Recently, I enjoyed a good conversation with a new friend. It was an unusual conversation for me in that I spoke very little. John (not his real name) shared with me about his experiences with toxic leaders. His experiences were quite different from others I have heard.
Most of my conversations about abusive leaders are with those who have been traumatized by the toxic leader. What was unique was that he has often been the one standing up for others who have been abused, rather than being the target. John’s demeanor could be described as “gutsy.”
I called him gutsy more than once in the 45-minute conversation. He has shown extraordinary self-differentiation in standing against powerful people. What I believed to be underlying his self-differentiation was that he repeatedly went back to Galatians 5:1.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
He noted that people fail to stand up to abusive bosses because they fear the consequences of their actions. They believe they will become even more of a target of the supervisor’s abuse or possibly even fired. Many report they are fearful of leaving their current position without a good reference as they seek further employment and so do not want to be in conflict with their boss. For these reasons and more, they remain in bondage to a job and boss that causes them emotional and often, physical harm.
However, John was adamant that it is “enslavement to their work that keeps [them] from speaking up.” He finds it inexplicable that “in America we are in the land of the free and home of the brave, but when [a worker’s] liberty is at stake they fail to exercise their liberty.”
John readily noted in an email to me that “the traumatic effects on people subject to abusive environments are long lasting,” and added, “I don’t know how those affected cope with it.” He described multiple situations where friends were deeply traumatized. One suffered so much emotional trauma by an employer, she has had to endure multiple surgeries for physical maladies he believes to have been brought on by the abuse.
But, he said, “These very bad experiences and outcomes are why toxic leadership and environments must not be allowed to prevail.” His numerous experiences in confronting toxic leaders provide a wealth of helpful guidance for those feeling caught in work environments full of toxins. I would summarize his advice in two ways:
Rely on Christ. Our identity is not in the particular work position we hold and toxic work environments are not worthy of holding us enslaved. Therefore, do not fear standing up to the abusive leader if Christ is directing you this way. Jesus is more than able to take care of your needs, including, but not limited to providing a new job! “Not everyone can, but God will help those who speak up for the right.”
Know the leader’s toxins and do all you can to bring others into your band of confronters. John noted that normally toxic leaders “leave a trail of destruction in their wake” and your task is to find those who have been run over and share the burden of confrontation together. It is helpful for the organization to see (and hear) that the boss is hurting the productivity and vision of the organization from many under the toxic boss’ leadership.
John is clearly a curve breaker. He has had extraordinary success in confronting the evil of toxic bosses. He described multiple experiences where the toxins were neutralized and the abused won the day. The targets remained in their positions unlike what statistics tell us to expect. The percentages for this success are extraordinarily low, yet John has marched into several manager’s offices and explained clearly their failings in caring for their employees. As he said, “People always have a dignity. Organizations are not to mistreat their workers.”
John expects bosses to recognize and practice these Biblical truths and will continue to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.
 Gary Namie, “2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey,” Workplace Bullying Institute, accessed November 1, 2016, http://www.workplacebullying.org. According to the survey, only 15% of the bullies lost their job and 61% of the targets lost theirs.