From toxic to transformative leader: navigating leadership challenges for positive change


The transfer of a bank branch manager prompted a noteworthy reaction from the staff, who displayed their happiness by celebrating, including popping champagne in honour of the manager’s departure. In addition, there were individuals among the staff who categorized the manager as a “Toxic Leader,” believing that the manager’s influence did not bring any positive outcomes or benefits for them.

However, interpreting this jubilation solely as an indicator of the manager’s poor performance or negative relationships might be an oversimplification. This article will delve into whether the staff’s exuberance indicates the manager’s inadequacies in leadership, elaborate on the repercussions of toxic leadership on both the institution and the leaders themselves, provide insights into identifying one’s own tendencies toward toxic leadership, and outline strategies for transitioning away from a toxic leadership style.

Does the jubilation serve as a sign of ineffective leadership approaches?

When a leader departs and his subordinates respond with happiness or celebration, it does not automatically imply that the leader’s style of leadership was ineffective or that his  interactions with the team were negative. There are various potential reasons for this reaction, which go beyond labelling the manager as “bad.”

While it’s possible that the manager’s negative behaviour played a significant role in the subordinates’ happiness upon his departure, it’s important to consider that there could be other factors contributing to their reactions as well. People’s feelings and attitudes are often shaped by a combination of various elements. Some additional factors that could contribute to the subordinates’ happiness include:

*One plausible explanation is rooted in the manager’s stringent approach and high expectations for superior and quality performance. While these expectations could have driven employees to excel, they might have also contributed to a tense and demanding work environment. The manager’s departure could then be seen as a relief from the pressure and strictness that characterized their leadership.

*Furthermore, the manager’s departure might signal a shift in the branch’s operational dynamics. It could present an opportunity for employees to explore new ideas, take on more responsibility, and make decisions autonomously, which might have been constrained under the manager’s rigid leadership style.

* Leadership Style: The manager’s leadership style might not have been aligned with the subordinates’ preferences or expectations. Even if the manager’s behaviour wasn’t overtly negative, if it didn’t resonate with the team’s values or work culture, it could lead to discontent.

*Personalities and Interactions: Sometimes, personalities clash, and interpersonal dynamics can have a significant impact on how people feel about their manager. A new manager with a different personality might simply be a better fit for the team. This factor can also contribute to the subordinates’ happiness.

*Another factor that could contribute to the subordinates’ happiness is better Team Dynamics: A manager who enforces strict performance standards might inadvertently create a competitive and individualistic work environment. With the manager’s transfer, employees could expect a shift towards more collaborative and team-oriented interactions.

*Increased Autonomy: Subordinates may experience increased autonomy and decision-making authority when a strict manager leaves. This newfound freedom can lead to a greater sense of ownership over their work and increased job satisfaction.

*Positive Feedback and Recognition: A strict manager may focus primarily on pointing out areas of improvement, neglecting to provide positive feedback and recognition. With a new manager, employees might anticipate a more balanced approach to feedback and recognition.

In some cases, the manager’s transfer could signify a chance for improved work-life balance. A leader with exceptionally high-performance expectations might inadvertently foster an environment where employees prioritize work to the detriment of their personal lives. The staff’s jubilation could reflect their anticipation of a healthier balance between professional and personal commitments.

It’s essential to recognize that employees’ reactions to a leader’s departure are multifaceted and influenced by a myriad of factors. While the celebration might hint at certain aspects of the manager’s leadership style, it would be premature to label them as solely “bad” without considering the nuanced interplay of expectations, workplace culture, and individual perspectives.

But let’s turn our attention to toxic leadership.

what is toxic leadership and how does that affect working relationships?

Toxic leadership refers to a style of leadership in which a leader’s behaviours, attitudes, and actions create a negative and harmful work environment for their subordinates. It involves a combination of detrimental qualities, such as abuse of power, lack of empathy, poor communication, and a disregard for the well-being and growth of employees. Toxic leaders often prioritize their own interests or goals over those of the organization and its members. The effects of toxic leadership can be far-reaching and damaging to both individuals and the overall functioning of a team or organization.

