Your Employees Are Not Criminals . . . So Why Treat Them That Way?

Teresa A Daniel, JD, PhD
Dean & Professor-Human Resource Leadership Program at Sullivan University
Originally published on linkedIn

Every company has work rules and expected standards of conduct. Unfortunately, employees do not always live up to those standards resulting in a unilateral decision to part ways. Adding to the stress and emotion that an employee is likely to feel when notified of the termination decision, all too often employers also put them through a somewhat barbaric and humiliating “walk of shame”.

You know what I am talking about (and no, it is not the morning after a college fraternity party). You have likely seen it happen at work or even participated in the practice yourself. The “walk of shame” is an outdated management practice where the terminated employee’s personal belongs are packed up and put in a box and then they are tightly escorted out of the building—treated more like a common criminal than a formerly valued employee. It should come as no surprise that the impact on the departing employee is humiliation, emotional pain, resentment, and sometimes a vindictive urge to “get even”. We see the news stories all too often where a former employee returns to the worksite with a weapon, resulting in violence against his former colleagues that sometimes ends in deaths that could potentially have been avoided if the termination had been handled more humanely.

If there are valid reasons to be concerned about security or if legitimate risks have been identified, then by all means, appropriate safety precautions should be taken. For example, an employee who is being terminated for misconduct should definitely be closely monitored, as should any employee who becomes heated during the termination meeting and shows no signs of cooling off. However, most departing employees have done nothing wrong, pose no real threat or risk, and are not in a position to steal important documents or otherwise wreak havoc on your company.

For these reasons and more, it is my contention that the goal of every employer should be to end the employment relationship in the same way that it is typically begun—through honest communication, active listening, and treating the person with compassion, care, and respect. You know, like a human.

Ending the relationship on the best terms possible is just good business, and here’s why.

Terminations for Poor Performance or Job Elimination

An employee does not become a criminal just because the company has decided to terminate the employment relationship. Assuming this to be true, then why do so many companies treat them as if they are? The truth is that many of these people have worked hard and been loyal to the company for years. While termination decisions are often made directly because of a performance issue, other times they are made for reasons totally outside of the person’s control (e.g. a sharp decrease in profitability, change in strategy, corporate merger, or other form of restructuring).

It has been my experience that most terminated employees are rational and mature adults who are capable of understanding the business reasons, especially when the decision is a reduction in force. Given this, the better strategy is to have an open, candid conversation about the business reasons for the decision, thank the person for their years of service and for their contributions to the company, and allow them to return to their work station to pack up and say goodbye to co-workers–without an official company escort watching over their every move.

It is reasonable to set clear expectations about the timing of their departure so that the work environment is not disrupted for too long, but do not ask them to leave the premises immediately as if they have somehow turned into a dangerous felon. Sure, it is an uncomfortable situation that everyone would like to get through as quickly as possible, but there is merit in treating the individual like the good (or probably at least decent) former employee they were immediately prior to the termination meeting.

Conversely, when people feel that they have been disrespected or treated unfairly, they are more inclined to file a lawsuit, engage in a vindictive social media campaign to discredit the company, or, worse yet, engage in violence. As a result, you really do not want to give a terminated employee any incentive to retaliate.

Deal with them like you would personally want to be treated in a similar situation. Even though they may not like the company’s decision, they are more likely to successfully move forward if they feel that the company handled the end of the relationship with sensitivity and concern for them as a person. If your company has already adopted this strategy, kudos to you and your enlightened management for being ahead of the curve.

It is important to remember that terminated employees are not the only ones who are affected by this common practice. Employees who witness a co-worker being abruptly fired and/or escorted out of the building by security guards or HR receive a clear message that they could someday suffer the very same fate. This awareness can have a major impact on their loyalty and trust in management, as well as on their future levels of employee engagement, productivity, commitment, and even on their decision to stay with the company.

The Psychological Trauma of the “Walk of Shame”

A lawsuit filed against Target Corporation in 2015 provides a cautionary tale about employer use of “walk of shame” practices in cases of suspected misconduct. In this California case, a young Target employee arrived early for work one day and was met at the entrance by store security and police. At the direction of two store managers, the police officers grabbed him, emptied his pockets, pulled off his hat, handcuffed him, and then led him into the store, past co-workers and store customers, to be questioned. After being questioned, the employee was taken in a police car to the police department. He was later released and was not charged with any crime. He committed suicide three days later.

