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  • Breaking Barriers

The Toxic Leader

Updated: Dec 1, 2018

“The way this world treats you is the way you have taught this world to treat you”

Quotes by S.A. Hussaini



Bad leadership can be detrimental for any organisation and its people. In today’s well connected and integrated world, it doesn’t take time for any comment on leadership to spread. We believe, people do not work for organizations, they work for the leaders that’s why when they leave they don’t leave the organisation but they leave the leaders.


In today’s highly competitive market every organisation depends on its people and the biggest struggle is for good talent. A loss of a talented resource may lead to major loss of business. Also any comment on the Leadership can have a major effect on the brand attractiveness.


This article talks about Toxic Leadership, what is it, how it affects people and how to manage Toxic Leaders if you have to work with one.



Who is a Toxic Leader?


Toxic Leadership is a powerful method of manipulation in which a Leader threatens (either directly or indirectly) to punish us if we don't do what they want. Any leader who manipulates us mentally and emotionally for their own personal goals and benefits without any regard or concern for our wellbeing is a Toxic Leader.


What makes a Leader toxic?

We all have innate fears and insecurities that may drive us towards becoming a Toxic Leader. Some of the reasons that Leaders end up becoming toxic are:

  • fear of abandonment and deprivation or of being hurt

  • feel desperate and helpless themselves

  • strong need or compulsion to be in control of things

  • frequent frustration and disappointment

  • “Thought distortions” regarding the reasonableness of their demands

  • bad role model or conditioning: Had someone lead them or seen someone who had power and authority around them, lead in the same manner and sees that it works to get them what they want


What are the signs of a Toxic Leader?


It’s not easy to identify a Toxic Leader since some show the signs clearly and others hide them and use covert methods to get what they want. Some of the observable signs are:


  • Unreasonable: “My way or the High Way”, Toxic Leaders are unreasonable and do not believe in listening to the other side since they hate to lose and will try to win at any cost, even relationships. Every conversation with them is a tussle of Egos where they have to win, if they lose they have to come back and will never forgive or forget. Any opportunity that they get they will bounce back and try to prove that they were right.

  • Catastrophise: To the Toxic Leader, frustration is connected to deep, resonant fears of loss and deprivation, and they experience it as a warning that unless they take immediate action they'll face intolerable consequences. These convictions may be rooted in a lengthy history of feeling anxious and insecure.

  • Comparisons: Toxic Leaders often hold up another person as a model, a flawless ideal against which we fall short. This comparison is usually done with people we are already competing with and usually results in a scar on our self-esteem. These Negative comparisons make us feel deficient.

  • Self-oriented: Toxic Leaders focus totally on their own needs and desires; they don't seem to be the least bit interested in other’s needs or how their pressure is affecting others. For them the entire universe revolves around them and everybody should please them on.

  • Negative Labelling: Toxic Leaders label others with negative qualities and connotations. They would tell others who don’t comply with them, that they either are not good enough, useless, not skilled enough, doesn’t have knowledge or even pathologizing.

  • Make the victim feel selfish: Toxic Leaders make others feel as if they are selfish and do not care about the greater good. This is a very powerful manipulation strategy to make others do what they want. By evoking the noble beliefs of others and aligning them with their own covert selfish wishes they create a moral dilemma for the victim. The victim then ends up following the Toxic Leader’s commands and feel trapped and miserable afterwards.

  • Immediate demands: Another sign of a Toxic Leader is that they tend to ask for favours or work where the other person has to leave everything they are doing in that moment and respond. If the other person does not respond immediately they take them go through a guilt ride by saying “You didn’t help when I needed you the most” even when there is slight delay in complying to the demands the Toxic Leader will refuse help by saying “You were not there when I needed you and now I don’t need your help”. Both of these situations trigger a sense of guilt insecurity and in the other person mind which makes them more susceptible to any future demand of the Toxic Leader.


What are the effects of a Toxic Leader on people?


A Toxic Leader not only affect us mentally but also physically due to constant state of stress in their presence. Every interaction with them is extremely demanding on our self-esteem and peace of mind. After every interaction one feels low and dejected. Some of the effects that people who work with Toxic Leaders go through are:


The impact on our well-being:

  • We let ourselves down, our self-esteem and self-worth takes a beating.

  • A vicious cycle of manipulation ensues, with every compliance the pattern strengthens.

  • Accepting, rationalizing and justifying the abuse by believing that there is no other way out.

  • Bad relationships at home and at work. We may betray others to appease the Toxic Leaders.

  • Feeling insecure and anxious all the time. It sucks the safety out of the relationship.

  • Bitterness for others. We may shut down and constrict emotional generosity.

  • Mental health: Constant anxiety and stress may lead to hypertension, insomnia and even depression

  • Physical health: When the mind is not at peace it tries to escape the stress by over eating, drinking or even working. Which eventually destroys physical health.

How to manage a Toxic Leader?


“The weak cry, sulk and complain, the strong change the environment, and the strongest change themselves and inspire others.”

Quotes by S.A. Hussaini


We play an extremely important role in making these Toxic Leaders powerful. Without our active participation in their game of manipulation they won’t have the power to control us and treat us badly. Some of the ways to manage a Toxic Leader a

  • The “Biginner’s mind”: We must begin to look at the situation in a new way. We must approach the situation without the burden of the past or the insecurity of the future. This can be done by removing mental labels, we behave in accordance with our self attached or given labels of designation, power or position which dictates what we can or can not say or do, being aware of these patterns and going beyond them in the present moment gives us power to change our circumstances. Present is the most powerful moment and our ability to stay in the present will make us more powerful than the Toxic Leader.

  • Emotional awareness: We must become aware and detach ourselves from our fears and desires. We must not give into the pressure for an immediate decision. Once we start looking at the situation more rationally and prepare ourselves for real and not imaginary consequesnces, we will have better bargaining power and alternate solution to the issue at hand.

  • Environmental awareness: We must determine why the demand feels uncomfortable and realise that they are being toxic and we should to be treating them accordingly. Environmental awareness also plays a big role in taking a decision. Being aware of where we are and the consequences of our decisions on ourselves and others is essential. We must set boundaries to be able to take time to consider the situation and to look at all of the alternatives to make the decision.

  • Self-compassion: When life becomes difficult we become extremely difficult with ourselves we start blaming and accusing ourselves for the situation we are in and somehow accept and justify our miseries with the decisions we made. We need to be mindful that a demand is being made on us and that it makes us uncomfortable. We must make a commitment to ourselves that we will take care of ourselves and no longer allow this abusive treatment.

I wish you all the best for your Leadership journey and dream of workplace and Home run by more Mindful Leaders.


We train Leaders on Mindful Leadership. A Mindful Leader is an effective and caring leader. Read about The Mindful Leader: https://www.bbtraining.net/blog/the-mindful-leader


By, S.A. Hussaini

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