Surviving Toxic Leadership

Almost twenty years in the work force has taught me a great deal about life and the working world. A class in Organizational Psychology also helped. My biggest takeaways have been about teamwork and leadership. Specifically, what management is versus leadership and the effect that both can have on a person. You might be asking yourself, what is the difference?

Let’s first answer the question and differentiate the two meanings. There have been numerous studies, quotes, speeches, videos, articles, and even memes on what leadership is versus management. I am going to break it down from my perspective and personal experience.

Manager: This is a person who solely focuses on the deadlines and processes of the business. These people are dialed into quotas and the bottom-line as their main focus. They are the ones you punish you when you make a mistake. Generally, this person lacks the emotional/relationship aspect side of their position. Empowerment is almost none because these managers are control freaks. Management is a “one size fits all” box where everyone who reports to them has to conform to them. If orders are being barked from an office chair, it’s coming from this person. These types are seen as unapproachable and are frightened of change, creativity, and/or innovation. They run on fear to keep control. Micro-management excessively.

Leader: This is a person whose sole focus is you. They only focus on your growth and development. They want to make sure that you have the tools that you need to be your best. This person believes that there is strength in difference and conforms to each team member and finds a way to speak each persons’ language. Empowerment and failing forward are highly encouraged from leaders. Instead of punishing a past mistake, they look forward to develop a behavior change. These people work with their people to find new, better, and innovative ways of doing things. These are people who are completely approachable because they have cultivated an environment of trust and respect. A leader will dive into work/issues with you and work with you. Will not micro-manage but will check in.

So, how does each one affect us? If you have been fortunate enough to work under someone who is a true leader, you are lucky. I have had that awesome experience and it was just amazing. I grew leaps and bounds and learned so much about myself and the leader that I am and the leader that have the potential to be. This was all because someone took the time to get to know me and how I tick. Being given the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them made a huge impact in who I am today. I was always so scared of punishment. This freedom was amazing and addicting. It’s hard to come back from that.

It’s that manager that is the problem.  I am sure at some point we have all dealt with that manager described above. This person doesn’t care who you are or how you tick, they just want to make sure you are meeting quotas and bottom-line. You feel confused and lost but don’t feel comfortable asking them questions. You never really interact with them unless you are in trouble. Work becomes unbearable and uncomfortable. They don’t do anything to grow you, so you start to hit a wall pretty quickly.

Managers are the virus that kills creativity and morale. They are the reason that companies lose amazing talent. That is only if you let them though. I am going discuss with you a couple of amazing ideas that I got from The Question Behind The Question (QBQ) book I read a while ago and some valuable things I learned as a trainer to survive toxic leadership known as management.

First and foremost, this is very important, you have to remember the following to be successful:

You cannot change or motivate other people.

We often find ourselves completely frustrated because we want these managers to understand us and change their ways. We can give them the tools they need to motivate or change themselves, but ultimately they have to make the decision to change. They may not want to change. I can give you all the tools you need to learn how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. However, if you do not want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then there is nothing I can do to make you.

So what do we do then? Easy. According to QBQ:

Focus on changing the things you can-like yourself.

That’s right, instead of driving yourself crazy with trying to change your boss or wishing for them to change, focus on you. You can change yourself. Think about the challenges you are facing with your boss. Ask yourself “What can I do so that I am not in this situation again?” or “How can I do this better?”

Do you see the difference there? Asking questions like “Why does she treat me like this?” focuses outwardly on the manager, or the person you cannot change. In QBQ, that is called an incorrect question. Focusing our energy on the thing we cannot change will only drive you bonkers and have you beating your head against the wall.

The What and How questions direct back to yourself, the person you can change. These would be the correct questions to ask yourself. When you ask How or What can I do, then the focus stays on you and you will always the power to make a change in yourself. Honestly, that is a lot tougher than it sounds. You will have retrain yourself on how you think and react. I promise you that the payoff is worth it.

The next one is my favorite and also from QBQ:

Be better than the referee.