So What?

The “walk of shame” is a bad management strategy that has inexplicably become a fairly standard organizational practice. It is usually followed without an assessment of the actual level of risk posed by each unique situation. It is long past time to end this archaic and objectionable way of handling employee terminations.

The fix is relatively easy. It will take just one determined individual willing to present the business case for the change and who is willing to boldly announce that “this is the wrong way to treat people and we need to change it”. What is stopping YOU from stepping up?

The communication value of a reversal in the company’s long-standing practice is likely to be quite positive. An announcement to employees that the company’s termination process is out of step with its values about the importance of its people will go a long way toward building trusting and long-term relationships—and that’s not only good for your people, it’s also good for your business.

© Copyright by Teresa A. Daniel, JD, PhD. June 2020. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

Teresa A. Daniel, JD, PhD currently serves as Dean & Professor-Human Resource Leadership Programs at Sullivan University (www.sullivan.edu) based in Louisville, KY. She is also the Chair for the HRL concentration in the university’s PhD in Management program. Dr. Daniel has a significant body of research in HR with an emphasis on two primary areas of inquiry: (1) counterproductive work behaviors (focused on workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic leadership), and (2) HR’s unique role and its impact on organizational effectiveness (primarily in the management of toxic workplace emotions, responding to situations of workplace bullying and harassment, dealing with toxic leaders, and the management of people during mergers and acquisitions).

Dr Daniel’s research has been actively supported by the national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) through the publication of numerous articles, interviews, and books. Her most recent book, Guardrails: Taming Toxic Leaders and Building Positive Cultures, is underway and will be published by SHRM Books in 2021. She is also the author of Organizational Toxin Handlers: The Critical Role of HR, OD, and Coaching Practitioners in Managing Toxic Workplace Situations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and is the co-author of two books with Dr Gary Metcalf titled Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR, Legal & Risk Management Professionals (SHRM, 2016) and The Management of People in Mergers & Acquisitions (Quorum Books, 2001). She can be reached here

Gary Metcalf: Complex Systems Science Gathering, Stockholm, Sweden, 2019 Dec 07

Gary Metcalf, Complex Systems Science Gathering, Stockholm, Sweden, 2019 Dec 07

Gary Metcalf, Complex Systems Science Gathering, Stockholm, Sweden, 2019 Dec 07

Winners of the 2019 SHRM ‘HRaiku’ Contest: 1st place Teresa Daniel

Third annual contest celebrates National Poetry Month, HR professionals’ creativity

Grand Prize Winners

First Place

Human capital

Is the engine of the firm;

HR makes it hum.

—Teresa A. Daniel, Louisville, Ky.

WKYT Kentucky TV: Dr. Teresa Daniel on Workplace Bullying

WHAS11 TV: Dr. Teresa Daniel, Workplace Bullying Interview

Dr.

WHAS11 TV Interview, Dr. Teresa Daniel, Tackling Workplace Bullying, TV Interview, 2018 Nov 07

WHAS11 TV Interview, Dr. Teresa Daniel, Tackling Workplace Bullying, TV Interview, 2018 Nov 07


Earlier this week WHAS11 News interviewed Sullivan University’s Dr. Teresa Daniel about her recent contribution to an article about workplace bullying in Redbook Magazine. Dr. Daniel is the Dean of the Human Resource Leadership Program and expert in workplace bullying.

Find more about our Human Resource Leadership program here: https://sullivan.edu/hr-leadership-rfi/

alternate

Sullivan University dean recognized as thought leader on workplace bullying

https://louisvillefuture.com/sponsored/sullivan-university-dean-recognized-as-thought-leader-on-workplace-bullying/Sullivan University dean recognized as thought leader on workplace bullying

“It’s important for women to know that they don’t have to take it anymore,” Dr. Daniel, who is also an employment lawyer, says in the article. “I think the changes we are seeing with respect to sexual harassment after the #MeToo movement are going to spill over.”

“Women are becoming more vocal because for the first time they have some confidence that they will be believed,” she said. “The atmosphere is changing, and corporations will hopefully realize they can’t tolerate any kind of bad behavior at work and will impose more accountability.”…

“HR can be a great resource, but it depends on the culture of the organization,” she said. “At organizations that say, ‘We treat everybody with respect and won’t allow this kind of interaction to stand’, bullies end up either getting fired or quitting.”

