John Lodder: Toxic Management Styles Should Become Accountable Leadership

My December column starts, following my heart, about missing wellbeing and peace in a toxic society and in toxic organizations. Politicians created a distance with their citizens; they caused a large loss of motivation and interest, and created fear and unhappiness in their countries. Toxic managers created ditto in their organizations with the ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘Quite Quitting’ effects as consequences.

With a few short conclusions from recent reports to show that this is a decade long development and not caused by e.g. the Pandemic and/or Putin’s invasion in Ukraine.

From there I look into some Leadership developments like: ‘What if every employee becomes a leader?’ Four leadership skills for the next five years. ‘What about authentic Leadership?’ And, to close: ‘15 ways to become a more accountable Leader in 2023’.

Cross-Border Behavior

In response to 'cross-border behavior' by managers, a lot of attention was lately paid to ‘toxic leadership’ in Dutch media. Dark personality traits, Peter Principle, a performance-oriented society, bystanders as 'yes-men', and many possible other causes were discussed. A very essential question to answer is: “What makes it so difficult for victims to escape from a toxic power relationship?”

A framework by Prof. Breevaart gives a clear insight how to approach this subject by making a distinction between “barriers” on four levels. A very brief summary as shown in Figure 1:

The first level is about the broader social context: to what extent is abusive leadership something that is "culturally accepted"? Only a few years ago scolding executives were openly applauded, fortunately, the zeitgeist has changed in the meantime, a.o. thanks to the ‘me-too movement’.

In a second level the organizational context is examined. What is the culture of an organization? Is macho behavior encouraged? Perhaps the organization is so attractive (from the outside) that as an employee you have to be 'almost crazy' to rise abuses? Finally, are there procedures through which problem behavior can be safely reported?

The third level is about the manager him/herself. I already mentioned dark personality traits such as narcissism, (subclinical) psychopathy, sadism and Machiavellianism. Numerous studies show that these can lead to toxic leadership behavior. Research also indicates that these traits can be further nurtured (development!) by the environment.

As a fourth and final layer the framework pays attention to the victim him/herself. Here too, personality traits can play a role, such as a combination of a sense of duty and conflict avoidance. Strong identification with the job and/or loyalty to the organization further complicates the denunciation of toxic leadership behavior.

Conclusion: Toxic leadership is a multi-layered problem. It is valuable to conduct the discussion from such integrative frameworks. That requires some reading and study. But combined knowledge is richer knowledge and also offers tools for solutions.

Figure 1 - 4 Layers of Toxic Behavior.

A global study shows that 23% of workers experience violence and harassment               

More than one in five employed people worldwide -- 23% -- have experienced one or more forms of violence or harassment at work in their lives, according to a new global study.

The ILO-Lloyd’s Register Foundation-Gallup survey provides the first-ever global assessment of such experiences, asking more than 74,000 workers in 121 countries and territories about three forms of violence or harassment: physical, psychological and sexual.

In addition to measuring the incidence of each type of violence or harassment, the study provides vital information on who is most likely to experience it. Given that workplace violence and harassment frequently go unreported, the survey also asked self-reported victims of this abuse whether they had reported their experiences and about the reasons they may not have done so.

Workplace violence and harassment are widespread around the world.

The 23% of employed adults who had experienced at least one form of violence and harassment translates to nearly 750 million workers worldwide. Those who had experienced each of the three main forms of violence and harassment also number in the hundreds of millions:

-Psychological violence and harassment -- including insults, threats, bullying or intimidation -- was the most commonly reported form among men and women. Globally, 18% of employed people, representing almost 590 million workers, said they had experienced it in their working lives.

-Almost one in 10 workers worldwide (9% or nearly 280 million) said they had experienced physical violence and harassment, such as hitting, restraining or spitting.

-Women were more likely than men to report experiencing sexual violence and harassment, such as unwanted sexual touching, comments, pictures, emails or requests. Overall, 6% of employed people (more than 200 million) had experienced sexual violence and harassment, including 8% of women and 5% of men.    See Figure 2: