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Is Toxicity Terminal?

It is possible to think that the presence of toxicity in an organization's leaders or culture is permanent. Like a disease, even terminal. Toxicity creates destructive cycles for the individual, other teams, and the company. Alma Ortega's Academic Libraries and Toxic Leadership (2017) presents the idea of healing toxic leadership. I love it!

Let's clear the air now: every bad thing is not toxic, nor is a person or policy or environment toxic because we do not like it. The source of all disagreements is not toxicity. We have to come back from the easier route of generalizations and closed ranges of criteria based on opinions and experiences. Generalizations are born from our personal perspective and lump the current person, place or thing into this perspective. Closed ranges of criteria are also personal; they provide the skewed foundation for understanding based on possible triggers and without regard for the differences in the current person, place or thing.

Ortega describes six scenarios in which leader behaviors are not toxic leadership (p. 23).

  1. Dynamic leaders with high and reasonable expectations

  2. Self-starters who value discipline and set realistic deadlines

  3. Absences for good reasons, such as overlapping duties on committees

  4. Leaders who ask for transparency when teams do not fulfill responsibilities

  5. Personality clashes

  6. Incompetence

These considerations are priceless and when applied, expand the context for identifying and addressing toxic leadership. We can probably add to this list other scenarios fitting our workplaces. Experiences and opinions need a frame within which to process leadership and growth. Leaders at all levels better communicate personal development goals when experiences and opinions are planted in broader contexts and perspectives. Going beyond preferences into expectations of organizational culture, team interactions, and individual contribution helps leaders achieve higher levels of efficacy and awareness.

Toxic leadership is destructive in and executed in the interests of and according to the agenda of the toxic leader. Schmidt's Toxic Leadership Scale uses five subscales to measure toxic leadership: self-promotion, abusive supervision, narcissism, authoritarian leadership, and unpredictability. In my study on the impact of toxic and transformational leadership on effective mentoring, I used Schmidt's scale and found that unpredictability was the strongest predictor of toxic leadership. More than the other four subscales, which we might think stronger predictors, unpredictability was the strongest.

Toxic leadership can feel or be or seem terminal when organizational leadership and culture support destructive behaviors. Cultures can enable and endorse toxic leaders, not requiring accountability for motives and actions. More work is necessary to diagnose the real culprit behind toxic behaviors. If there is toxicity, then there are ways to right the ship. Addressing toxic leaders directly is not optimal if the undergirding culture leaves the behaviors unchecked. Systems need courageous senior leaders who will identify, assess, strategize, and implement transformational policies and processes that will be enforced throughout all levels of the company. Let's determine the veering off point(s) to reset and reestablish the right course.

#toxicleadership #organizationalculture #toxicculture #healingtoxicleadership #almaortega #organizationalleadership #leadership #legacydrivenleadership #drscroggins #schmidtstoxicleadershipscale

Photo by Jurien Huggins on Unsplash

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