Do I work for a toxic leader?

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I started a new principal position at a local school in August. I quit by October.

Or at least, I had resigned from the position in my mind.

I officially handed in my resignation letter in January.

My supervisor laughed and said, “I didn’t think you’d resign so quickly.”

It was the easiest decision because I was in a toxic environment; my supervisor was a bully.

How did I know?

Words are one thing.

What people actually do will tell you everything you need to know.

So why did I resign in my mind in October?

During a one-on-one with my supervisor, her tone had shifted from “You’re doing great, we’re so glad you’re here” to “I have deep concerns about your leadership.”

Ouch.

I have been (and continue to be) a high performer in every role I’ve had the privilege to work in. My history has decades of strong performance. Until this experience, I had never been “disciplined” or received a formal write-up.

Now that doesn’t mean I worked in a toxic environment, but . . .

All that changed in October when I started getting formal write-ups every single week. And this continued until January.

Am I a perfect leader? Absolutely not! I have plenty to learn and make mistakes each day. But do my actions warrant a “deep concern” for my leadership?

Maybe.

I think this is why having a strong network outside of your workplace environment is key. They can help you be objective and help you see what you don’t see — addressing blind spots, or disconfirming any bogus feedback you might be receiving.

So one sign of a toxic work environment is that it is incongruent with reality.

Other signs of a toxic work environment you might look out for:

The meeting after the meeting.

Poor communication.

But it is possible they might be hiding something. This is the weakest indication of a toxic culture, but something to note.

People running out the door.

Lack of ownership and pointing fingers.

Unhealthy expectations.

Toxic cultures may expect that you’re connected to work 24–7, respond to emails within an hour, and do things that degrade your mental, physical, and emotional health.

A culture of discrimination.

You don’t like who you’ve become.

This kind of feedback can hurt and a sober self-assessment is warranted.

Finally, trust your gut. The leaders I support have deep inner wisdom. When ignored, this can lead to disastrous results. If you’re even asking questions about toxic leadership, you probably are working for a toxic leader. People don’t ask that question when working with leaders who support and care about them.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀

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