Agile CEOs Cannot Ignore Toxic Managers

By Brian Lucas

Dedicated to someone lost long ago, taken by the angels all too soon, because she was one of them!

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”  ― Desmond Tutu

ThiToxic Managerss is obviously an emotional and very important topic.   A few weeks back, an article was posted in LinkedIn, in which I started a side stream about toxic managers. My comment touched a nerve and generated quite a few likes and comments.  The relationship between agile and open and honest communication even with the highest level managers is paramount.  Unfortunately, bad management and tolerance of toxic managers is rampant. I just came across a study by the Employment Law Alliance that has very disturbing statistics. Let’s look at a few statistics from the study:

  1.  50% of all employees have been the target of a bully boss.
  2. 95% of the bullying is witnessed by a third party.
  3. 82% of those bullied lose their jobs.
  4. 81% of the bullies are managers.
  5. 7% of the bullies end up being punished through censure, transfer or termination.

There were other disturbing statistics, such as 84% of the targets are women, but I wanted to concentrate on these five and what it says about management. Let’s take them in order:

The first statistic (50% of all employees have been the target of a bully boss) tells us that this is a prevalent issue and CEOs need to move this to the top of their priority list and stop ignoring it. Organizations that see, on average, a 75% employee disengagement should look to this factor as a major concern.

The second statistic (95% of the bullying is witnessed by a third party) tells us that management has established an environment where it is unhealthy for employees to admit they observed unacceptable behavior by a manager. I recently made a comment on a post of Jeff Weiner’s entitled, Three Musts to Retaining Superstar Talent. In my comment, I said, he missed an opportunity to follow up on his statement about, “burning bridges by speaking hard truths”. A great fault of executives is their inability to have employees tell them direct and honest truths about themselves, their policies, their managers, etc. My comment received 42 likes so far, so it touched a nerve. Obviously this is a dark side of CEOs they don’t want to admit. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on superstar talent and not enough on the general workforce.

The third statistic (82% of those bullied lose their jobs) is an incredible condemnation of executive management and the human resource organizations that should be protecting the employees. Just how bad does this number have to become for organizations to take this seriously. No wonder more employees do not report management infractions.

The fourth statistic (81% of the bullies are managers) speaks for itself. Management is the overall culprit here and ultimately culpable for this action. It reinforces and legitimizes the term “toxic”. How do you think the employees that are being bullied feel about coming to work every day? The response that management usually resorts to is, “If you don’t like it here, quit!” Some employees are single parents or others in difficult situations and cannot afford to lose their job and have little time to look for another.

I left the worst for last. Only 7% of the bullies end up being punished through censure, transfer or termination. This means 93% of these toxic managers, bully employees with impunity. Could there be a worse condemnation of CEOs being out of touch with their workforce. Until CEOs are willing to confront the issue of toxic management, they will not address the disengagement of the workforce. All the other tricks and tips they offer will only have minimal returns or be a waste of effort. Management needs to learn when you have a willing and engaged workforce, that has a well founded trust in management, you can accomplish anything. Bullying people is never a path to this type of success.  If a CEO wants the organization to become agile, they must first loose their arrogance and insist the senior management team does the same.  The resulting wealth of workforce engagement will make this exercise in humility worth the effort.  Remember until next time – keep agile!

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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12 Responses to Agile CEOs Cannot Ignore Toxic Managers

  1. Tamera Newton says:

    It is so disgusting to see CEOs ignore toxic managers who suck up to them, no matter how many people’s lives they ruin. How very small these executives must really be inside to need such constant stroking of their egos at the expense of others and even the health of the business.

  2. Alan Ruckman says:

    Ha! Insecure CEOs have been ignoring obnoxious, toxic managers that are their lapdogs for generations and will continue to do so. Its disgusting how vile people can become when they come to power. It is even more perverted that they often think of themselves as benefactors of society!

  3. Anthony Diomedo, Phd. says:

    Brian it is my experience that Toxic Managers do not rise to the level of toxic influence in an organization unless they are tolerated and even sponsored by a senior executive. A toxic manager is not determined by one act, but by repetitive acts of employee abuse. This abuse is so chronic that it poisons the atmosphere and subdues productivity and creativity even when the toxic manager does nothing. Employees often choose not to offer up high valued work because they know it will be disparaged.

  4. Porter-M says:

    I hear you Brian, but they do it all the time…

  5. Harold Banyon says:

    CEOs and their toxic golden people are the cause of most of the lack of productivity. Its disgusting just how prevalent this is in our business environment. They want more from the workforce yet refuse to clean up their own messes. Its often worse in privately held companies where the owner employs all his family. Its why I don’t work for privately held companies anymore.

  6. Heidi Schultz says:

    It seems to me that while this issue is universal, it is most prevalent in American business. Have you any information on the breakdown of poor management practices and toxic managers by country? I would greatly appreciate your sharing that with me.

  7. Professor Vincent Gonzales, Ed.D., MBA says:

    It is past time that this issue be brought into the light and most strenuously dealt with. I recommend a good book on this subject, Coping with Toxic Managers, Subordinates … and Other Difficult People: Using Emotional Intelligence to Survive and Prosper by Roy H. Lubit. Everything possible must be done to stamp out toxic management. It has been a serious issue tolerated far too long.

  8. Joshua Nolan says:

    Brian, this is an age old problem, not a new one! It will not be solved by the current round of “people focused” management ideas and employee rights legislation. There will always be managers and owners that exert coercion on employees and rule by fear. This is why after 15 years in corporate America, I choose to become an independent. I have never worked for a large company that did not have at least a few managers that used intimidation and were either the CEO or deeply entrenched with some power player in upper management. Your call to action here is well meaning and I agree with it in principle. It will not change the mind of any “toxic” manager or those that sponsor them. That is the unfortunate reality.

  9. Ingrid Danzer says:

    There appears to be much antagonism and hostility in American business based on the remarks made here and other research I have done. If you Google -the most hated companies- you will see results for companies in America. There are only a few references to companies in the world and these all name American businesses. What is it that American businesses don’t understand about the need for positive workplace environment? For all the vaulted claims about how progressive and dynamic American business is, they appear to be behind Europe in being able to offer a healthy employee-oriented workplace.

  10. Gordon Cooke says:

    As others have noted here, this is not a new problem. I don’t see this changing in the immediate future even with the market pressures that the author mentions here. People are slow to change and a toxic manager will seldom change his stripes.

  11. Donna Uhl says:

    Brian, I have been in executive management for 14 years and I can tell you that women have been dealing with this issue forever! The potential for toxic behavior exists in most males. Many a male manager that would not think of treating another male poorly has no problem poisoning the atmosphere for any manager that happens to be a woman. Your article is all very well and good, but if companies won’t address the disadvantage women have, they won’t get rid of other toxic managers.

  12. Lianne says:

    Thanks for posting this Brian! What more can we as workers do to remove toxic managers from the work place without loosing our own jobs!

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