Think about sports. There is always a referee to manage the game/fight and make sure that everyone is following the rules. Aren’t our managers the same thing? They are there to swiftly punish us when we are out of bounds or use our hands (soccer reference).

This means you have to be better than your managerBe such an amazing employee that the manager just can’t touch you. How can they give you a red card (soccer) if you are doing everything you are supposed to like a rock star?

I can personally attest that these helpful tips really do work. I’ve had my own challenges and this change of thought process has been a huge help for me. I am still not perfect at it and consider myself a work in progress. I feel so much better about myself now though. I no longer am consumed by frustration because I cannot change the person who needs changing. Instead, I dial it back and ask myself the proper questions to focus on myself instead. It’s been working so far!

Remember, you always have the power to change yourself. The redirection of energy from that brick wall you’ve been beating your head against the wall to yourself is going start the change that will make your life better.

Check out this awesome Ted Talk about leadership:

Turning 34

34 is not some spectacular number. It isn’t an awesome milestone age that we look forward to turning like 21. There isn’t a dirty 34 party or anything exciting. It’s just one more step until we get to the main floor of 40.

Or is 34 actually something more? Might there be some value to 34 that could have been missed? I think there might be. How do I know you ask? I have been 34 for about 10 hours. Today, Tuesday January 12, 2016, is my birthday!

As is customary for most adults celebrating a birthday, we look back on the previous year and reflect on how it went. It is a lot like New Year’s Eve, only for me those two days are only 12 days apart. When I wasn’t checking Facebook for birthday wall posts or chatting with friends at work about my birthday, I thought about who I was when I was 33 (yesterday). What did I do well? Where are there areas of opportunity?

Admittedly, this past year was not a great one. I definitely went through some shit. I got hit a few times, most of it back to back. I fucked up big time and had to deal with the repercussions of my actions. I also faced some challenges with my cat Gambit who get very sick. He is an older cat and has kidney disease. He’s been my companion for over 8 years so that was extremely emotional and tough. I also faced some challenges at work which really took a lot out of me. That stress took over my life and was starting to destroy me. It was turning me into someone I am not. All if it caused me to faced a level of depression that I had never known before. Life was just destroying me. The age of 33 was quite the pity party year for me.

Near the end of 33 I picked up a book called The Question Behind The Question (QBQ). This book completely changed my life! Once I read it, I realized what I was doing wrong. I was letting life happen to me. I was playing the victim. With everything that happened to me, I kept asking “Why is this happening to me?” That was the equivalent of me just laying down and letting life run me over a few times.  I learned from this book that instead of having a poor attitude and asking incorrect questions (aka IQ) like “Why is this happening to me?” or “Why won’t she listen to me?” I needed to change my attitude. First, I had to accept that I can only change the things that I can control – myself. That’s right, me. In the end, no matter what happens, the only thing I can change is my own mentality and my own attitude. Instead then, I need to be asking myself these questions: “How can I….?” What can I do….?”

Remember, the only thing I can change is myself, so all of my questions need to include I. Once I took out the “she, he, they” it completely simplified my life. The question with I now focuses on me. That allows me to identify what I can do to make the necessary change in my life. This burden I had placed on myself dissipated very quickly, if not instantly, after this new school of thought was introduced into my brain.

Now, at 34, I’m looking forward while looking back at the same time. Neat trick right? I am looking back on everything that I experienced as well as my valuable lessons from QBQ and rolling those into my future. I think of 33 as the class where I learned the required skills for adulthood. 34 is my trial period where I can practice my new-found skills and way of thinking. I am going to make mistakes and I foresee that I will have slip ups here and there. This is where I will to be more accountable. Luckily 35 will the full live version.

The things that happened to me in the last year are over. They are done. My slate for this year is clean. I am starting fresh. No longer will I play the victim and let life “happen” to me. Now, I am going to make life happen. I’ve already started implementing some big changes in my life (more blog posts about that to come later). 34 will the year that I become the man that I want to be. My focus will be myself.

That makes 34 a huge milestone age for me. I will look back on this year of my life with a smile and pride of what I accomplished. And unlike 21, I will remember this one!