Toxic leadership, even when removed can leave behind a culture of tension, fear, and a feeling of insecurity. Like being in a family home where abuse is standard, once the child of the abused environment leaves the abusive parent, they struggle to lead productive lives. They may even harbor traits of the abuser and may begin to repeat the very behavior of the abuser. This has been seen in organizations with toxic leadership even once removed. So how do we heal an organization that is going through this? More importantly, how does the new leadership begin to make changes in the culture to remove the remnants of a toxic environment? It does begin with the new leadership but that is just your first step in recovery. The organizational leadership needs to evaluate attributes of the toxic leader in order to address them. In most cases, the common theme of a toxic leader is:
- Lead with fear and intimidation
- Narcissistic behavior
- Raise their voices when not being heard
- Favoritism to those who honor them/Discriminatory to others
- “It is my way or the highway” mentality
- Full control – no empowerment
- Never accept responsibility, as everyone else causes the problems
- Workplace bullying
All too often, organizations struggle in identifying and correcting toxic leadership behaviors, so take advantage of a third-party consultant to assist with communication between the team and the new leader. As seen time and again, staff may be more open and honest with a third party on the underlying concerns of the culture they have been working in, especially if those associates are given a degree of anonymity. An outside consultant can also assist the new leader with ways to earn the trust of their team. Patience and consistency in the new leadership message and the vision is critical to changing a culture. If the new leader is from the same organization, things may need to be managed differently than if an outside leader is brought in. A consultant can help make this transition smoother for everyone. Common areas to consider for immediate results:
- Remove all bias and favoritism.
- Be honest and talk openly about the underlying culture.
- Provide clear communication that anyone in the organization mirroring the behavior of the former toxic leader will not be tolerated.
- Invest in the employees.
All in all, time and patience are required to heal a toxic culture once the toxic leader is removed. Good cultures share in the way they perform, their values, and their goals. Toxic environments survive on just the opposite. Focus on needs of the employees, listen to their concerns, and lead them to a more productive and positive environment. Keep in mind, for a toxic leader to survive, they require susceptible followers and a conducive environment. So, removing a toxic leader and not working through the concerns of the staff (needing to belong, low confidence, fear) or evaluating the environment (instability, threats, lack of governance), a new leader will be met with unhappy employees. Understanding what the underlying problems were that provided the environment for a toxic leader is vital.
I will close by sharing my experience with a police department where our firm was called in as an outside third party to determine the reason for their high turnover. The employees were provided a safe environment to share their concerns with anonymity. With personal interviews of every employee and the leaders of the organization, the end result was a toxic leader. In working through the changes that needed to happen, addressing the needs of the employees, and evaluating the environment, a new leader was placed. It will take time and patience to heal this organization, but it is off to a great start. I also realized and wish to share, that police departments face two cultures:
- The working environment in the police department, and
- The environment of public opinion.
Both of which can be toxic and contribute to the higher-than-normal suicidal rate currently experienced in their industry. It is stated that law enforcement suicide claims more lives than felonious killings or accidental deaths in the line of duty as cited by the American Association of Suicidology “Facts & Statistics.” With a toxic public opinion and toxic leaders, it can be understood how these statistics are high. Even though it takes more than just removing the toxic leader, it does begin there. By not acting, you are placing your people in harm’s way emotionally and turnover will be high. Act, but understand, depending on how long the toxic environment has been in place, it will take time to heal. If you are experiencing high turnover or simply need assistance on improving your current culture, contact LMSolutions on our website, http://www.lmsolutionsllc.com and let’s chat. Keep in mind, toxic leaders can change if they are willing. Typically, they are not open for the constructive criticism, and they see everyone else as the problem.