In the leadership space and even outside of it, we’ve heard about quizzes and analytics that measure our personality type, our strengths, our emotional intelligence, our love language, and so on.  These all provide an incredible treasure trove of insights that can be a gold mine for those who enjoy self-development and self-awareness. One of the areas of deep understanding that often goes overlooked, however, are those specifically devoted to helping individuals understand their leadership type.  Especially when there are aspects of toxic leadership to become aware of.

Why is it important to know your leadership type? For one, your team will naturally begin to emulate your leadership style in the workplace the more they work with you. An organized leader will typically encourage organized workers.  Just as a disorganized leader will encourage disorganization. Similarly, a leader who encourages collaboration and input will often see employees who freely share their ideas and bounce projects off each other.  Those with toxic leadership traits, who repeatedly shoot down ideas or criticize their team’s contributions will find their workers to be tight-lipped in meetings and unwilling to offer their thoughts for fear of reproach.

Your leadership style affects your team

Knowing just how much your leadership style affects your team, their productivity, and the overall workplace as a whole, you can begin to see why knowing your leadership type is essential.  When you understand how toxic relationships at work can poison your work environment then you know you have to do something about it.

For the most part, throughout developing your skills and talents in the workplace, you tend to come into your leadership style on your own.  But we often carry with us the behaviours and leadership practices that we’ve learned from others.  This isn’t always a good thing and can be toxic leadership.

Below, you’ll find 4 types of leadership styles you don’t want to emulate. Then we go on to show how you can fix them if you recognize any of the behaviours in yourself.

1. The Best Friend

This type of leader is overly concerned with relationships and how not to spoil them.

They tend to have a wonderful personality but they find difficult conversations (i.e. performance reviews) too challenging and will typically only tell you what you want to hear—even if you have areas of improvement.

Their friendship with their employees is their topmost priority, even if it comes to the detriment of an unproductive workplace.

Does this sound like you? Here’s what to do:

Employees need a leader, not a friend.

There’s nothing wrong with fostering an environment where people feel appreciated, validated, and happy. When you’re too concerned about being everyone’s best friend, it’s a sign of toxic leadership and you only fail your employees.

Leadership is a lot like parenting in that way. As much as parents may want to spoil their children, they also know that part of the deal is moulding the child into a person who is one day responsible, successful, and upstanding—and sometimes, that means making hard decisions or setting firmer expectations or pushing your team outside their comfort zone.

When you do this, your team will be better for it and your workplace will thrive.

2. The Perfectionist

This leader is a stickler for perfection.

Everything must be right, or it’s just not good enough. Finicky, picky, and difficult to deal with, this leader creates a climate where people are highly stressed because they are so concerned with getting things right.

Realistically, nobody will ever meet the standards this toxic leadership style demands.  They spend many hours on weekends reworking things to get them right.

Interestingly, sometimes this boss doesn’t deal with consequences for not getting things right and just does it themselves.

Unfortunately, this only creates laziness in the team. Why would you bother doing a great job when you know it’s just going to get redone anyway?

Does this sound like you? Here’s what to do:

In a way, perfectionists are nothing more than micro-managers who like to control everything.

This behaviour, however, is incredibly obsessive. Further, it only creates feelings of distrust among your employees (i.e. our leader doesn’t trust us to get the job done well).

You must learn to loosen the rein and give your employees space and independence to do their jobs. Your only role should be to assign tasks, explain your expectations, and then provide feedback as necessary.

Most importantly: understand that the finished product may not look exactly how you’d imagined it, but what matters is having given someone the chance to step up to the plate and The Morning Email.

Wake up to the day’s most important news.

3. Mr. or Mrs Unavailable

This type of leader is something of an elusive lone wolf.

It’s often hard to pin them down for a conversation because they usually have a ‘second office’ somewhere (maybe a coffee shop down the street or even their own home office) where they prefer to work.

Simply put, this type of leader just isn’t a people person in the least bit. They avoid human contact, especially when it comes to employee interaction. This leader avoids difficult conversations and challenging situations and pretty much leaves you on your own.

Teamwork doesn’t exist in their workplace and neither do career goal discussions.

Does this sound like you? Here’s what to do:

We all have different personality types.  If the above describes you, it may be that you simply find human interaction to be draining. You may be the type who retreats to solitude to recharge your batteries.

However, the fact still stands that if you are a leader, then you have a responsibility to lead your team. Your employees don’t need you to look over their shoulders 24/7. However, they do require direction from you.

Be clear on what your expectations are. Provide feedback regularly. Most importantly: be accessible to your employees and intentional about building relationships with them.

Workplaces with an open-door policy (meaning leaders are on-site and available) make for happier and more productive workplaces.

4. The Egomaniac

This leader is only happy when they are in charge of everything and everybody.

Often aggressive and antagonistic, they are highly critical, micromanage their team, and undermine and take credit.  Even when the credit belongs to someone else entirely. A warning sign is the presence of a ‘power office’ in the workplace.  The best and biggest office on-site, plastered with all the awards the team has won.

This boss doesn’t use the word “we” and often prides himself or herself on the ability to reduce adults to tears.

If you work for this boss, you will need a hide like an elephant or a stash of tissues.

Does this sound like you? Here’s what to do:

While it’s reasonable to expect a level of respect from your employees, using intimidation tactics to force respect will only result in an unhealthy workplace.

In the face of bullying, humiliation, aggression, threats, and general intimidation, workers can react in any number of ways. Many will resent you, and still, others will withdraw into themselves, unfortunately keeping their best work locked up inside them for fear of criticism.

