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1 Why do companies keep toxic managers?

Toxic managers complicate work of employees, compromise sanity, destroy careers, and destroy morale. For organisations they incur hidden and indirect costs, competent employees leave, absenteeism increases, and tasks are carried out mechanically. Ultimately, dissatisfaction encourages unproductive talk about the behaviour of the boss. Why, then, do organisations persist in keeping toxic managers, knowing the effect it has on employees and on the organisation itself?

Financial success

We all know of successful toxic managers, even brilliant leaders. Steve Jobs of Apple was one of the most well known; Jack Welch of General Electric was another. He was often described as a bully. Books have been written about them. Their boards of directors and shareholders considered that a few disgruntled employees were a small price to pay for their strategic genius, and their organisations’ financial success year after year.

These people are considered visionary leaders. But, most financially successful toxic managers are not visionary leaders, so there is little to gain from working for them.  As morally reprehensible as this might be to the subordinates, it is too bad. They can take it or leave it; the world is a tough place.

For toxic managers further down the hierarchy, ‘results orientation’ and ‘getting things done’ replace financial success. As with the financially successful toxic managers, these managers are often considered successful and kept in the company.

It is obvious that a successful non-toxic manager is preferable, but the effort required to fire a toxic one and hire someone else, coupled with the risk that the new one might not produce as good results as the toxic one, is too great for senior management. They decide to keep their toxic manager.

Management don’t know

Sometimes management don’t know they have toxic managers in their organisation, or even in their team. Unethical managers, indecisive managers and managers who never make decisions: no-decision managers are in this category. They can hide their toxicity from the hierarchy above them.

Unethical managers do not announce their dishonesty, or their deviation from company processes and procedures. They know that when they are discovered, they are likely to be fired regardless of their previous success. Unethical managers can bankrupt their organisation, so management will not usually tolerate such behaviour when they finally discover it.

Similarly, no-decision managers do not reveal their weakness of never making decisions. Those that remain in organisations have successful survival strategies. One of these strategies is managing information filtering through the company about their lack of decision-making, and being ready to anticipate and counter any criticisms about this weakness. Thus, they ensure that management do not know they never make decisions.

Aggressive and narcissistic managers, however, are not able to do this. Their toxicity is too visible and well known in the organisation. To survive, they must remain successful or find some other protection to keep their jobs.

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