Here’s how toxic leadership can affect working relationships:

Low Morale and Motivation: Toxic leaders can create an environment of fear, anxiety, and low morale among employees. This can lead to decreased motivation, engagement, and enthusiasm for work.

High Turnover: The presence of a toxic leader can result in a higher turnover rate as employees may choose to leave the organization to escape the negative atmosphere.

Dysfunctional Communication: Toxic leaders often fail to communicate effectively, leading to misunderstandings, confusion, and frustration among team members.

Lack of Trust: Toxic leadership erodes trust between leaders and their subordinates, as well as among team members. Employees may feel betrayed, manipulated, or undervalued.

Stifled Creativity and Innovation: Toxic leaders tend to discourage open expression of ideas and creativity. Employees may fear retribution for suggesting new approaches or challenging the status quo.

Poor Performance: Employees under toxic leadership may become disengaged and their performance may suffer due to a lack of support, recognition, and guidance.

Health and Well-being Impacts: The stress and negative emotions caused by toxic leadership can lead to physical and mental health issues among employees, contributing to absenteeism and decreased overall well-being.

Micromanagement: Toxic leaders may engage in excessive micromanagement, undermining employees’ sense of autonomy and competence.

Favouritism and Unfair Treatment: Toxic leaders might engage in favouritism, leading to perceptions of unequal treatment and resentment among team members.

Cliques and Division: Toxic leaders can create an environment where cliques and divisive behaviours flourish, as employees may form alliances to cope with the negative impact of the leader.

Lack of Growth and Development: Toxic leaders often neglect employee development, which can hinder professional growth and limit career advancement opportunities.

Organizational Reputation: A toxic leader’s behaviour can impact the organization’s reputation both internally and externally, affecting its ability to attract and retain top talent and build positive relationships with stakeholders.

What would be the options for employees when they experience toxic leadership?

When employees experience toxic leadership, it’s important for them to take steps to address the situation in a constructive and effective manner. Here are some options employees can consider:

Self-Care and Well-being: Prioritize your own well-being by managing stress, seeking support from friends and family, engaging in activities you enjoy, and practicing stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness or exercise. Document Incidents: Keep a record of specific instances of toxic behaviour, including dates, times, locations, and the individuals involved. This documentation can be valuable if you decide to escalate the issue.

Seek Guidance from HR: If your organization has a Human Resources (HR) department, consider scheduling a private meeting to discuss your concerns. HR may be able to provide guidance, address the issue, or facilitate mediation.

Use Internal Complaint Procedures: Many organizations have formal procedures for filing complaints about workplace issues. Follow these procedures if you decide to formally report the toxic behavior.


Speak to Your Supervisor: If the toxic behaviour is not coming directly from your immediate supervisor, consider discussing your concerns with them. They may be unaware of the situation and could take appropriate action.

Speak to Higher Management: If the issue persists and your immediate supervisor is unresponsive, consider escalating the matter to higher levels of management, such as a department head or executive.

*Use Whistleblower Channels: If the toxic behaviour involves ethical violations or illegal activities, you may need to use external whistleblower channels or report the issue to appropriate regulatory authorities. Seek Mediation: Some organizations offer mediation services to address conflicts and disputes. A neutral third party can help facilitate communication and work toward resolution.

*Speak to a Union Representative: If you are part of a union, consult with a union representative for guidance on how to address the issue within the framework of your union’s procedures.

*Consult an Employment Attorney: If the toxic behaviour is severe and persistent, you may want to consult an employment attorney to understand your legal rights and options.

*Look for Internal Opportunities: If it’s feasible, consider exploring opportunities within your organization to move to a different team or department where the leadership is healthier.

*Network and Gather Support: Connect with colleagues who share your concerns and work together to address the issue collectively. Strength in numbers can sometimes help effect change.

*External Job Search: If the toxic leadership is negatively impacting your well-being and job satisfaction, you may decide to start looking for employment opportunities elsewhere.

What can be the consequences of poor of toxic leadership?

