Toxic Leadership: Bricks in the Wall

Posted by on December 17, 2019

Emotional Intelligence is the art of self awareness. A growth mindset believes we can all continue to grow and improve in abilities; that there is no arbitrary self-limit. The very act of being open to feedback in our own strengths and weaknesses is a powerful catalyst in our growth.

That’s the good news. 

The not-so-good news is that in the hands of a bad person, these same traits can be weaponized against their practitioner.


 In the words of Pink Floyd:

When we grew up and went to school there were certain teachers  who would hurt the children any way they could. By pouring their derision upon anything we did; Exposing every weakness, however carefully hidden by the kids

Pink Floyd

Toxic people, especially those with positional authority over you have the ability to pour derision on your self awareness. To expose and exploit weakness or failure not with the intention to build up and develop,  but to tear down,  hurt or harm.

Self aware people are especially susceptible, because familiarity with their weaknesses is so much part of who they are and what makes them excellent.

Is my self-awareness being used against me?

But it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between brutal honesty, intended to help you improve, and being intentionally dismantled. It’s important to first consider the validity of the messages you’re receiving. And as you consider, be on the lookout for these warning signs that help you know if you should be focusing on self improvement or self protection:

  • You’re getting vague, inconsistent or contradictory feedback
  • Feedback passed along  from unidentified sources that’s so lacking in specifics as to be un-actionable.
  • No attempt to balance negative feedback with positive
  • You’re treated differently by the same person depending on the audience (e.g. 1 on 1 versus groups)
  • “Coaching” is frequently after the fact, in the form of “why didn’t you…”, “you should have…”
  • You’re criticized for doing something you were earlier told to do
  • Reporting of accomplishments greeted with “yeah, but…” followed by an unrelated criticism
  • Your actions are frequently interpreted in a negative light, and facts don’t change the person’s critical view of you
  • Withholding of deserved praise, or giving credit to others for your success.
  • Consistent pattern of your ideas being wrong, and others’ right – especially when others are ‘right’ for saying the same thing you said that was ‘wrong’.

If you’re consistently experiencing these, time for action!

  • Don’t tolerate disrespect
  • Call out toxic behavior
  • Actively gate keep the messages you allow to take up residence in your mind
  • Seek advice of a trusted friend or advisor who’s outside the situation
  • Start searching for other opportunities

Birds of a feather

There’s an old saying:

You can’t keep the birds from flying above your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair

 Be on the lookout for the warning signs above, and if you start seeing patterns, time to take action!

Posted in: Leadership
  1. Stuart Teo
    January 5, 2020

    Good stuff, Greg!

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