure.
11. Ignoring the personal needs of their subordinates: They are insensitive to their subordinates’ need for family time, parties, breaks, or access to the Internet for personal use.
12. Self-replication: They institute various procedures to identify, develop, and retain people just like themselves.
13. Uninterested in learning about “others” both domestically and internationally.
14. Have a myopic view of the world and use social media to reinforce their prevailing opinions and values.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Newer models of leadership post-pandemic focus on empathy, empowerment, inclusion, flexibility, and vulnerability. Leaders must know how to control their unconscious biases so they can make more rational decisions. Leaders must actively seek to overcome their domestic and global blind spots. Increasingly, leaders now are required to be more transparent—about the organization’s finances, its investments, its social and environmental responsibility. Executives are now keenly aware that who they hire, groom, and promote—and whether their decisions track with the expectations of an increasingly diverse workforce—will be monitored closely.
The cumulative impact of the societal and corporate response to the murder of George Floyd and others, and the need to work virtually or in a hybrid work environment, have made it clearer than ever that the qualities of a toxic bosshole are even more antithetical to today’s workplace and workforce. However, as reported by Katie Jones of Visual Capitalist, two-thirds of leaders “feel they create empowering environments in which employees can be themselves and innovative without fear of failure,” while only one-third of employees agree (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/how-to-avoidmediocre-leadership/). Jones further reports that 73 percent of employees spend a significant amount of time dealing with problems caused by toxic bosses.
We in Training and Development must examine what we teach so that unintended messages do not promote bosshole behavior. This includes all aspects of in-person and virtual learning and use of artificial intelligence (AI). When instructing in person, diplomatically point out toxic behaviors exhibited by participants. Relying on AI training may cause more problems. Unfortunately, AI has been shown to have hidden biases, as have chatbots, which often offer a disclaimer that the results may be biased.
Leadership programs should be reviewed to ensure that toxic behaviors are not implicitly included in such programs. All the good work being done to build and promote engagement and empowerment can be undermined by toxic bossholes. Let’s see what the next 10 years bring. Good luck!
If you have questions about training and toxic leaders or good examples you’d like to share, please send them to me at: