Destruction or Departure: The Toxic Executive Team

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Is it agony to sit through management meetings?

The team gets together periodically, and the signs of trouble abound.  Members are late, don’t prepare for the meeting, and resist any effort to move forward.  Forget any indication of happiness; this team can barely resist snarling at each other.  If you are a member of such a team, you probably HATE going to the meeting.

I was part of an executive team with a Toastmasters club just before the club imploded.  The president of the club wanted to run the club his way and wanted other officers to do his bidding.  He spoke out against any individual initiative.

We called a meeting of the officers to discuss our direction forward, and our contributions toward making that happen.  Tom had seized control of the group, in his mind, and no one could change the course of the club.  Now, it seemed that the program was all about meeting his needs, not fulfilling our educational and leadership objectives.

I remember sitting in that meeting in agony.  I don’t think I’ve endured such pure contempt from someone supposedly interested in our shared purpose.  The discussion from each of our officers was tolerant, considered – and was inconclusive.  I saw no change in the direction of our group.

I had a choice.  I was a volunteer in this executive team.  I planned my exit, announced it, and left the group promptly.  From what I heard from others, most of the team left within two months of my departure as well.  I did not need to stay where I was not having fun and treated as a servant to another person’s vision.

I never regretted leaving this team.   I do regret that the club folded within six months of my departure.

Do you know any toxic executives?  Some decision makers are filled with their importance, and cannot see the emotional reality for others.   They will sometimes make decisions after considering only part of the information, and ignore the cultural reality for the people who are not part of their coalition. Toxic executives bully, rant on emotionally and prevent other people from contributing their best.

When person works around a toxic coworker, he or she must always dedicate part of their “surveillance armor” to check out what others are saying, doing that might have an impact on their work.  They are not paranoid; the toxic executive is interested in taking rights away from other people who are not allied with them.  It is not crazy to be looking out for internal attacks when one has seen them launched before.  One can see a pattern when working with the toxic executive, and it is best to protect one’s interest because there is no guarantee that the toxic manager plays fair.

I suspect that the toxic executive has an emotional failure.  Given a position of responsibility, he or she plays out the emotional turbulence with the people around, the people who don’t have the same level of organizational power as El Jefe.  When the emotional dynamic rules, people sometimes are treated as children, and respond (if they aren’t careful) as if they have a parent ruling over their lives.

Get away from the toxic executive.  You cannot win by dealing rationally with this person.  He or she has a level of pain that connects with every relationship, seeps into every conversation, and directs every decision.   You won’t change this person, but you will frustrate yourself.

If you can make an escape that doesn’t destroy your security, do it.  If you can leave the toxic executive, but you know there will be a price to be paid, look at the cost.  Consider your sanity, clarity, and emotional well-being.  You may want to prepare for your exit, and discover that the toxic manager has been fired from your group from other causes than yours.  After all, the toxic executive creates a trail of negative around him or her!   So prepare, but be flexible.

Above all, calm your inner world.  Get right with your emotional center, and know that you are bigger (much bigger!) than this toxic person who dictates decisions in your workplace.  Your calm center will pay dividends.   Believe in yourself, act rationally and justly, and others will come to value the contribution that you make to this group.

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Steve Broe is an executive coach and author.  He lives in Scottsdale Arizona.  He answers the question, “How does leadership help people become successful?” in his new book, Leading the Way Up Mt. Olympusnow available on Amazon.  

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