How do nasty leaders and managers get away with being toxic? And sometimes, the worse they behave, the more they earn! According to a longitudinal study done in the U.S., researchers Timothy A. Judge (Notre Dame), Beth A. Livingston (Cornell), and Charlice Hurst (Western Ontario) found that leaders across many occupations and positions (both men and women) who were disagreeable earned more than those who were agreeable. While I cannot explain all of the “whys” behind this, from the years The Center Consulting Group has provided coaching to businesses, churches and nonprofits, I have a few ideas. Here are 5 reasons why toxic leaders get away with their behavior and can even make more money.
1. The Power of Celebrity Status
How do celebrities sometimes get away with treating others so poorly? People will allow the poor behaviors because they want to be accepted by and benefit from those with status. Even infamous celebrities like Bonnie and Clyde, who were known for multiple robberies and for murdering 9 police officers and a number of other people, had a large crowd of people rush their bullet ridden car to see the bodies and grab a sick souvenir. No one ever said the power of celebrity makes sense!
2. Fear of Financial Armageddon
Top performers, including in business, sports, politics and church, are often given greater permissions because of the fear of the possible financial losses that could occur without them. Sometimes this fear is real and these people are often referred to as “the rainmakers.” Other times it is exaggerated. But either way, we have seen this fear result in far more permissions for bad behavior than others in the organization could get away with. And, even worse, rewarded with greater compensation!
3. A Board That Is Oblivious
Nonprofit organizations, such as churches and hospitals, and publically held companies are required to have a governing board. One of the primary jobs of a board is to make sure the organization is healthy and the leader is leading well. This is no easy task since boards are not involved day to day and often lack accurate information. However, if a leader gets caught in toxic behavior, an oblivious board will become both sobered and embarrassed very quickly.
4. Supervisors Who Are Just Like Them
Kids often use the phrase “it takes one to know one” when trading verbal blows with others. If a supervisor is known for being a bit toxic, it is hard for them to see the toxic person they supervise as a problem – after all, they are looking at themselves! A supervisor who often assumes the worst, leads with “no,” or is constantly critical, may not see it as a problem when one of their team is doing the same.
5. The Owners Wall of Protection
Owners are those who either started a business, bought one, or inherited the position from their family. Without an outside group of advisers or a professional coach, such owners can be walled off from feedback that would give them greater awareness of how they are perceived. In contrast to a publicly held company or even a nonprofit, a privately held business doesn’t even need to prove its profitability so long as the owner(s) is satisfied.
The Antidotes for Toxic Behavior
The number one antidote for toxic behavior is FEEDBACK. Feedback is the only way we can have an accurate view of ourselves. With the guidance of a professional coach, honest and anonymous feedback can be a powerful force for change.
A second antidote is having guiding values that espouse character, people, and effectiveness. A focus on only one of these will usually result in an organization or team that is out of balance, eventually wobbling or even crashing.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center Consulting Group and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.