Becoming a punching bag isn’t fun for anyone. And while narcissistic and toxic leaders are proficient at surrounding themselves with “yes men”, they are equally as adept at bullying others.
The prevalence of workplace bullying, said leadership architect Dr Zondre Keevy, is significant.
Toxic, narcissistic leaders star in almost all sectors of business. Dark or toxic leaders bully subordinates.
“There is an intentional element to toxic leadership. There can be a target, an individual that is possibly deemed a threat in some way or another and may be worked out of an organisation through unsavoury psychological tactics. Bullying is intentional, destructive leadership behaviour,” said Keevy.
Exercising control is equally as important to narcissistic, toxic leaders.
Keevy said that through bullying tactics, these psychological predators strip people of their self confidence and self-esteem.
“This makes a person more pliable, easier to mould in the manipulator’s image. That is how this kind of leader gets their power, because they have a legion of patsies on call, a herd of supporters.”
This collective, she adds, usually comprises people the toxic leader has broken down to the point of losing their own voice and confidence.
“They then turn into ‘fans’ of the narcissist, so to speak,” she said.
Toxic leaders surround themselves with a laager of “yes men”.
This becomes their primary power base.
But in essence said Keevy, “it becomes an organisation of zombies. A culture of no response, there is a deadness in culture.”
And this, while toxic leaders proclaim openness to ideas and being challenged. But the reality is a singular, unchallenged voice.
There is no innovation and no true customer care and it can impact the commercial viability of any business. Outliers that challenge toxic leaders are disposed of rapidly.
Organisational psychologist Dr Mark Orpen-Lyall points to research by Georgetown University Business School and the Thunderbird School of Global Management that quoted research in a research paper.
It showed that toxic leadership can negatively impact organisational creativity by as much as 30%, a decline of analytical problem solving by twenty percent.
Over time, client loyalty drops by 26% along with internal helping of others at the same deficit.
Managers spend up to 13% of their time cleaning up the shrapnel left behind by toxic individuals.
In her research, Keevy found that, as the adage goes, “a fish rots from the head”, and many leaders in companies display symptoms of dark leadership tactics.
But they are reluctant to change their behaviour. They believe that it could negatively impact the business or their standing within it.
People are often fearful of their jobs and do not speak up. Confronting a toxic leader is usually perceived as a career-limiting move, said Orpen-Lyall, so people often keep quiet.
Keevy added: “When in your workplace, you are in the zone and you are using everything that you have got to make magic. And with a toxic leader, it strips all of it, it strips the self.
“And that is a damaging process because sometimes you lose yourself and when you have been gaslighted, you have no reason for being. It makes you feel lost, ungrounded and insecure about your abilities.”
Orpen-Lyall said that bullies may also be among co-workers.
“There are different types of toxic behaviours. The types can include apathetic, passive aggressive, politicians, gossips and narcissists.
“More subtle toxic behaviours are information hoarders, workaholics, the value agnostic individuals, perfectionists and gaslighters.”
Bullying, he pointed out, can take the shape of emotional, psychological or physical harm.
He added: “It is a subtle process but one that can be very damaging to an individual many years after the fact and damage a company in many ways.”
Bullying is not always a difficult form of abuse to prove but relies on people coming forward.
Orpen-Lyall said creating your own internal network, thereby building your power base, helps your voice to be heard, while ensuring that you continue to deliver at an exceptional level so that there is no recourse back to you.
He said these were steps in preventing yourself from being powerless.
“Check yourself. Did you allow this situation to develop or encourage it in any way?
“Get situational clarity, understand their behaviour from their perspective, with mitigating circumstances. Have a candid conversation, discuss directly with them their behaviour and its impact, plus how you would like them to change, monitor their behaviour for improvement or backsliding. Quarantine if their behaviour does not improve to minimise damage and remove if no improvement after going through the correct industrial relations procedures.”
Orpen-Lyall added that nobody wants to be treated unfairly.
“At some stage, you do have to be brave and you do have to speak up in these situations. But again, if there are rights, processes and procedures, whether it is whistle-blowing or whatever it might be, then it may be possible to have a voice.
“Make sure that you have evidence that is corroborated and that you can use in those situations. That is undisputable.”
Keevy suggested keeping an audit trail of evidence over time to evidence abuse from a toxic leader.
It’s impossible to make a leopard change its spots. Keevy said a toxic leader cannot be forced to have good intentions.
“That is why leaders should have good, old-fashioned time with themselves, work on personal matters and mirror themselves to reflect who they really are or have become,” she added.
“They should examine their moral codes, attempt to understand what drives their behaviour and seek out their own purpose in life.”
Keevy said that toxic leaders’ behaviour is usually based on their own shortcomings and insecurities.