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10 Signs of a Toxic Boss

When you hear the words “toxic boss,” undoubtedly a certain someone comes to mind. Almost everyone has had one – or been one – at some point in their lives.

Perhaps you know your boss is less than ideal, but can’t quite put a finger on what the problem is. What makes a bad leader can be illusive; you might not be able to define it, you just know it.

Look no further: here are 10 signs of a toxic boss.

1. Unprofessional Behavior

It should come as no surprise that if your boss talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk, there is leadership failure at hand. This might include blatant behavior, such as sexual harassment or cursing, or less-subtle cues, such as not making eye contact or constantly allowing for interruptions during a conversation.

If a boss does not have the discipline and decorum to exhibit self-control and to treat others with dignity and respect, chances are they are a toxic boss.

You might even be able to tell ahead of time while interviewing for a job. If unprofessional behavior is prevalent during the interview, consider it a warning sign. According to Anna Maravelas, author of How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress, “These mini-moments are microcosms of your potential supervisor’s style.” It might be an indication that you should look for work somewhere else.

2. Lack of Enthusiasm


If a leader is not inspired to lead, those who follow can hardly be expected to have good attitudes. A toxic boss is disconnected from work, trudging through the day and giving off the impression that life is a chore.

This behavior has a toxic trickle-down effect, soon breathing a bad vapor into the culture of the workplace. Citing a Harvard Business Review finding, USA Today writer Erika Rawes says, “Again and again failed leaders were described by their colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was in fact the most noticeable of all their failings.”

A leader’s lack of enthusiasm can drain a company’s productivity. As the head of the business, the boss must set the tone and goals of the workplace. If your boss isn’t enthusiastic about work, chances are other problems will start developing as a result, and you can’t expect a toxic boss to handle it well.

3. Deaf Ears

Leaders who don’t listen to their employees are toxic bosses. While the responsibility of decision-making still falls on their shoulders – and they may decide not to act on your input – acknowledging the ideas of employees should be a top priority for a good boss.

Unfortunately, leaders who do this are not as common as they should be. A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 37% of polled employees were happy with how their ideas were received by their supervisors.

One of the core reasons for this problem is that toxic bosses have a lack of consideration for other people. A boss who doesn’t respect how others feel is not someone you want to work for. You want to work in an environment where your ideas are taken seriously and your intellect valued. A toxic boss does none of those things, and in fact may be looking to let you go.

4. Never Being Wrong

Another reason for toxic leaders not to listen to your input is that they think they know everything. Forbes contributor Mike Myatt warns of the know-it-all, saying, “The best leaders are acutely aware of how much they don’t know. They have no need to be the smartest person in the room, but have the unyielding desire to learn from others.”

A toxic boss doesn’t encourage a culture of idea sharing, and that is an environment in which you don’t want to work for the rest of your life.

Good leaders know how to take advice from the experts in their business – in reality, their job is to facilitate teamwork between people who specialize in different areas. A boss who thinks he or she specializes in all areas and always has to be right will effectively sink the business ship quickly.

5. Settling for Less

Bad leaders settle for less and don’t strive to make forward progress. Toxic bosses look at your work and ask for more of the same, or even say you’re doing too much. A Gallup poll entitled “ Employees Want a Lot More from Their Managers ” found that “less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs in any given year.”

A failure to inspire is a failure to lead, and if your toxic boss doesn’t require excellence, your company will never be excellent.

6. Taking Credit, Not Responsibility

This is perhaps the most egregious sin a toxic boss can commit. The conflict is age-old and unfortunately very prevalent in the workplace. You work hard on a project and submit it, expecting at least an affirmation of a job well done from your supervisor, only to find that he or she took the credit for all your work.

Your boss might be taking credit for your work for a variety of reasons. If your boss feels threatened by your performance, he or she might take credit out of feelings of inferiority. Perhaps your boss is trying to look good for his or her own supervisors, lazily stealing your work for a promotion. Or maybe your boss is just egotistical, seeing all the work done by you as technically his or her possession.

On the other hand, a toxic boss will be the first to blame you for his failures. Did your company not reach its quarterly goals? A toxic boss will point the finger at you instead of encouraging excellence.

According to a BambooHR survey, as many as 20% of those surveyed thought that management “passing the buck” was a deal breaker that would make them want to leave their current jobs.

A leader that shifts the blame to those he leads is ineffective and will be counterproductive.

7. Micromanaging

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A boss who looks over your shoulder constantly or insists on correcting minute portions of your work is a micromanager and a toxic boss. Whether they have a reason for it or not, Forbes writer Eric Jackson says many bosses excuse micromanaging by saying they like to pay attention to the details.

But micromanaging stifles creativity and forces an atmosphere of paranoia. You may feel your supervisor doesn’t trust you to complete tasks or that you can’t do anything up to standard.

Micromanaging can be annoying, breeding mistrust and discouraging self-reliance, and is a terrible leadership tactic.

It can also take the form of your boss working with you. Your boss may think he’s spending time in the trenches with his employees, but really he is not focusing on his own job, which is at the heart of micromanaging.

Time’s Jason Ewing states that bosses who spend too much time working on their employees’ projects “don’t have the time to dedicate to actual tasks of leadership. Worse, they have difficulty stepping back from the work their team does to take the position of a leader.”

8. Working Too Much

If your boss consistently shows up to work earlier than you and stays much later than you, it can create a toxic environment for everyone. While these bosses may think they are impressing their subordinates or the work simply has to be done this way, it can have negative effects.

In an article for Time magazine, writer Jason Ewing says, “If you’re always there early and working late, it becomes a barrier to your team approaching you. They don’t want to trouble you with things because you’re obviously too busy. They may also feel guilty for not going above and beyond when clearly you do every day. Further, it can send a message that you don’t trust your team… clearly, you aren’t willing to let them work without you present.”

Good leaders make time for their employees, period.

9. Gossiping

Nothing is more toxic than a gossiping boss. Supervisors who share others’ private information create a workplace filled with suspicion and distrust. In addition, spreading speculative rumors is the opposite of what a team leader should do.

Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job , weighs in on a gossiping boss by pointing out that the consequence of gossip is alienating someone from the group. Your boss should be seeking to unite the team, not to exclude some of its members.

Gossiping goes back to character. A supervisor who participates in and encourages workplace gossip may have an unhealthy need to be the center of attention, enjoying being the source of interest for the workplace.

Or worse, they may use gossip as a tool for maintaining their power. Either way, gossiping bosses don’t focusing on important matters; instead they perpetuate a toxic culture and an exchange of silly information for personal gain.

10. Being the Fun Boss

Everyone wants to be liked, and your boss is no different. One sign your boss is toxic, however, is evident when he or she is more of a friend than a supervisor, working at being liked more than striving to achieve company goals.

Time writer Jason Ewing states, “Good managers know when they need to be the bad guy. They know when they need to enforce discipline. When you hold your team accountable, they will respect you…. Settling for being liked will leave your team in a horrible middle ground of performance where failures are tolerated and no one strives for excellence because of it.”

If you have no respect for your boss because he or she is too friendly and you don’t think they will really motivate anyone to excel, there is toxicity at work.

What Healthy Looks Like

If you want to see what non-toxic bosses look like, check out 5 Secrets of Strong Leaders that Nobody Ever Told You .

What kinds of toxic bosses have you encountered in your career? How did you handle them? Share on our LinkedIn page.

Images, Pixabay,Pexels, Pexels

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