Poor or toxic leadership can have significant and far-reaching consequences for both individuals and organizations. These consequences can negatively impact various aspects of the workplace and can lead to long-term damage if not addressed. Some potential consequences include:

*Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Toxic leadership can create a hostile, stressful, and demoralizing work environment. Employees may become disengaged, leading to reduced productivity and a lack of enthusiasm for their work. *High Turnover Rates: Employees may choose to leave the organization to escape toxic leadership, leading to high turnover rates. This can result in a loss of skilled and experienced staff, increased recruitment and training costs, and disruptions in team dynamics. *Impaired Team Collaboration: Toxic leaders can foster an atmosphere of mistrust and competition among team members, undermining effective collaboration and cooperation. *Lower Job Satisfaction: Employees subjected to toxic leadership are likely to experience lower job satisfaction and diminished job well-being. *Increased Absenteeism: Stress, anxiety, and burnout resulting from toxic leadership can contribute to increased absenteeism, negatively affecting work continuity and team performance. *Reduced Innovation and Creativity: Toxic leaders may stifle creativity and discourage employees from sharing new ideas or taking calculated risks, leading to a lack of innovation and missed opportunities for growth.*Health and Well-being Issues: The stress caused by toxic leadership can lead to physical and mental health problems among employees, contributing to higher healthcare costs and increased employee absences.*Poor Performance and Productivity: Toxic leadership can result in lower overall team performance, decreased productivity, and missed deadlines due to lack of motivation and direction.*Negative Organizational Culture: A toxic leader can contribute to a negative organizational culture characterized by fear, mistrust, and a lack of transparency and open communication.*Loss of Reputation: Organizations with a reputation for toxic leadership may struggle to attract top talent and retain clients, damaging their overall image and credibility. *Legal and Ethical Issues: Extreme cases of toxic leadership can lead to legal and ethical challenges, such as discrimination, harassment, or other forms of misconduct. *Difficulty Attracting and Retaining Talent: Organizations known for toxic leadership may find it challenging to recruit and retain high-performing employees, as potential candidates may be discouraged from joining and current employees may seek other opportunities. *Decline in Organizational Performance: Over time, the cumulative effects of poor leadership can lead to a decline in overall organizational performance, affecting revenue, market share, and long-term sustainability.

What are the effects of toxic leadership on the leader himself?

Toxic leadership not only affects the subordinates and the organization, but it can also have detrimental effects on the leader themselves. Here are some ways toxic leadership can impact the leader:

*Isolation: Toxic leaders may find themselves isolated from their team and peers. Their behaviour and actions can lead to mistrust, distancing, and a lack of genuine connections. *Damage to Reputation: Toxic behaviour can tarnish the leader’s professional reputation, both within the organization and in their industry. Negative perceptions of their leadership style can follow them and impact future career prospects. *Stress and Burnout: Maintaining a toxic leadership style can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Constantly managing conflicts, dealing with low morale, and facing challenges can lead to stress and burnout. *Lack of Respect: Toxic leaders may lose the respect of their subordinates and colleagues. This can erode their authority and make it challenging to effectively lead and influence others. *Lack of Loyalty: Toxic leaders may struggle to build a loyal and dedicated team. Employees are more likely to follow leaders they respect and trust, which can be lacking in a toxic environment. *Limited Career Growth: A toxic leadership style can limit career growth and advancement opportunities. Organizations may be hesitant to promote individuals known for toxic behaviour into higher leadership roles. *Personal Well-being: The stress, conflicts, and negative emotions associated with toxic leadership can impact the leader’s personal well-being, leading to health issues and decreased overall life satisfaction. *Lack of Self-awareness: Toxic leaders may lack self-awareness regarding their own behaviour and its impact. This can hinder personal growth and development.

