How to manage toxic management

Written by Mark Rowland Monday 29 June 2020
In the middle of such an unprecedented crisis, management and leadership must be unimpeachable. So how do you stop bad management from derailing your organisation’s return-to-work efforts?

COVID-19 needs good management. It’s the only way to get through it in one piece. The health of organisations and the people in them are at risk. The negative impacts of bad management, in this environment, are felt much harder.

It is certainly a concern of CMI members. A recent Managers Voice survey asked respondents about their experiences during the pandemic, as well as any challenges they can identify for their return to work. There were some sobering responses. One manager explained that other managers in their organisation had not observed the lockdown or social distancing when the pandemic started, spread misinformation about the seriousness of the virus, and refused to take underlying health conditions seriously. As a result, the organisation had COVID-19 cases among its staff, which has sadly resulted in one staff member losing their life.

“I therefore have no confidence that some people will not take advantage of this situation and the lack of clear steer from the government,” the respondent said. The organisation, the respondent said, had put “operational performance and their own career ambitions above the health, safety and wellbeing of those they are privileged to serve.”

Another CMI member said: “The managers at the top of the organisation pressure lesser managers and other employees to return to the workplace or be re-deployed to other less safe teams/frontline teams, against Government advice.”

Why positive culture is so crucial in a crisis

Such behaviour is clearly unacceptable. With the huge challenges facing business at the moment, managers need to juggle a lot to make sure that the organisation’s culture and behaviour are appropriate, and that morale is high. With remote working, economic uncertainty and some staff on furlough, people can be left feeling disjointed from their team, says Lizzie Benton, a culture consultant. “It’s an overwhelming time for any business trying to keep going, and keep their people going with them.”

All this means that toxic management behaviour might be at higher levels than ever. You, therefore, need to double-down on the ethical principles and standards that underpin good management. Instructions should be clear, and everyone should meet the expected standards. With remote working becoming the norm, trust between staff and managers will be essential. One manager in our Managers Voice survey fears this won’t be the case: “Long-term working patterns are likely to change. My team will predominantly work from home in the future. However, I am aware that a lack of trust around staff productivity at home among other managers is likely to drive them to push their own staff back to the office.”

In time, this will impact on staff mental wellbeing; if people need anything during the pandemic, it’s empathetic management. Managers must keep morale high and make sure their team feels connected to the company. In crises like this one, Benton explains, “We have to remember that eventually we’ll be out of this; how people transition will cause another struggle if you haven’t kept up with your team and the company culture.”

How to deal with toxic managers

CMI has many resources on how to deal with toxicity in the workplace. For example, this article explains how to find and deal with toxicity in your organisation. A good first step is to start having honest conversations with people across the organisation to help you to identify where the problems lie. You might have to give people the option to submit anonymous feedback.

Look for signs among your fellow managers that suggest toxicity. Google identified eight traits that toxic managers share:

  • Quick to frustration
  • Micro-managing
  • Lacking emotional intelligence
  • No control over moods
  • Anti-social
  • No interest in developing staff
  • No vision
  • Insecure

CMI guidance on managing conflict lists out nine techniques for dealing with difficult issues. These will be useful for dealing with toxic peers, whoever they are:

  1. Be aware of conflict
  2. Take a considered and rational approach to conflict
  3. Investigate the situation
  4. Decide how to tackle the conflict
  5. Let everyone have their say
  6. Identify options and agree on a way forward
  7. Implement what has been agreed
  8. Evaluate how things are going
  9. Consider preventative strategies for the future

Managing conflict and dealing with emotional outbursts can be among the most difficult situations to handle in the workplace. CMI members can make use of the many resources, checklists and videos in ManagementDirect to help you through.

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