As a result, productivity suffers, as does basic team morale.

Such antagonistic behaviours on your part have no place in the workplace, and if you want to change, then you might want to consider bringing in team-building specialists as well as those who can help you rebuild your workplace culture.

Toxic Leadership Behaviours

In addition to those 4 main toxic leadership styles, here are some further toxic leadership behaviours you might encounter on the way.

1. Lack of Empathy

A toxic leader often lacks empathy and fails to understand or care about the feelings and well-being of their team members. This lack of empathy can lead to a work environment where employees feel undervalued, unheard, and emotionally drained. Such leaders are typically indifferent to the stress or challenges faced by their team and are more focused on achieving goals, regardless of the emotional cost to others.

2. Overbearing Micromanagement

Toxic leaders often engage in excessive micromanagement, demonstrating a lack of trust in their team’s abilities. This behaviour can stifle creativity and independence among team members, leading to a demotivating work environment. Employees under such leadership may feel constantly scrutinized and unable to make decisions independently, which can hinder their professional growth and job satisfaction.

3. Manipulative Behavior

Manipulative behaviour is a hallmark of toxic leadership. Such leaders use deceit, coercion, or exploitation to influence and control others for their advantage. This can create an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, where team members are unsure of the leader’s intentions and feel compelled to conform to their demands, often at the expense of their values or well-being.

4. Inconsistent Communication

Inconsistent communication is a significant trait of toxic leaders. They may provide unclear instructions, change expectations without notice, or withhold important information. This lack of clear communication can lead to confusion, inefficiencies, and a lack of direction among team members, negatively impacting the overall performance of the team.

5. Blame Shifting

Toxic leaders often shift blame onto others to avoid taking responsibility for their own mistakes or failures. This behaviour can create a culture of fear and defensiveness, where team members are reluctant to take risks or innovate due to the fear of being blamed for potential failures.

6. Intimidation Tactics

Using intimidation tactics, such as threats, aggressive behaviour, or verbal abuse, is common among toxic leaders. This creates an oppressive work environment where employees feel unsafe and stressed, leading to decreased morale and productivity.

7. Lack of Transparency

A lack of transparency in decision-making and communication is another trait of toxic leadership. Such leaders often operate with hidden agendas or make decisions without involving or informing their team, leading to a lack of trust and respect within the organization.

8. Unreasonable Demands

Toxic leaders often set unrealistic or unreasonable demands on their team members. This can include excessive workloads, tight deadlines, or expectations of constant availability. Such demands can lead to burnout, decreased job satisfaction, and a high turnover rate.

9. Favoritism

Showing favouritism towards certain employees while disregarding or undermining others is a common toxic leadership trait. This can demoralize the team, create divisions, and lead to a lack of fairness and equity in the workplace.

10. Disregard for Work-Life Balance

Toxic leaders often show little regard for their employees’ work-life balance. They may expect team members to work long hours, be available outside of work hours, or sacrifice personal time for work, leading to stress and a poor quality of life.

11. Resistance to Feedback

A toxic leader typically resists feedback, especially if it is critical. They may react defensively or dismissively to constructive criticism, making it difficult for team members to voice concerns or suggest improvements.

12. Self Centred

Self-centred traits, such as an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of regard for others’ feelings, are common in toxic leaders. This can lead to self-centred decision-making and a lack of empathy for the team.

13. Exploiting Others

Toxic leaders often exploit their team members for personal gain. This can include taking credit for others’ work, overworking employees without fair compensation, or using their position of power for personal benefit at the expense of the team.

14. Creating a Culture of Fear

A toxic leader may intentionally or unintentionally create a culture of fear within the team. This can be through unpredictable behaviour, harsh criticism, or the threat of job loss, leading to a stressful and hostile work environment.

15. Lack of Vision

A lack of clear vision or direction is another trait of toxic leadership. Such leaders may not have a coherent strategy or fail to communicate their vision effectively, leading to confusion and a lack of purpose among team members.

16. Inflexibility

Inflexibility or unwillingness to adapt to new ideas, changes, or feedback is a common trait of toxic leaders. This can stifle innovation and growth within the team and prevent the organization from adapting to changing circumstances.

17. Playing Political Games

Toxic leaders often engage in office politics to gain personal advantage. This includes backstabbing, gossiping, or forming cliques, which can undermine teamwork and trust within the organization.

18. Disrespectful Behavior

Showing disrespect towards team members, whether through belittling comments, public humiliation, or disregard for their opinions, is a key trait of toxic leadership. This behaviour can damage self-esteem and lead to a lack of motivation and engagement.

19. Lack of Recognition

Failing to acknowledge or appreciate the hard work and achievements of team members is a trait of toxic leaders. This lack of recognition can lead to a feeling of undervaluation and demotivation among employees.

20. Emotional Volatility

Emotional volatility, such as unpredictable mood swings or overreactions to minor issues, is a characteristic of toxic leadership. This unpredictability can create an environment of uncertainty and anxiety among team members.

Leadership is an ongoing journey

What’s important to remember is that leadership is an ongoing journey. We’re always developing ourselves and acquiring new talents and skills along the way.

If you’re not satisfied with your leadership style, or you know it needs some fine-tuning for the benefit of your employees and workplace, it’s never too late to turn a new leaf.

One particular great idea is to hire a high-level coach who can help you step into exactly the type of leader you want to be. With their guidance and insights, you’ll not only shorten your learning curve—you’ll be surprised by how your employees and workplace change right along with you.

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Ros Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.