But if engaging HR does not work, Dr. Daniel says women should begin an aggressive search for a new job.

“The problem with staying in a workplace bullying situation is that over time you start to feel devalued, and the more devalued you feel the less confident you are to go out and get another job,” Dr. Daniel said. “So it’s a real slippery slope.”

DR. DANIEL, QUOTED IN REDBOOK: Sullivan University

DANIEL, PH.D., AN EMPLOYMENT LAWYER AND DEAN OF THE HUMAN RESOURCE LEADERSHIP PROGRAM AT SULLIVAN UNIVERSITY IN LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY IS QUOTED IN REDBOOK

WOMEN NEED TO KNOW THEY DON’T HAVE TO TAKE BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE

Last year, 19.5 million American women were bullied at work. Infuriatingly, there wasn’t much they could do about it. Let’s all help change that. Redbook and TLC Network are teaming up to honor heroes fighting bullying in their communities. Here’s what three of our “Give a Little TLC” award recipients want you to know.

My inbox was flooded — overflowing with incoming mail. I’d put out the call to a handful of experts and Facebook groups for women’s stories of workplace bullying. I thought perhaps I’d hear from a dozen women.

Instead, within a week, nearly a hundred stories from around the country and around the world poured in, with a steady stream continuing in the days and weeks that followed.

Redbook Magazine Quotes Daniel: Women Need to Know They Don’t Have to Take Bullying in the Workplace

Women Need to Know They Don’t Have to Take Bullying in the Workplace

Namie is skeptical of HR’s ability to broker change, and Teresa A. Daniel, Ph.D., an employment lawyer and dean of the Human Resource Leadership Program at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky, agrees that going to HR can make things worse — and has in many cases. Nonetheless, she argues that it is the first step: “HR can be a great resource, but it depends on the culture of the organization. At organizations that say, ‘We treat everybody with respect and won’t allow this kind of interaction to stand,’ bullies end up either getting fired or quitting.”

If taking the issue higher up doesn’t net results, Daniel advises women to begin “an aggressive search for a new job. The problem with staying in a workplace bullying situation is that over time you start to feel devalued, and the more devalued you feel, the less confident you are to go out and get another job. So it’s a real slippery slope.”

Our experts are hopeful that soon, quitting won’t be the best option most women feel they have. “For the first time, I am really hopeful,” Daniel says. “I think the changes we are seeing with respect to sexual harassment after the #MeToo movement are going to spill over. Women are becoming more vocal because for the first time they have some confidence that they will be believed. The atmosphere is changing, and corporations will hopefully realize they can’t tolerate any kind of bad behavior at work and will impose accountability,” she says. Whether or not those changes come to pass in the near future, the bottom line is, says Daniel, “It’s important for women to know that they don’t have to take it anymore.”

Are You a Toxic Leader or Just a Tough Boss?

By Teresa A. Daniel, JD, PhD and Gary S. Metcalf, PhD

As scholar-practitioners, this question has consumed our research agenda for the past several years. In an attempt to find answers, we have completed studies both in the corporate sector [i] and in a military environment (in this case, the U.S. Army). [ii] But what is it that toxic leaders do and why, you might be asking, should anyone care? Isn’t this just the newest buzzword in a long line of “hot” topics?

Toxic Leaders—Who They Are and What They Do

Whether they are labeled as toxic leaders (in a military context) or workplace bullies (in a corporate environment), they are highly destructive. These types of leaders act aggressively toward their subordinates, are highly critical and dismissive, demand almost blind loyalty, frequently blame or take credit for the work of others and play mind games designed to keep people off balance. They exert their dominance and exploit their power and authority by threatening, intimidating, yelling, or engaging in vicious and explosive verbal assaults intended to demean, undermine, and publicly humiliate those on the receiving end. Though rare, they also sometimes engage in physical attacks too. Their subordinates generally hate or fear them (often both), and usually work very hard to stay out of their line of sight.

Why Should You Care?

