Jesus warned his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Translation: Be kind & respectful. But, being kind & respectful doesn’t mean being a naive idiot.
These examples from Psychology Today and Forbes are a hint of the myriad of resources out there should you Google “toxic leadership.”
We’d all like to to believe everyone we hire and/or work alongside is a solid, honest individual with a healthy work ethic. I think I speak for everyone on planet earth when I say – nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently, I read a pamphlet titled, Toxic Leadership, by Tobin Perry, where he cites five toxic personalities within the context of leadership. I’ve included four of them here (the fifth one was similar to the others). Although Perry writes from a vocational ministry perspective, the principles pertaining to each personality translate across all vocations.
Additionally, I added two “toxic personalities” I strongly believe need to be included in the list. Each includes a brief description of the personality listed.
NOTE: It’s important to know that many toxic personalities come with a remarkable ability to use passive-aggression as an art form. At its root, toxic personalities are, on various levels, abusive. If you work alongside one or more of these personalities, hopefully you have a supervisor who will validate your concerns, and then has the courage to address it. If the personality is your supervisor, this list should at least give you insight into his/her behavior, help you engage in further research about said personality and, hence, help you learn how to coexist with them.
Ever met, or worked with, these people?
- The Blamer – This is the person who habitually plays the “victim card.” One thing you’ll never hear from this person is, “Sorry – it was my fault,” since this would force them to take responsibility for whatever went wrong. It would be a miracle of biblical proportions for this person to ever “own” a mistake/bad decision, apologize for it, and learn from their mistake. On the contrary, their objective is to pass the blame. This person needs to be taught to own their mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them.
- The Old-Schooler – “there’s no school like the old school.” While we should be extremely cautious about always believing “newer is better simply because it’s newer”, this person is almost hostile to newer, more effective methods, even attempting to sabotage progress in this area. This person not only “doesn’t get it,” they don’t want to “get it.” Rather than offer healthy debate when faced with a newer way of doing things (healthy debate is vital to making certain a new method has “checks & balances”), this person has no interest in discussing it at all. Like dead weight, they drag progress to a crawl, having nothing but negative, discouraging things to say. Always talking about the “good ol’ days”, he/she chooses to forget that not everything about the good ol’ days was good. This person needs to be taught that “newer is not always a threat to older, but an improvement upon said older methods.” As a friend of mine joked once, “The pony express used to deliver the mail.” 🙂 Glad we’ve seen progress in mail delivery.
- The Do-It-All – This personality basically comes down to pride, arrogance and a zero understanding of teamwork. This person is the consummate “Lone Ranger.” Worse, they not only don’t need “Tonto’s” help, they don’t want Tonto’s help. “I can do it all myself. And, for that matter, I can do it better than anyone else,” they convince themselves. This person (1) stunts the growth of those with whom they work because they’re stepping all over them, attempting to do their job, and (2) because they’re trying to do everything, absolutely nothing gets done well. Ironically, while this person wants to “help” everyone else with their job, they want no help with theirs. This person needs to be taught to “stay in their own lane” and to focus on doing their own job well. Additionally, it would help for someone to introduce them to the word “synergy”, the principle that states: together, we can accomplish far more than on our own.
- The Ivory Tower – I see this a lot in pastoral ministry and it never ceases to make me shake my head. “I”m not a people person,” they say. In fact, they almost come across as bragging about it. This begs the question: in what universe would a church search team call a person to be a pastor in their church who isn’t a “people person?” (Aren’t you glad Jesus was a people person?) While some personalities are clearly introverted, and all of us require private time for various aspects of our job, this person has no interest in “being among the people.” Most tragic is that he/she robs themselves of the wealth of blessings received from relationships with coworkers. If serving in a supervisory role, this person is rarely – if ever – seen “among the troops.” This person, if a supervisor, is a leader in title only. Anyone with half a leadership brain knows that if your employees are valued, coached, led by example and set up for success they’ll work harder and more passionately. Sadly, this person comes across as not only uncaring, but downright lazy. Engaging with people, getting to know them, learning how to work effectively together is hard work. This person needs to be taught that “leader” is a verb, not a title.
Here are the two I would add to the list:
- The Martyr – I had a pastor friend who had been in ministry for quite a while. He met himself coming and going, never able to catch their breath and, as a result, never really getting anything done well in their ministry. I could see they were dying a slow death so I offered them some unsolicited advice, “As you mature and age, you’ve got to learn to work smarter, not harder.” In other words, take careful inventory of those around you who are gifted in areas you’re not. These people are just waiting to be asked to serve. Basically, I was ignored. This type of person would rather play the “martyr card”, desperately vying for attention and sympathy “due to how hard they work”, than learn how to delegate tasks to gifted, capable people. He/she perpetually complains about not having enough time or help to get everything done, trying with all their might to appear as the hardest-working – and most unappreciated – person in the office. But when offered help, the result is always the same: they simply reject it. If they received help, they would not receive the “payoff” they crave: having everyone feel sorry for them. Of course, over time, no one feels sorry for them. This person needs to be taught that they are actually moving backward in work and life by not being willing to swallow their pride and allow others to help them succeed.
- Narcissist/Sociopath – this person is, by far, the most dangerously toxic. A person can be a narcissist without being a sociopath. But a sociopath will always be narcissistic. This person has a grandiose, inflated view of themselves, becoming quickly defensive if questioned. At the deepest level of the narcissist is an acute insecurity starving for their “payoff”: obsequious adulation & admiration, confirming to them what they tell themselves everyday: they are superior to anyone else on the planet. I commented on a FB post recently on this topic. I wrote: There’s a fine line between a narcissist and a sociopath. That said, both can be equally charming, winning over an immediate following of the unsuspecting. But, the moment you see through their facade and question their motives you become Public Enemy No. 1 as they frantically scramble to prevent you from exposing their true self to others. They are adept at deception and diversion, having no ethical problem with denying statements they’ve openly made to others. (There is a line from the 1996 movie, The Preacher’s Wife, where a comment is made about a narcissistic character in the movie: “That man’s so oily you can fry chicken on him.” Such is the narcissist.) Should the narcissist suspect you see through their carefully crafted facade, they will methodically attempt to assassinate your character in order to minimize your credibility, getting even your trusted friends to side with them and question your integrity. While a narcissist may potentially realize down deep they are a pathological liar, a sociopath actually believes their own lies. Both personalities are delusional. Further, it’s never the narcissist’s fault. As master manipulators, they are often able to convince you you’re the “crazy one,” that you’re the problem, and the one who needs to be fired (if they are the supervisor) or reprimanded (if they are a coworker). This diabolical talent of theirs often successfully deflects all attention away from their deceit onto the person who is threatening to expose them as the liar and manipulator they truly are.