*Loss of Motivation: A toxic leader’s behaviour can create a negative cycle, where the lack of positive outcomes and the challenges they face in managing their team can lead to a loss of motivation. *Missed Opportunities: Toxic leaders may miss out on opportunities to learn from their team, innovate, and develop new skills due to their closed-minded approach. *Ineffective Leadership: Ultimately, toxic leadership is ineffective in achieving sustainable results. The leader may struggle to achieve their goals and objectives due to a lack of employee buy-in, collaboration, and commitment.

what shows that you are a toxic leader

Toxic leadership can manifest in various behaviours and attitudes that have a negative impact on the work environment and those under your leadership. Here are some signs that you might be exhibiting toxic leadership traits:

Lack of Empathy: You dismiss or belittle the feelings and concerns of your team members, showing a lack of understanding or compassion for their experiences. *Micromanagement: You excessively control and monitor every aspect of your team’s work, leaving little room for autonomy and stifling creativity. *Bullying and Intimidation: You use fear, aggression, or manipulation to control your team, fostering an atmosphere of intimidation rather than collaboration.*Favouritism: You show preferential treatment to certain team members, creating division and resentment among the rest of the team.

*Lack of Transparency: You withhold information, make decisions without involving your team, or keep them in the dark about important matters. *Poor Communication: You fail to provide clear instructions, feedback, or expectations, leading to confusion and frustration among team members. *Unrealistic Demands: You set unattainable goals or demand excessive work hours, leading to burnout and stress among your team. *Blame Shifting: You consistently deflect blame onto others and refuse to take responsibility for your mistakes or failures. *Lack of Accountability: You hold your team members accountable for their actions while avoiding accountability for your own decisions and behaviour.

*Resistance to Feedback: You become defensive or dismissive when receiving constructive feedback from your team, ignoring opportunities for growth. *Undermining Others: You undermine the efforts or ideas of your team members, preventing them from contributing effectively. *Failure to Develop Others: You neglect to support your team’s growth and development, hindering their potential for advancement. *Inconsistent Behaviour: Your behaviour is unpredictable, causing your team to walk on eggshells and feel unsure of how to interact with you. *Negative Attitude: You consistently display a negative attitude, pessimism, or cynicism, which can affect the overall morale of your team. *Resistance to Change**: You resist adapting to new ideas, technologies, or approaches, impeding the team’s ability to innovate and improve. *Lack of Respect**: You treat your team members disrespectfully, disregarding their opinions, input, and expertise.

If a leader does not change from being a toxic leader, what can happen to him?

If a leader does not change from being a toxic leader and continues to exhibit harmful behaviours, several negative outcomes can occur both personally and professionally:

*Career Setback: Continued toxic leadership can lead to stalled career progression and limited opportunities for advancement. Other colleagues and superiors may be reluctant to promote or entrust additional responsibilities to a leader known for toxic behaviour.

Isolation and Alienation: As mentioned earlier toxic behaviour can lead to isolation as colleagues and team members distance themselves due to discomfort, mistrust, or a desire to avoid conflict. *Damaged Reputation: A leader’s reputation can suffer irreparably due to a history of toxic behaviour. This can impact their professional standing within the organization and the industry at large. *Loss of Respect**: Team members and peers are likely to lose respect for a leader who consistently displays toxic behaviour. This can erode the leader’s authority and influence. *Team Dysfunction: A toxic leader can negatively affect team dynamics, leading to low morale, decreased collaboration, and high turnover rates. This can undermine team performance and productivity. *Legal and Ethical Consequences: Extreme cases of toxic leadership can lead to legal and ethical issues, such as harassment or discrimination claims, which can result in serious legal and financial consequences for both the leader and the organization.

*Personal Stress and Burnout: Toxic leaders may experience personal stress, burnout, and declining mental and physical health due to the negative impact of their behaviour and the resulting conflicts. *Missed Development Opportunities: Refusing to change toxic behaviours can lead to missed opportunities for personal growth, learning, and skill development. *Loss of High-Potential Employees: Talented and motivated employees may choose to leave the team or organization due to the toxic leadership, resulting in a loss of valuable human capital. *Organizational Impact: The negative effects of toxic leadership can extend beyond the leader’s immediate team and impact the overall organizational culture, leading to decreased employee engagement, productivity, and performance. *Erosion of Trust: Trust is essential for effective leadership. Toxic behaviour erodes trust within the team and throughout the organization, making it difficult to lead effectively. *Long-Term Professional Consequences: Failure to address toxic behaviour can lead to a long-term pattern of dysfunctional leadership, limiting the leader’s potential and overall impact on their team and organization.

How can a toxic leader change?