Toxic leaders can (and often do) achieve extraordinary results, but the price is often sky high. Their impact on people is destructive and often intolerable, but they don’t seem to care. They just want to get the job done as fast as humanly possible so that they can secure their next promotion and move on up. As a result of their short-term “take no prisoners” focus, they invariably leave their organizations in far worse shape than when they started. Outcomes range from mutiny and death to an erosion of trust, increased turnover, domestic violence, higher absenteeism, increased alcohol and drug use, as well as reductions in employee motivation, productivity, and job satisfaction. As if that were not enough, the organization is also often hit with related costs arising from increases in workers’ compensation claims, plus marked spikes in both mental health and medical expenses (predominantly due to increased stress). In combination, these likely outcomes seem like more than enough reason to want to do something about finding, fixing, or firing these destructive leaders. There are some interesting distinctions between destructive leaders who operate in a military context from those operating in the corporate world. We will explore these differences next.

The Toxic Military Leader: “It’s All About Me”

According to a recent U.S. Army internal survey, an estimated 20% of soldiers report having suffered under a toxic leader [iii]. So what does it mean to be toxic? The term is generally applied to a leader who “appears driven by self-centered careerism at the expense of their subordinates and unit, and whose style is characterized by abusive and dictatorial behavior that promotes an unhealthy organizational climate” [iv]. Similarly, others have characterized toxic leadership as “an apparent lack of concern for the well-being of subordinates”, “a personality or interpersonal technique that negatively affects organizational climate”, and “a conviction by subordinates that the leader is motivated primarily by self-interest”. [v]

Supported by a strong culture that considers mission accomplishment to be almost sacrosanct, toxic military leaders are intensely mission focused which, of course, is entirely appropriate. It becomes a double-edged sword, though, when they fail to take into account how the results are attained. They tend to adopt a “results at any cost” strategy that does not factor in how working a rigorous and demanding work schedule (often including weekends) impacts soldiers and their families.

The impact on people is similarly harsh when a toxic leader ambitiously over-extends the unit on projects to enhance their own standing in their commander’s perspective. In these situations, soldiers are often required to work for extended periods of time without adequate personnel or equipment on the off-chance that the toxic leader will get some extra benefit from his superiors by taking on the assignment. Consequently, the subordinates of toxic leaders feel that toxic leaders have no empathy for and simply do not care about them. The result is that they either burn out and leave due to the relentless demands and harsh treatment, or stay but feel angry and demoralized— not exactly the conditions to inspire or build a cohesive work unit.

Not only are toxic leaders results-driven to a fault, but they wholeheartedly embrace a “kiss up and kick down” style of operating. Their advanced interpersonal skills allow them to schmooze and get along with senior leaders at the top echelon. This political saavy, coupled with their accomplishment of near-impossible missions, causes their superiors to hold them with high regard—viewing them as “great guys” with “extraordinary abilities to get things done”. Their solid reputation for being bright, personable, technically competent, and for getting things done overwhelms any suspicion by their boss that their means might not justify the ends. [vi]

While toxic leaders are often revered by their superiors, their subordinates know all too well how abusive and excessively self-interested they can be. They are widely viewed as having little regard for people other than themselves. They are also perceived as being obsessively focused not on doing what is necessarily right for the U.S. Army, but laser-focused on securing their next promotion or opportunity to impress their superiors. In fact, they sometimes get involved in activities only if they believe that a senior leader will be there to impress. This self-absorption causes subordinates to see the motive of their leader as being less about ensuring the Army’s success, and more along the lines of “it’s all about me, me, and me”. Not surprisingly, toxic leaders do not tend to see themselves as arrogant, self-interested, destructive, or cruel. If they are aware at all of their impact on others, they rationalize their behavior as being “tough” and “mission driven” while denigrating those who object to their operating style by calling them “whiners” and “crybabies”.

The truth is their behavior is both tough and mission driven; however, it goes far beyond that—their interactions with subordinates are widely perceived as harsh, abusive, intimidating, threatening, humiliating, and almost always demoralizing to those who work for them. For the rare toxic leaders who are actually aware of their negative impact on others, they don’t seem to care as long as the mission is accomplished. The result is an excessive number of transfer requests or full resignations from the Army by soldiers under their command.

