4 Toxic Behaviors All Successful Leaders Avoid


The most successful entrepreneurs and business owners are good leaders. Notice I didn’t say good managers or bosses – good leaders. This is because good leaders are often good bosses. Good leaders know what has to be done and who should do it. They work to put their team in the best position to succeed. On the other hand, bosses who lack strong leadership skills are often ineffective leaders. Instead of motivating their teams, they often scare their teams through toxic behavior. In an essay on LinkedIn, Alan O’Rourke, Vice President of Growth at OnePageCRM, writes about the differences between leaders and bosses:

A boss is all about power and control, demanding orders, and has an “I’m always right “ attitude. A leader is inspires the team to grow, learn, and succeed. A leader will recognize employee’s strengths and utilize them, while also helping to build up their weaknesses. He provides an environment for the employees to think for themselves and solve problems independently. Instead of being defensive, a leader is playing offense—helping his team become more productive and making situations better instead of placing blame when things go wrong.

Good leaders avoid the toxic, negative behavior that is so common in the workplace. A 2012 study by the International Journal of Leadership Studies explored the effects that toxic and cooperative behaviors in the workplace had on companies and their employees. Successful entrepreneurs, business owners, and employees all echoed the same sentiments: the best leaders show little evidence of toxic behavior and therefore, improve the chances for success. Poor leaders exhibit numerous types of toxic behavior and substantially lower their chances to succeed.

This makes sense – toxic behavior led to breakdowns in communication, trust, culture, interactions, promotion, and conflict resolution. Such negative behaviors caused people to become narcissistic, egocentric, blind to reality, or even angry. Those who demonstrated the toxic behaviors clouded their thoughts with a toxic mentality, rendering them unable to make good decisions. The opposite was true for those who demonstrated cooperative behaviors. So what are these toxic behaviors that successful leaders avoid? Here are four common toxic behaviors that prevent people from being good leaders.

1. Taking everything personally

Good leaders don’t take everything personally. Psychiatrist Abigail Brenner writes about the importance of this in a blog post for Psychology Today. Brenner cautions that in order to avoid this toxic behavior, it’s important to not jump to quick conclusions. For example, when customers voice negative comments about your product or service, they’re rarely personally directed at you. But as an entrepreneur or small business owner, it is very likely that you are one and the same with your business. You probably view all negative feedback as a personal insult. The most successful leaders can distance themselves and consider the feedback objectively.

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2. Playing the victim card

Remember, you are a leader, not a victim! So often, people choose to victimize themselves with a “poor me” attitude. Sometimes, unpleasant or scary things happen- especially in business when you’re just starting out. But the best leaders are able to pick themselves up after those moments, hold their heads up high, and create a plan on how to change a bad situation. They do not allow themselves to stay stagnant by treating themselves as victims. They advocate for themselves to survive the tough points and persevere.

3. Lacking empathy

A 2002 study explored whether good leaders must have empathy. Their findings were very surprising at the time, as they discovered that people rated effective leaders more on their emotional skills rather than their technical ones:

When we perceive someone as a leader, it is often because we are impressed with his/her mental abilities and his/her ability to perform complex tasks. Yet, there is a small but growing body of conceptual work suggesting that our perception of someone as a leader is affected by his/her emotional abilities as well.

We base our perception more on emotion because when a leader has empathy, we feel that they will be able to understand and listen to us better. On the other hand, when a leader lacks empathy, conflicts arise and employees feel as though they are not being heard. Communication becomes irregular and full of distrust, meaning things that should be addressed are probably being ignored.

4. Rapidly excessive reactivity

Good leaders wait to react, and when they do, they react calmly. This goes along with the ideas of being empathetic and not taking things personally. When people react too quickly and too dramatically, arguments ensue and nothing gets done. We’ve all been there – a meeting where it’s either awkward because of tension and fear of a boss’s reaction, or a meeting that becomes explosive and unproductive. Leaders think carefully before they reply, they ponder the pros and cons, think about emotions, data, and other details carefully before they do anything drastic.

Although we focused on toxic behaviors in the workplace, these toxic behaviors easily translate to life outside of the workplace. In every situation, the solution is to take a step back and self-evaluate, which slows reaction time. With slowed reaction time, there is now more time to reflect and decide how to act with a more cooperative behavior and be a leader of a team instead of a boss of some random people. While it’s still extremely important to manage, it’s even more important to lead, inspire, and evolve.

Image credit: John Lester

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