How to Fix Toxic Leadership Behaviors that Cause Employees to Leave

BY Kathy Crosett
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If you’re lucky enough to have your dream team in place, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize it. As a leader, you’re also human and probably exhibit a few behaviors that turn people off. If you don’t address any of your toxic tendencies, you’re in danger of losing your valuable team members.


In a Psychology Today article, Jean Kim writes that bosses who won’t listen to feedback are setting themselves up for failure. They may come into an organization like human wrecking balls and insist that team members do things their way. Their attitude is detrimental to the team and the bottom line. In the forthcoming Voice of the Sales Manager survey from SalesFuel, one manager told us, “I had a new boss who was not familiar with our business and process and instituted new programs without getting input from me or the team. It resulted in a 6% loss in revenue. I felt underappreciated and taken advantage of in this situation.” Ouch. If your behaviors come across like this, slow down. Think through your actions. Ask team members for input and follow some of their advice.

Rewarding Incompetence

At an early age, we learn to recognize who is pulling their own weight and who isn’t. This recognition may be linked to our concept of fairness. We believe that when a colleague isn’t doing their job, they shouldn’t continue to be rewarded with recognition, bonuses or even a salary. Kim writes, “When employees see a leader ignore or even reward and protect bad behavior, their morale and dissatisfaction will foment accordingly.” As a leader, you may be too removed from the situation to realize that a specific employee isn’t completing tasks or coming to work on time. Fellow team members know exactly what’s going on. Instead of working efficiently, they’re gossiping about why you haven’t taken care of a known problem. To get your employees on track, pay attention to what’s happening. Put your slackers on a performance plan or show them the door.


We all like to know the rules. Whether we are playing a game or trying to get our work done, following agreed-​upon rules establishes consistency. If a team member makes a deal with a client that goes against company policy, other team members will find out. They want to know why they can’t give their clients the same discount. If you don’t have a good answer, or if it seems that you’re playing favorites, the rest of the team will lose their motivation to work harder. 

Dr. Kim writes about other toxic leadership traits that you might want to address. For many of us, this advice may seem like common sense. The problem is our common sense might be lacking when the demands of the job stress and overwhelm us. That’s why it’s important to take a few minutes every day to center ourselves emotionally, to consciously plan what we want to accomplish, and preserve enough energy to support our employees. Remember that nobody's perfect. When team members see you trying to improve yourself, they'll want to do the same.