It is the failure of toxic leaders to develop and retain the talented subordinates that are so critical to the success of an all-volunteer Army that may be their most lasting and destructive impact on the organization. [vii] Think about it: when a person works for a corporation, they can quit and go to work for another company but stay in their profession. However, when military personnel find their leaders to be so intolerable that they would prefer to leave the service, all they can do is resign and leave the military profession altogether, along with their pension. [viii] Dave Matsuda nailed it when he said this: Outside the wire, the enemy is the enemy; inside the wire, the command climate is the enemy. [ix]

Paradoxically and despite all of the devastation they leave in their wake, toxic leaders are usually successful—at least in the short-term. Why? Because they do get results. But by the time the damage they have caused to their unit is well understood, the toxic leader is long gone, happily promoted and relocated to their next assignment— where they start the destructive cycle all over again.

The Toxic Corporate Leader: “I’m Gonna Get You—Whatever It Takes”

The U.S. Army most assuredly is not the only large organization with a toxic leader problem—the corporate sector also has its fair share of destructive leaders where they are generally referred to as workplace bullies. About 27% of adult Americans reported that they have directly experienced bullying at work defined as “repeated abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or work abuse.”[x] Like toxic leaders, corporate bullies frequently misuse their power and authority, are excessively self-focused, prone to emotional outbursts, and often treat people unfairly.[xi] But there is one key difference: unlike the toxic military leader whose actions tend to negatively affect the command climate of the entire unit, toxic corporate types typically single out a single employee to torment, humiliate, or intimidate for a period of time—until they move on to their next target. Their motive is described as “I’m gonna get you—whatever it takes”. Some targets describe the experience as being “an all-out personal attack”.[xii] Indeed, our findings support these sentiments by showing that toxic corporate leaders act with malice—meaning “the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another”[xiii]. What this means is that their behavior is intentionally abusive and purposefully targeted toward specific individuals, usually with the intent to drive the person out of the organization.

Tough Bosses Everywhere: “Tough but Fair”

Although we found some differences between toxic leaders that were dependent on whether they were operating in a military or corporate context, we found that tough bosses are virtually the same in both environments. Think of tough bosses as almost the polar opposite of toxic leaders. While toxic leaders are universally bad for an organization, tough bosses who get things done are essential for success.

The profile of a tough boss most often looks like this: they are professional, self-controlled, highly self-aware, emotionally mature, results-oriented, and strive to make long-term decisions that are good for both their people and the organization. Like toxic leaders, tough bosses are also passionate about getting results; in fact, they are sometimes perceived as nearly maniacal in their efforts to meet their goals. They are by no means “soft” or easy to work for, but they make sure to show that they really care about their people—by taking time to mentor and coach, by getting to know their people on a personal level, through frequent two-way communications, by recognizing and celebrating performance, by taking personal responsibility for mistakes in their department, and by acting quickly to resolve interpersonal conflicts or address other work-related concerns. This more humane approach results in a generally positive work climate (at least most days). People who work for tough bosses consistently characterize them as “tough but fair”—and generally feel a great deal of loyalty and respect for them.

Lest the picture seem too rosy, though, the challenge of working for a tough boss should not be minimized. They are usually intense and highly driven individuals. Their demanding (and sometimes perfectionistic) expectations undoubtedly create a fair amount of tension and stress for those who work for them. The difference is that employees understand that their drive for results is not personal or mean-spirited—it is meant to benefit both them and the organization.

It is important to note that tough bosses place a heavy emphasis on employee development and spend a great deal of time mentoring and coaching their subordinates. This focus, coupled with their adherence to high standards, helps to ensure that their organizations are continuously building a pipeline of strong, well trained future leaders. Ultimately, this is their greatest legacy to the long-term success and sustainability of their organizations.

While it should come as no surprise, participants in our studies were adamant that tough bosses should not be admonished or cautioned to tone it down simply because they set the bar high for their subordinates and are not necessarily easy to work for. In fact, they made a very strong case that tough, demanding, and results-oriented leaders are absolutely essential for organizational success—and we could not agree with them more.

Assessing Toxic Leader Behaviors

Some of you are by now probably thinking to yourself: Is my boss a toxic leader? Or, hitting a little closer to home: What about me—am I toxic or just tough? To get a handle on either answer, here are the most common toxic behaviors that we uncovered in our research. Check “yes” to any and all that seem to apply.

