Those who work for toxic bosses are often a bit blind to and fail to understand abuse. There are toxic bosses and there are “garden-variety bad” bosses.
There is a difference. And it makes a big difference.
Do you want some tactics for “navigating the wilderness at work?” Chappelow, Ronayne, and Adams have written an enjoyable little book that can help point the way through your suffering under a toxic boss. Most people who are under toxic leadership do not have the time or energy to read a scholarly work on toxic leadership.
What is Toxic?
I maintain that it is much safer to be feared than loved, if you have to do without one of the two. [Niccolo Machiavelli]
The “Toxic Boss Survival Guide” begins by defining what is a truly toxic boss and the “garden-variety” type.
Some of the distinguishing characteristics Chappelow, et. al. give for a toxic boss are abusive, micro-manager, Narcissistic, demanding, tyrannical, verbally abusive, belittling, and arrogant, among others. On the other hand, if your boss is simply rude, impersonal, indecisive, wimpy, critical, and annoying, he is likely just bad.
The authors’ simple description is:
Toxic bosses are ones who use destructive, often intentional, behaviors to serve themselves and their own agenda, causing excessive harm to their subordinates and other coworkers. [page 8]
If you are working under one of these, consider their advice worth taking: “There is no feedback diplomatic enough to get through to them…Your goal at this point is not to help the toxic boss make the necessary behavioral changes so that everyone can be happier and more productive.”
“Rotten bosses don’t get better. Any strategy that assumes they can is doomed.” [Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert]
Unfortunately, toxic bosses are common in businesses, Christian organizations, and churches. And often they go on unhindered destroying the lives of those who work for them.
The authors note these bosses frequently brown-nose and manipulate their supervisors or boards and therefore go undetected. The employees sometimes are completely “cowed” into silence and so those who have the power to make changes are oblivious to the need.
In our own case, the board was told the missionaries working under the CEO and complaining of his toxic behavior needed psychological help. The reason so many left the organization “just couldn’t handle living in Africa.”
The turnover rate in organizations is costly. Many organizations lose their best and most talented workers because they will refuse to live in those circumstances. The impact of these abusers is deeply felt.
Even if the employees stick around, the amount of sick leave, emotional breakdowns, and relational damage is so great, it is difficult to get any work done. Sleeplessness, headaches, the inability to leave work at work, and other maladies create a living hell for employees.
In addition, the authors note the damage done to each generation in a fast-paced world where creativity is the name of the game. When a toxic boss ridicules, steals ideas, and crushes those who take risks, the ability of the organization to mold and adapt to their context for further ministry is weakened.
From a Christian perspective, this is not about making more money, but about the development of people as image-bearers of God. They are given talent and skills that God desires to be used for His glory and when a toxic boss shuts them down, he is strangling the work of God.
“People leave managers, not companies.” [Victor Lipman]
According to the “Guide,” toxic bosses are not difficult to spot. The authors group them into six primary categories:
- Egomaniac: “Arrogant, selfish, and quick to claim credit for everything everyone else accomplished.” He is a “shameless self-promoter.” Unlike the Narcissist, he is not influenced by the approval of others.
- Tyrant: They “control by oppression, often using whatever power they have in cruel and unfair ways.” He is the consummate “bully.”
- Two-Face: The two-faced boss will say one thing to one group and say another thing to another…always to make the toxic boss look good. He may also say one thing and do another.
- Control-Freak: These bosses are extraordinary micromanagers. They are over the top in controlling every move of every person in the office. They are “unable to delegate,” “domineering,” and “oppressive.”
- Slimeball: They have a “total lack of integrity.” “They break the rules to get out of bad situations or simply use dishonest means for their personal gains.”
- Narcissist: Narcissists are normally horrible listeners, very sensitive to criticism, and have little or no empathy. They are different from Egomaniacs in that they are over-the-top interested in the approval others. They may ask for feedback, but only want it if it is flattering to them.
The authors observed in their research that “insecurity” plays a major role in all the above categories. Their study subjects often placed their boss in one of the above categories, but then added “insecure” to their description no matter the category.
It seems another common trait is that the insecurity of toxic leaders drives them to be “much safer feared than loved.” Ruling by greater force often becomes necessary when those you lead badly become disenchanted. Keeping people in line and under control is the ultimate goal.
Those leaders who fall into the categories listed in the Guide are not the normal, sinful, failures though there are many. As you can see in the descriptives above, they have real problems. How do we deal with those problematic leaders?
Chappelow, Craig, Peter Ronayne, and Bill Adams. The Toxic Boss Survival Guide: Tactics for Navigating the Wilderness at Work, 2018. https://www.books24x7.com/marc.asp?bookid=139235.