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Eight Toxic-Manager Behaviorsand the Cultures That Nurture Them

August 1, 1999
Toxic managers don’t just spring from nowhere, nor do they last long in cultures that don’t put up with them. Unfortunately, many companies not only allow but encourage bad management—without even knowing it.

Lynne McClure, a Mesa, Arizona-based expert on managing high-risk behaviors and author of Risky Business (Haworth Press, 1996), a book on workplace-violence prevention, offers a checklist of eight toxic-manager behaviors—and the cultures they thrive in. Take a look and see if any of these ring a bell, but, says McClure, note that we all exhibit some of these behaviors some of the time. "Upper managers looking at other managers need to use three criteria: How many of these behaviors does the manager exhibit, how often, and how intensely? The more they exhibit, the more toxic they are... and the more of the matching cultures a company possesses, the more toxic it is." Learning where your culture is and where your managers are is the first step to detoxing your workplace.

Actor Behavior
These managers act out anger rather than discuss problems. They slam doors, sulk and make it clear they’re angry, but refuse to talk about it.

Fostered by: The macho culture, in which people don’t discuss problems. The emphasis is to "take it like a man."

Fragmentor Behavior
These managers see no connection between what they do and the outcome, and take no responsibility for their behavior.

Fostered by: The specialist culture, where employees who are technically gifted or great in their fields don’t have to consider how their behavior or work impacts anyone.

Me-First Behavior
These managers make decisions based on their own convenience.

Fostered by: The elitist culture, which promotes and rewards not according to work but to who your buddies are.

Mixed-Messenger Behavior
These managers present themselves one way, but their behavior doesn’t match what they say.

Fostered by: The office-politics culture, which promotes and rewards based on flattery and positioning.

Wooden-Stick Behavior
These managers are extremely rigid and controlling.

Fostered by: The change-resistant culture, in which upper management struggles to maintain the status quo regardless of the outcome.

Escape-Artist Behavior
These managers don’t deal with reality, often lying, or at the extreme, escaping through drugs or alcohol.

Fostered by: The workaholic culture, which forces employees to spend more time at office than necessary. Employees often end up taking drugs to wake and to sleep.

Shocker Behavior
These managers behave dramatically or extremely out of character.

Fostered by: The good-ol’-employee culture, which pigeonholes or stereotypes employees, prompting them to act out.

Stranger Behavior
These managers are extremely remote with poor social skills, and can become fixated on an idea or person.

Fostered by: A cold culture in which management fears confrontations.

Workforce, August 1999, Vol. 78, No. 2, p. 44.