# Toxic Leader Behaviors

Do you:

  1. Care about achieving results so much that you fail to consider the impact of the work and schedule on employees and their families
  2. Excessively focus on your own pay and promotions
  3. Take credit for the work of others
  4. Always think you are right and that your ideas are the best ones
  5. Fail to get to know your employees on a personal level
  6. Unconcerned about or oblivious to employee morale
  7. Fail to allow discussion or debate because you consider it a threat to your authority
  8. Often make short-term decisions that make you look good but that are likely to be detrimental to the organization in the long-run
  9. Appear charming and personable to your boss but treat your employees badly
  10. Engage in angry tirades and/or attack people verbally or physically
  11. Intentionally seek to threaten, intimidate, or humiliate people
  12. Treat people unfairly, inconsistently, and with a lack of respect
  13. Blame others for mistakes but take no personal responsibility
  14. Have an inflated sense of self-importance
  15. Commit to meeting goals without securing the proper funding, resources, or personnel
  16. Fail to mentor or develop your empl0yees
  17. Create a climate of fear, anxiety, or mistrust at work

Getting a Handle on Toxic Tendencies

It is really hard to be objective about yourself, so it’s a good idea to invite other people to weigh-in. You must risk being vulnerable and ask for direct and candid opinions about your effect on others. You will get the most benefit from talking with colleagues and friends who you know will be brutally frank with you (although it will undoubtedly be hard to hear).

Get an executive coach who can help you critically examine yourself and who can also provide you with strategies and tools to support you as you make adjustments to your way of operating at work. Take time to listen and pay closer attention to your impact on others. If you have not yet explored the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI®), consider taking this assessment to learn more about your preferences and personality style. Participate in your company’s system of 360-degree feedback assessment to see how you are coming across to your boss, peers, and subordinates at work.

Work on improving your self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills—all of which make up your emotional intelligence. The data showing that emotional intelligence is a key differentiator between star performers and others is irrefutable. [xiv]

Above all, though, refrain from making excuses to yourself or others about your use of power and authority in ways that are motivated, at least in part, by ego and self-interest. After all, these are your negative behaviors—own them. Any change is tough, but until you decide that changing yourself is absolutely required and you begin the hard work that it will take to get there, leading with a toxic twist will remain your default modus operandi—and it will ultimately derail your career.

Assessing Tough Boss Behaviors

Now that you have some idea about toxic tendencies, here are the most common tough boss behaviors that we uncovered in our earlier studies. Check “yes” to any and all that seem to apply.

# Tough Boss Behaviors

Do you:

  1. Care about achieving results but also consider the impact of the work and schedule on your employees and their families
  2. Have tough and demanding expectations for yourself and your subordinates about achieving results
  3. Have a high level of self-awareness, empathy, and emotional maturity
  4. Show care and concern for your people
  5. Act professionally and with self-control at work
  6. Seek to resolve conflicts fairly and quickly
  7. Give credit and recognition to others
  8. Celebrate and reward the successful efforts of your subordinates
  9. Treat people fairly, consistently, and with respect
  10. Take time to mentor, coach, and develop your subordinates
  11. Take personal responsibility for mistakes in your unit or department
  12. Make decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the organization
  13. Seek to develop a positive and respectful work climate

So What?

Hopefully these checklists have provided a quick way for you to assess your own behaviors (or those of your boss). Why is this important? Armed with this knowledge, on an individual level, you can decide to proactively change some of your less desirable behaviors in order to stay on a positive leadership track at work. For organizations, clearer distinctions between toxic leaders and tough bosses can help with quicker identification of both. This means that tough bosses can be more quickly recognized and rewarded for their constructive leadership style, and toxic leaders can be paired with a coach or mentor in an attempt to get a handle on their destructive tendencies; however, if they can’t or won’t change, the sad truth is that the best option is to show them the door.

Hopeful Signs for the Future

The evidence is overwhelming that toxic leaders permeate the highest levels of most organizations in fairly large numbers, they are destructive, and they cause significant damage to both their people and their organizations—but there is still reason to be optimistic about the future. The U.S. Army has relieved a number of high-ranking toxic officers for creating negative toxic command climates in recent years. Numerous corporations have similarly terminated high-flying senior executives for their abusive behavior at work—despite the fact that they were getting results. In addition, the Healthy Workplace Bill— legislation that would provide legal redress for health-harming mistreatment occurring at work—has been considered (but not yet adopted) by legislatures in more than two dozen states [xv].