Changing from a toxic leadership style to a healthier and more effective one requires self-awareness, willingness to change, and consistent effort. Here are steps a toxic leader can take to initiate positive change: *Self-Reflection and Awareness: Acknowledge and reflect on your own behaviour and its impact on others. Consider seeking feedback from colleagues, subordinates, mentors, or coaches to gain a better understanding of how your leadership style is perceived. *Recognize the Need for Change**: Understand the negative consequences of toxic behaviour on your team, yourself, and the organization. Recognize that change is necessary for personal growth and improved leadership effectiveness. *Seek Professional Help: If your toxic behaviour stems from deeply ingrained patterns or emotional issues, consider seeking the help of a professional coach, therapist, or counsellor who specializes in leadership development. *Develop Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Focus on building emotional intelligence by developing empathy, active listening skills, and the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and reactions. *Build Positive Relationships: Foster positive relationships with your team members by showing genuine interest in their well-being, providing support, and being approachable and open to their feedback. *Effective Communication: Improve communication skills by being transparent, clear, and respectful in your interactions. Encourage open dialogue and create an environment where feedback is valued. *Lead by Example: Model the behaviour you want to see in your team. Demonstrate integrity, professionalism, and a commitment to ethical conduct.

*Delegate and Empower: Avoid micromanaging and give your team members the autonomy to make decisions and contribute their ideas. Empower them to take ownership of their work. *Provide Growth Opportunities: Support your team’s professional development by offering opportunities for skill-building, learning, and advancement. *Set Clear Expectations: Clearly communicate performance expectations and objectives and provide regular feedback to help your team succeed. *Conflict Resolution Skills: Develop effective conflict resolution skills to address conflicts in a constructive manner and avoid escalation. *Regular Self-Assessment: Continuously assess your progress and behaviour. Regularly ask for feedback from your team and adjust accordingly. *Be Patient and Persistent: Changing deeply ingrained habits and behaviours takes time. Be patient with yourself and committed to the process of change.

*Celebrate Positive Changes: Celebrate milestones and successes in your journey toward better leadership. Recognize and acknowledge your own growth and the positive impact it has on your team.

*Apologize and Make Amends: If you have previously harmed relationships or created a toxic environment, take responsibility for your actions, apologize to those affected, and take steps to make amends.


We have to understand  that employees’ reactions to a leader’s departure are multifaceted and influenced by a myriad of factors. While the celebration might hint at certain aspects of the manager’s leadership style, it would be premature to label them as solely “bad” without considering the nuanced interplay of expectations, workplace culture, and individual perspectives.

Overall, toxic leadership negatively affects employee well-being, teamwork, productivity, and the overall organizational culture. Recognizing and addressing toxic leadership is essential for creating a healthy and thriving work environment.

When deciding on a course of action, employees should consider their personal circumstances, the severity of the toxic behaviour, their comfort level with each option, and the potential consequences. It’s advisable to seek support from trusted friends, colleagues, or professionals to help you navigate the situation effectively. It is important to recognize that these traits can vary in intensity and combination, and even well-intentioned leaders may display some of these behaviours from time to time. However, consistently exhibiting these toxic behaviours can have a damaging impact on your team’s well-being, performance, and the overall organizational culture. If you identify with some of these signs, consider taking steps to address and change your behaviour for the benefit of yourself and those you lead.

Leaders must recognize the negative impact of toxic behaviours on themselves as well as their team and organization. Seeking feedback, engaging in self-reflection, and actively working to improve leadership skills and behaviour can help toxic leaders transform into more effective and respected leaders. Remember, transforming from a toxic leader to a positive one is a gradual process that requires continuous effort and self-improvement. It’s essential to be committed, open to learning, and genuinely invested in creating a healthier and more productive work environment for yourself and your team.

Finally, it is crucial for organizations to recognize and address toxic leadership promptly to mitigate these consequences and foster a healthy, positive, and productive work environment. Leadership development, training, transparent communication, and a commitment to creating a supportive culture are essential steps to prevent and address toxic leadership.

The writer is the Director of Studies and Training,National Banking College

Email : [email protected] or [email protected]


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