How to Deal With Toxic Managers So That Everyone Can Thrive

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on February 21, 2017

Many of us have worked for toxic bosses. We wonder how they could continue to be promoted within the organization.

Toxic bosses can cause untold damage to the performance of their organization, as well as make life miserable for those who work for them. These managers tend to micromanage, take undo credit, blame others for their mistakes, are inconsistent in their words and actions, and sap the creativity, initiative and vitality from the workplace.

They also adversely impact the ability of people to make decisions without “checking with the boss.” Their employees don’t trust them. They can harm their employee’s health. They are terrible role models.

I once worked for a tyrant who sapped the vitality from his organization. I still blame the then-CEO who knew what was going on. The human resource department didn’t have a strong leader, and I didn’t want to risk going to executive management for fear of retribution, so there was no path to lodge a complaint. This was prior to the introduction of whistleblower hotlines. There was no effective way to report my boss up the chain of command.

I was very close to leaving the company until I learned how to deal with him. Had I left, the company would have been deprived of its future CEO.

I was eventually promoted out of the tyrant’s organization, and then three years later, promoted again and became his boss. He continued to treat the people in his organization poorly, so I terminated him. The employees within that organization celebrated for days.

I replaced that toxic manager with a very effective leader. It took him months to bring his employees to the point where they were operating as they should. Once more they were making decisions on their own. They were exercising initiative and creativity, taking personal ownership of their part of the business and not being fearful of making a mistake, which was career-threatening under their former manager.

Many of these toxic managers “manage up” very well. It is the responsibility of every leader to see through this and to evaluate the effectiveness of their direct reports’ leadership style and ensure that all people within their organization are treated professionally and with respect.

So, what should you do if you work for this type of boss? Do your job and do it well, which is what you should always do. Learn how to manage your toxic boss. Ultimately, you may decide to work elsewhere.

If you do work for this type of boss, you will learn much – how not to manage and lead people, and the damage this type of manager can do to an organization.

All public corporations, many private companies and many nonprofit organizations have hotlines which employees can use to report toxic managers and environments. Whistleblower hotline complaints are reviewed by the audit committee of the board. It is the job of the audit committee to ensure the hotline reports are investigated and if appropriate, actions are taken.

It is important to ensure that there is no retaliation against employees who use the whistleblower hotline. If the company’s employees don’t have confidence that they will not face retaliation, they may be fearful of using the hotline.

Every organization should have an anonymous 360-performance evaluation process in place, where employees can comment on the effectiveness of their boss and peers can comment as well. Organizations also need to conduct periodic climate surveys. Done correctly, both are useful tools for performance assessment and improvement.

The board needs to hold the CEO accountable for dealing with both toxic environments and toxic bosses within their organization. No employee should have to work in such a toxic environment. The best people don’t put up with it and they eventually leave the company, resulting in a significant loss of talent that will adversely impact the firm’s performance and potential for growth.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

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