Key Takeaways

Really smart organizations have already figured out that they will not be able to attract and retain really great people by allowing them to be treated like $@*%. That heavy-handed “do as I say because I said so” style of leadership is uninspiring, demoralizing, and often destructive which is why, thankfully, it is rapidly going the way of the dinosaur.

Enlightened companies understand that employees work at their best when they are treated with trust, respect, and fairness—timeless values that really matter to people and which will never go out of style. At the same time, organizations are waking up to the fact that abusive leaders drive away talent, making them simply too expensive to keep—regardless of their ability to deliver results. The new strategy emerging when it comes to dealing with toxic leaders is simple and goes something like this: Find them, fix them, or fire them. [xvi]

So, here’s a word to the wise: a new day is coming when toxic leaders will be viewed as irrelevant relics of a long ago past—the workplace equivalent of dinosaur fossils. In many advanced organizations, that day is already here. The choice for toxic leaders is now clear: change or become extinct.

Endnotes

[1] Daniel, T.A. (2009). “Tough Boss” or Workplace Bully?: A Grounded Theory

Study of Insights from Human Resource Professionals. Doctoral Dissertation, Fielding

Graduate University. Retrieved fromhttp://gradworks.umi.com/33/50/3350585.html; and

Daniel, T.A. & Metcalf, G.S. (2016, in press). Stop bullying at work: Strategies and

tools for HR, legal & risk management professionals (2nd and expanded edition).

Alexandria, VA: SHRM Books.

[2] Daniel, T.A. & Metcalf, G.S. (2015). Crossing the line: An examination of toxic

leadership in the U.S. Army. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.2700.4969. Retrieved

from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274252085_Crossing_the_Line_An_E

xamination_of_Toxic_Leadership_in_the_U.S._Army.

[3] Steele, J.P. (2011). Technical Report 2011-3: Antecedents and consequences of

toxic leadership in the U.S. Army: A two year review and recommended solutions. Ft.

Leavenworth, KS: Center for Army Leadership. Retrieved

fromhttp://usacac.Army.mil/CAC2/Repository/CASAL_TechReport2011-

3_ToxicLeadership.pdf.

[4] Ulmer, W.F. (2012, June). Toxic leadership. Army, 47-52 at 48.

[5] Reed, G.E. (2004). Toxic leaders. Military Review, 67-71. Retrieved

fromhttp://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/milreview/reed.pdf.

[6] Personal email communication on April 1, 2015 with LTG Walter F. Ulmer, Jr.

(U.S. Army, retired).

[7] Personal email communication on March 31, 2015 with LTG Walter F. Ulmer, Jr.

(U.S. Army, retired).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Matsuda, D. (2014, May 24). A study of Army suicides in Iraq in 2010 in

  1. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140524145604-76082895-astudy-

of-army-suicides-in-iraq-a-2010-study-in-2014-context.

[10] Workplace Bullying Institute (2014). 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey.

Retrieved from http://workplacebullying.org/multi/pdf/WBI-2014-US-Survey.pdf.

[11] Daniel (2009).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Online). Retrieved fromhttp://www.merriamwebster.

com/dictionary/malice.

[14] Wilkins, M.M. (2014, December 31). Signs that you lack emotional

intelligence. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved fromhttps://hbr.org/2014/12/signsthat-

you-lack-emotional-intelligence.

[15] Healthy Workplace Bill. Retrieved

fromhttp://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/bill.php.

[16] Owens, D.M. (2014, March 1). Dr. David Posen’s prescription for work stress.

SHRM’s HR Magazine, 59(3), 44.

 

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their sincere appreciation to LTG Walter

Ulmer (U.S. Army retired) for taking the time to generously share his insights,

suggestions, and critique on earlier drafts of this article. General Ulmer is truly a rock

star in terms of his groundbreaking research and writing which has helped to create

greater awareness and understanding about the problem of toxic leadership. His work

is also helping to shape the dialogue about response strategies now taking place within

the highest levels of the U.S. Army and other branches of our military service.

 

© Copyright by Teresa A. Daniel, JD, PhD & Gary S. Metcalf, PhD. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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