Business of Well-being

Six Signs Your Management Style is Toxic

It doesn't matter if someone is managing a nation or a four-person professional service firm; leading like a dictator leads straight to the gutter.Dating as far back as anyone can remember, history has provided us with countless examples of dictators being overturned by "the people." Most recently, we've watched the upheaval in the Middle East, spurred on by the not-so-early exit of Egypt's former leader Hosni Mubarak.

After thirty years of rule and pocket full of cash about a third as big as Egypt's entire GDP, there were riots in the street and the dethroning of a ruler. While this is an extreme example, on a large scale, with tons of publicity, it doesn't mean that the lessons seen here don't apply to business management.

Take for example Jack Griffin, the former Chief Executive of Time Inc. The NY Times reported that employees described his leadership style as "brusque" and that he created an unworkable office culture for the Time Inc. team. He implemented "swift and sweeping" changes without communicating his purpose well and undermined his team's confidence in their abilities.

Although it would be a stretch to classify Griffin and Mubarak in the same category, it is reasonable to assume that Griffin was an inflexible leader. Consequently, in February, Griffin was forced out of Time Inc. after less than six months in office. These examples are more common in business than most people think.

In fact, from 2000 to 2006, one in four CEO tenures ended in forced dismissal, a rate of almost four percent annually according to Fortune magazine. While not all of these dismissals resulted from the boss being overly inflexible or too demanding, the fact remains that these dismissals do happen, and they happen when employees and coworkers are unhappy.

And make no mistake; leading like a dictator is one of the fastest ways to foster workplace discontent. The good news is that managers no longer need to wait until they get a pink slip to find out that they've been leading like dictators. Instead, they can just review the list below of the "Six Signs You're a Dictator."

If three or more signs apply, then it's time for some serious changes in leadership style.

Six Signs You're a Dictator

  1. The Company Revolves Around You - Employees are able to describe you in one word: self-centered. Without your brilliant guidance, they all would be lost. Your inferiors are merely there to carry out orders that further your personal objectives. When success comes your way, you gladly take all of the credit and reward yourself with a little extra cash in your pocket, just like Mubarak did.
  2. You Obsessively Control Employees - You enjoy wasting time by micromanaging every employee task; you make people work precisely when, where, and how you want them to. You think of your office as an elementary school classroom where you need to monitor every movement, action, and breathe your students make.
  3. You "Inspire" with Fear -You like people to know that any mistake can be punishable by unemployment. You think the best way to motivate people is to make them feel like their job is something they must do to survive rather than something they want to do. All the emails you send out are typed in ALL CAPS and flagged as urgent to maximize employee panic.
  4. Priorities Start and End with Work - There is no room for excuses like "my kid is in the hospital" or "I'm not feeling well" when there's work to do. To you, having a "work/life balance" and "personal time" don't exist. You feel entitled to employees weekend time just as much as their work time and expect them to cater to your needs 24/7.
  5. Respect Doesn't Matter-Your ideal image of a leader-follower relationship is to give as little as possible and get a lot back. Whenever you're stressed or an employee has done something wrong, you don't hesitate to "chew-out" a person in classic Jack Griffin style. After all, why waste the chance to make an example of one person and motivate the others to do their job right?
  6. You are Never Wrong - Why would you ever admit to being wrong when you have a line of scapegoats outside your office just waiting to take the blame? You're the leader of the company, your image is its most important asset, and being wrong is not an option. You take credit for all the company successes and pass off failures on to your employees.

By running a business like a dictator, leaders create toxic jobs, stressful workplace environments and begin to carve out a legacy that even suppliers are ashamed to be involved with. However, by recognizing and actively addressing leadership deficiencies before disaster happens, employees are usually receptive to leaders who make a genuine change.

Trust and respect are the most essential ingredients to develop healthy leader-follower relationships. An effective boss needs to value positive social relationships in the office and nurture his or her employees to become self-directed individuals who will produce their best work, not because their boss threatens them, but because they want to.

Employees need to be treated with respect, shown appreciation, and given recognition from their leaders to maintain engagement in their work. Just remember, idle threats and paychecks may be enough to get one task done, but in the long run they don't come close to motivating employees the same way trust and respect do.

About the Author

Keith E. Ayers is President of Integro Leadership Institute, a global business, management, and leadership consultancy firm with offices in Australia and associates located around the world. He is the author of Engagement is Not Enough (Elevate 2008) which show leaders how to create an organization of passionate workers in pursuit of a common purpose. For more information visit

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