How To Handle a Toxic Leader

Toxic leadership is an unfortunate condition all to present in the contemporary workplace. Dr. Jan Hoistad offers some great tips on how to deal with a toxic leader and not lose you head:

  • Educate yourself about toxic, narcissistic, abusive bosses, Google the topic. Talk to others. You are not alone.
  • Go buy the book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family by Eleanor Payson. My professional coaching clients have found this and other books very helpful. Learn about the personality type you are confronting and get ideas for how to proceed.
  • Repeat after me…”I am not crazy. I am not crazy….I’m in a crazy-making situation. I’m in a crazy-making situation…”
  • Repeat the above frequently throughout your day.
  • Do not badmouth or participate in gossip
  • Contain the damage with good behavior
  • Do a good job. Remain professional and productive on the job. Focus on what you can do to be professional and stay adult — breathe, walk off exercise off the feelings that come up
  • Have a mantra like the one I give all my clients: “How would a healthy normal adult behave in this situation, if they were behaving with grace and dignity?” Then practice those behaviors.
  • Accept the fact that there are people like this on the planet, so instead of “OMG can you believe what he or she did or does….!” You accept that this is not healthy, normal behavior but pathological or a personality disorder or addiction of some kind. But these types live on the planet with us too, and it’s a lesson in getting educated and learning to take care of yourself, then stay away from such circumstances in the future (at least that would be my advice!)
  • As long as you stay create a cushion around you and know it will have an emotional and psychological effect on you anyway.
  • Create an exit strategy even if you do not know if you will choose to go. You’ll feel better knowing you could go.
  • Keep a list of your boss’s transgressions with dates and a little bit of information to tweak your memory if needed later. Do not keep this at the office.
  • Get a bunch of reality checks from friends, mate and professionals.
  • For your inner reality check, make a list of what you know about your past performance feedback etc to clarify your “truth,” to sort fact from fiction, and to keep your head on straight,
  • Hopefully you can talk with a few safe fellow employees (or past employees are even better) but be careful. Do it outside of work and do not gossip. Stay professional and do not reveal anymore than necessary unless these folks are truly your friends and you know their level of integrity.
  • Stay “Adult.” Leave your “little wounded child” your “inner child” at home. Kids should not be at work anyway. Your adult self can deal with this situation, unpleasant though it may be.
  • Do not confront your boss directly.
  • Be neutral, try not to cry, be angry or show much emotion. This can sometimes neutralize the boss, but know it can also cause weird retaliations because some of the personalities like to cause pain or see intimidation.
  • Please know that you probably have to leave the company. Know that your days are numbered and be the one to choose to go. Choose to work toward finding a better place to work — unless this boss retiring soon or leadership is aware and doing something about the bad boss. These actions must be sincere and strategic on the part of leadership, however. Don’t let yourself be strung along too long, but know that leadership is also working with legalities of dealing with a person such as your boss.
  • Whatever you do proceed with a plan and get some coaching, especially if you do not know or are unsafe in your company culture. They either support the toxic boss, do not know about the behavior because it is so well-hidden or leadership chooses to remain blind. e.g. the company overlooks or excuses the behavior — typically because that person is a high monetary performer.
  • Or they are unaware of the individual’s behavior because they are so sociopathic, narcissistic and clever.
  • Again, and I hate to say it but until you know the position of the HR department in the company, I’d not run to them expecting them to necessarily protect you. Become educated by asking around, if possible to understand how HR operates in the particular the culture of your company. (e.g. Does HR have a history of being effective, ineffective, helpful to employees or punitive?)
  • You are going to need to have coaching from an expert. Hire someone with experience working with business folks, who knows about narcissism, addictions, pathology and resulting PTSD.
  • You need outside alliances to keep your head on straight. You need someone not aligned with the organization who can help you handle what is currently going on while you stay on the job and who can help you find and sort through your options. You want someone who can help you make smart career choices while also taking care of yourself.)
  • You must take care of yourself and protect yourself. By that I mean you must do something. The long term consequences for you to remain in the situation are too deadly to your psyche, self-esteem and future.
  • Get help to manage your feelings, anxiety and potential depression. Your coach may be enough, but you may also need a therapist who is there for the emotional stuff sometimes.
  • Make friends with a good employment lawyer who can advise many do not charge until an action is taken. Follow exactly what they say to do, behave, speak document
  • Get that employment lawyer and follow their advice to a tee.
  • If asked to document, do so in a private safe place.
  • If HR is involved and safe, you may need to do what is called f HR “papering your file” to protect you in the future and to create a stream of documentation in case anything goes to court.

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