Over the past few months there have been a series of events taking place with a general theme – leadership.   Some of these events involved myself, people in my close circle, and strangers that have crossed my path.  I knew I needed Leadership to be the focus of this month’s blog and I was going to call it the “Boss Issue”, however, I remembered through practical and personal experience that simply being a boss does not make you a leader.

Awareness is one of my highest daily priorities, even though it is very easy to be distracted – keeping the focus-blinders on, staying in your own lane, zoning out in your head, looking at your phone…  But, it’s like that popular ice breaker where the facilitator asks everyone in the room to focus on blue, the color, and for the next 15 seconds seek out anything blue.  After 15 seconds the facilitator asks, “how many things in this room are red?”  AHA!  Gotcha!  My point is, sometimes being too focused can be a distraction. We are surrounded by leadership every day and we may not even know it, or sadly, recognize and learn from it.

2018 marked the 17th anniversary of September 11th, and throughout the entire day we saw photos, Tweets, posts of videos on Facebook, news coverage etc. taking us back to the horrific events of that day.  There were many programs that focused on the brave first responders who rushed to the heart of danger to save lives.  Without question or hesitation, they sought to find and save lives – leading people out, moving them to safety, all the time still unsure of what exactly was going on around them.  They led, people followed, and many were saved.

Besides the first responders, there were many on those tower floors that made the decision to lead people out – a decision that saved their lives.  A story that really made an impact, was the two men that carried an injured woman on a makeshift wheelchair down 70 flights of stairs.  These three strangers made the decision to act and stick together the entire time – even though there was a medical triage created on one of the floors, the injured woman wanted to stay with these two men with whom she bonded, and trusted.  They kept descending, made it out, and got the woman in the ambulance. Four minutes later the tower came down.

What is it that makes us take charge and lead?  What makes us trust leaders?  How do leaders lose our trust?  When you are called to action, how do you respond?  Do you lead, or do you follow?

Leadership style not only comes from a corporate perspective, it can also be viewed as how you lead in your life; the decisions you make, the role you play in your relationships, if you speak up or remain silent.

I hear from friends and clients describe the great leaders they have encountered throughout their lives.  They have ranged from teachers, parents, the armed forces, to baristas and stylists.  (As a side note, whoever leads/instructs the drive thrus at Portillos should be awarded the highest honor on leadership and teamwork!  That method needs to be taught worldwide!)

As much as I enjoy hearing the attributes of what makes someone a leader, I mostly hear from people examples of what does not, and, the impact that has on others.

During my years in Human Resources I witnessed on many occasions heads of departments promoting an employee to management simply because they were great in their functional role.  So, in their minds it stood to reason that they would be a great manager!  Most of the time, and especially without formal training, that was not the case.

Just because you are very effective at your job function does not mean that you will be as equally effective at leading people.

When non-leaders are placed into leadership roles, this often creates toxicity, and Toxic bosses, who do not lead, but do the exact opposite.

If you are unfamiliar with the term “Toxic boss”, let’s look at some of the characteristics and see if some seem familiar.

Toxic bosses tend to: 

  • Speak badly about others
  • Are negative
  • Lack compassion
  • Take up too much of your time
  • Constantly have “drama” going on around them
  • Lie to you
  • Criticize you
  • Take little accountability – blame others
  • Talk more than they listen
  • Play the victim
  • Lose their temper
  • Must be right
  • Treat others poorly
  • Are self-obsessed
  • Try to control you
  • Act out of fear and insecurity

Reading the above, you may have seen similar characteristics in a current or former boss, but perhaps also in a friend, a partner, or even a parent!   I have coached many people going through a tremendous struggle on firstly recognizing a personal relationship is toxic, and then putting an effective action plan together.

Toxicity exists in all kinds of people- sometimes it may be difficult to recognize or walk away from, especially if there is a paycheck involved.

Coming from a place of toxicity also has an impact on the decisions you make.  You have a lot of choices in your life, but you’ll never be happy with the ones you make out of spite.

I have said throughout my career that people leave people, not companies.

After one of my leadership workshops, an attendee approached and asked, “What do you do when your team is awesome, but your boss is toxic?  I can’t take it anymore, it’s so miserable there!”

Ugh, my dear, believe me when I’m sure most of us can say, “we feel your pain!”

Some things we know are out of our controlsuch as controlling the behavior of others.  We can only control how we react, and the action we decide to take. 

Final thoughts:  take time to self-reflect on your leadership style and if you lead by example:  do you empower, inspire and motivate yourself and others?  Do you speak up?  Do you share your gifts?  If you are truly leading, bravo!  Thank you for all you do and the wonderful impact you have on others!  If you are not truly or effectively “leading” , then in yours and everyone’s best interest,  please recognize that and take appropriate action.

I would like to take this time to thank all the toxic people that have been in my life!  Without you, I would never have known what I am truly capable of, including discovering my true purpose of being a leadership coach!  The integrity and resiliency I possess, my great compassion for helping others, and especially my ability to motivate, inspire and develop people personally and professionally, could not have been as easily recognized and fully understood without your assistance throughout my life path. 

How are you leading?