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Guest AuthorPrarthana Sethumadhavan
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Toxic Leadership

By | Prarthana Sethumadhavan | Founder & Director – Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions

There will be, but a few of us who would have never encountered, lived or worked with toxic people. Everywhere around us, we see people spilling their inner toxins in the environment, leaving the rest of the populace to soak up the same and move on in their respective spheres. Toxicity has a way of inbreeding and infecting all people in a given environment. It infects the recipient to mesh out a similar treatment to the next person, and very soon the vitiates the entire atmosphere. A continuous diet of toxic people is one of the most dangerous circumstances for people to be in, because it spills into all spheres of life and impacts personal and professional stability, health and social relationships.

Leadership in Organizations should be especially sensitive to Toxicity. Toxicity at the very top spills downwards and very soon, eats into the organizational productivity, employee engagement and team dynamics, making valuable contribution in an organization-  scarce. We all recognize toxic behaviours in organizations when people are insecure about their jobs, positions in the hierarchy, mistrust, disrespect to peers and subordinates, professional jealousies playing out, protecting of turf and small fiefdoms, controlling information, inadequate directives for work to be completed, nebulous goals and targets set without clear indication of performance indicators , swallowing credit of work of subordinates and peers, lack of accountability and the list could go on.

Toxicity in Leadership in Organizations is a two pronged fork. On one prong, I would put people who are inherently toxic, owing to their constant exposure to negative behaviours, and positive reinforcements to their negative behaviours. By this I mean, that no one has ever stood up to them for the fear of repercussions, and hence they have grown in their stature as Organisation Bullies, demanding subservient behaviour and running their kingdom without conscience and respect.

On the second prong I would put in organization structures and policies that help create and protect toxic leaders.  From an Organizational Standpoint, there is no scrutiny of people at key and critical positions, and no overseeing of their impact on their teams and organizational workforce. Organizations fail to have both formal and informal surveys, gather feedback on leaders and their impact on Organizational Growth and Productivity. Emphasis is laid in Organizations on the achievement of the bottom line, and leaders and members of senior management are exempt from taking responsibility and accountability from their negative behaviours and practices because they fulfil the bottom lines. This creates a very dangerous precedent in Organizations and rots the Organizational Culture like nothing can ever do.

Reviving positive work climate, optimism and positive engagement in the said organizations then becomes a challenge, as the organization looks to creating a band aid solution and burying the dirt under the carpet. Expensive Consultants are then brought in for Change Management with crores of rupees being spent, but the culture has taken deep roots. A complete overhauling of the system becomes challenging, time consuming, expensive and not to mention a resistance to change and the organizational inertia for change to flow through. The very people who should be the drivers of change need to change or be changed. The costs- both intrinsic and extrinsic are humongous.

Building a strong, productive and engaged workforce is one of the most critical functions of Leadership. Percolating the Organization Vision and harnessing people power or human capital is one of the most quintessential functions that a leader can perform. It is his/her legacy to the Organization.

A systematic and long term coaching is one of the key solutions that will help root this malady from Organizations.

Leaders can be coached effectively. A leadership coaching programme can bring to a person holding a  leadership role , essential mindfulness along with positive action plans and outcomes that will aid in effective leadership. Understanding Negative Behaviours and reprogramming them to bring positive impact is one of the most important outcomes of Leadership Coaching. The ROI of Leadership Coaching can be seen in positive organizational climate, engaged and productive workforce along with reduced attrition.

Coaching leads to growth – for the leaders, the people and the Organization as a whole. It is one of the investments that an Organization does that accrues positive returns all the time and every time. The process should be on-going and continuous, and there should be constant checks, feedbacks and course corrections along the way. Expected outcomes in terms of behaviours – observed and new should be mapped. 360 degree informal surveys should be taken to determine climate change in the department/ organization. If there are persistent and negative behaviours, then the Organization should let go. In this way, it gives to its people, a firm and strong message that toxicity and negative behaviours will not be tolerated even if they are accompanied by winning business results. It gives renewed hope, fervour and enthusiasm to its workforce, and is a great boost and catalyst for people productivity. Feedback with openness without a climate of fear and repercussions, and ethical reporting of incorrect behaviours should become a norm for all workplaces.  For after all any Organization is the sum total of its people and what they bring to the table.


Prarthana Sethumadhavan (Sakalya Holistic HR Solutions)

The author is a Certified NLP Practitioner (SNLP) and Transformation Coach, Corporate Trainer in Leadership Development, Soft Skills and an HR OD Consultant with two and half decades of experience across Corporates.

Please connect with Sakalyahr@gmail.com for Executive Coaching/ Training and OD Interventions.

Republished with kind permission and orginally published in LinkedIn

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Ramesh Ranjan

A Business Consultant, Executive Coach, Visiting Professor, Content Manager & Editor. Ex IIM NASSCOM LRC, ex VP NHRD Bangalore Chapter, ex VP-HR@Schneider Electric, Head HR@ APC, Caltex,Co Systems, Natural Remedies. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rameshranjan/

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