The Seven Sins of Toxic Managers…and the Cure.

Toxic Managers, it is time to step up and take the cure?


In our current working environment we are more frequently hearing about disgruntled employees lodging a grievance against their managers or taking legal advice against employers with a view to taking further action.


As a management trainer and former manager, I find it incredible that things like this actually happen.  I am often called into businesses to help them resolve issues between the manager and their employees and in most cases, and it is sad to say, but it is actually the fault of the manager.  That doesn’t mean the employees are without blame, they can often play their part, but it is the manager and their lack of skill in managing their teams properly that is the cause.

I have worked with so many different businesses in the last few years and quite a few of them have managers in their businesses that really should not be allowed to manage anybody. They themselves represent a huge risk to their businesses and to the people who they manage.  Quite often these managers have delivered something really good in their time with the business, and then, through no real fault of their own, they have found themselves in a management position. This can happen for a number of key reasons e.g.

  1. The business did not want to lose them and gave them the management role in order to placate and reward them.
  2. The business felt that they could replicate what they had done in others and so made the decision to move them into people management.
  3. The employee thought that the correct next step was to move into management because what they did was of such a high value to the business.

Of course, this might have been the right decision, if the employee being moved into management either wanted to become a manager, if they had displayed the characteristics of a potential manager, or if the business was prepared to actually develop them into a management role.

In many of the businesses I have worked with, one or more of these reasons have been true.

The 7 Sins of Toxic Managers

So how do we identify these poor managers who really need to step up. Here are the seven deadly sins of these managers.

Sin 1. They behave in a way that demonstrates arrogance or an air of being invaluable, this leads them to interfere in other areas of the business outside of their specific expertise, this masks another problem that they may actually not be that good at their own job. Perhaps in sales they sell cheaply just to win sales, or they have a different standard of production for themselves and yet for others it is higher.


Sin2. They talk to their teams in a way that is overly controlling and manipulative, leading to a sense of fear and worry in the team, this can lead to high sickness levels, instances of stress, grievances and ultimately high turnover.


Sin 3. When recruiting the manager employs the candidate who is easiest to control rather than the best person for the job. This results in poor performance for the business, which ultimately has its own costs.


Sin 4. The manager has poor PR throughout the business and potentially in their sector or market.  They can be seen as devious, duplicitous and not a person to be trusted.


Sin 5. They have no management process in terms of measuring performance and prefer to be more reactive to their business rather than a strategic approach. This leads to little or no effort when it comes to 1-2-1’s, performance reviews or appraisal. Of course, the teams who work for them feel undervalued and ultimately will leave.


Sin 6. They demonstrate no leadership skills, have a totally selfish approach to their role and are completely self-serving.  There is little team dynamic as there is little trust amongst the team, after all, if the team don’t trust the manager then why would they trust each other? so there is little ownership or accountability and the department delivers little by way of results.


Sin 7. They have a way of getting people to do their dirty work.  Not wanting to get their own hands dirty, they choose to abdicate management responsibility and decision making to other departments, specifically HR who they believe are their to serve them. Therefore if things go wrong, they have somewhere to hide and someone to blame.


These are pretty bad sins and yet they are very familiar. Often businesses, especially Board members would not like to admit this toxic behaviour is present in their business, and yet they know only too well it is. This can lead to them being overly protective of this type of manager, brushing away the behaviour and almost being in denial of its existence.  The underlying fear of course is that the manager will cause all sorts of potential problems if challenged.  It is like a disease really, and one that needs to be stamped out.

The 7 Cures

So let’s recommend some help, of course the managers need to admit they are at fault first and need to want to change and improve.  Here are my seven top cures to help these managers step up and get over their disease.


Cure 1. Admit there is a problem and realise it is probably you.  Once you make the admission and recognise that the causes and responsibilities are yours, can you then start to make some changes and improve.


Cure 2. Tell people.  Go and talk to someone you trust, admit your failings and demonstrate how you want to change and improve.  Don’t talk to everyone; be specific in your choices. Ask for specific support or help, this could involve management training, stress management, assertiveness skills, and communication techniques.  By talking and sharing the issues, you have started on a brilliant journey to being the best manager you can be.


Cure 3. Be more open with your team. Start to be interested in them by getting curious as to their own working methods and see what they enjoy. This will help you to understand their motivation, and how to keep them happy and engaged.  Think about how much unhappy employees are actually costing your business, and reflecting on you.


Cure 4. Revisit KPI’s and start to use them day-to-day.  The way to do this is to carry out 1-2-1 sessions with each person, make sure you do not talk over them or too much.  Ask lots of questions, and gradually introduce and agree specific goals or targets.  Start small to minimise the effects of change on the individuals and the team, you don’t want to spook them.


Cure 5. Create physical evidence of your actions.  Work in a tidy and efficient way; use a daybook for recording meetings and discussions. Create to do lists and prioritise effectively to demonstrate good time management. Be ruthless with your time, and be gracious to people, especially when getting close to deadlines or working under pressure.


Cure 6. Catch your employees doing something right.  Start to notice good behaviour and reward it, quickly. It is so easy to only notice to poor or negative things, make a concerted effort to really see the good in your team and make a point of recognising it. This doesn’t have to be over the top, as this could get a bit creepy, just take an interest, say thank you, and make a round of teas. This is a change of mindset and you will be surprised at what you may have never seen before, and yet it has always been there. Of course be sure to cap off and manage poor performance too. Be the balanced and fair manager.


Cure 7. Keep a journal. Not a huge long Dear Diary thing, just a daily log. I have been keeping one of these for years, and it really helps in developing a sense of purpose and self.  In your journal, list just three things. The first is your win for the day.  What was it that went really well? Catch and record yourself doing something right. Write it down.  The second is to think about a daily challenge, what did not go well that day, it can be anything, write that down too.  The third is about change, what will you do differently in order to never make the second thing happen again, or be such a challenge or to never make the same mistake twice.  By keeping this journal you will literally see yourself developing on the page, and over time this will be quite the memoir and one you can use to help mentor and develop managers in the future. After all, you will have become a trusted manager, a leader and an example to others, something to be proud of.


Managers need help in the modern workplace to be the best they can be, and to manager teams, tasks and individuals fairly.  If your managers need help, pass on this blog, if they need management development or training then get in touch with my management section of  Thanks for reading.

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