Coaching Toxic Leaders: Strategies for Positive Change

May 12, 2023

“Care is a core part of management. It’s not about a tool. We need to learn the soft skills to take care of people’s well-being.”

-Satya Nadella

Remember Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones? The fiery, dynamic, and awe-inspiring leader? Daenerys has no titles or lands to her name but as the show progresses, she conquers lands with her mighty dragons, inspires armies to join her cause, and becomes a leader of the people. Until…the toxicity creeps in. However, her toxic traits don’t develop suddenly. Each time she wins, her resolve gets emboldened. And so does the toxicity. The fictional queen quickly loses favor with her loyalists and ultimately, her toxicity as a leader becomes her undoing.

Even though the story is fictional, toxic leaders are real and more frequent than we may think. In a poll we did before the webinar, most people said that they have experienced toxicity at their workplace. Though commonplace, toxic leadership has serious ramifications on the mental and emotional well-being of people. A toxic culture can also reduce employee motivation and the overall productivity of teams. So how does one handle toxicity? How does coaching toxic leaders really work?

Kicking off the International Coaching Week, Coacharya CEO Pranav Ramanathan and Leadership Coach Gayatri Krishnamurthy discussed toxic leadership in this week’s webinar. Gayatri, who is also a consultant and author, brought forward many insights from her article on toxic leadership in Coacharya’s Reflections on Coaching: An Anthology E-book. The discussion centered around identifying toxic leadership traits and the role of coaching in showing a way forward.

What is toxic leadership? 

As Pranav and Gayatri started with sharing their experiences with toxic leadership, the chatbox was buzzing with questions about identifying a toxic leader. How and when does one know that they’re dealing with a toxic leader? Recounting an early experience, Gayatri highlighted the fact that one is constantly walking on eggshells with a toxic leader. She aptly said, “It was almost like I needed a weather forecast to find out what I am going to encounter that day. Is it going to be sunny, cloudy, or rainy? I had to do a lot of management.”

So, what are some toxic leadership traits? As the conversation progressed, the webinar attendees were curious about how one identifies toxicity. Replying to the questions, Pranav enlisted five toxic attributes– disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive.

Micro-Aggression

When we talk about toxic leadership, the everyday subtle or covert forms of toxicity are also equally important to address. Pranav and Gayatri addressed microaggression and how subtle behaviors can be toxic in a major way. When coaching leadership styles which are toxic, micro-aggression is one of the key focus areas.

Talking about the ways in which micro-aggression manifests itself, Gayatri said that leaders exhibiting toxic traits might not abuse by shouting. In some cases, they may abuse you by ignoring you or not letting you be ‘part of the group.’ “It’s like a punishment. But it is very covert.” And as I thought about it, it made so much sense. Exclusion is a major red flag in leadership.

Webinar Highlights

Here are some of the key questions that were explored during the webinar:

  1. What is toxic leadership?
  2. What are some of the toxic behaviors that people exhibit?
  3. How does coaching toxic leaders work?
  4. What is the role of coaching in navigating toxic leadership?
  5. What is micro-aggression and how does it play out?
  6. Non-violent communication and its relevance to toxic leadership
  7. Coping with toxic leadership

My Takeaway

One of the key takeaways from this webinar for me was the subtle ways in which toxicity plays out and how it always exists on a spectrum. I will encourage you to watch this webinar to know more about toxic leadership and how coaching serves as a way to work around it. Have you experienced toxicity in your workplace? What are some toxic traits you have come across?  Tell us in the comments section below or feel free to share your thoughts with us on CoachNook.

Webinar: Coaching Toxic Leaders

Yamini Kandpal
Yamini Kandpal

Yamini

Yamini Kandpal works as a Content Specialist at Coacharya. With a background in writing and editing as part of journalism, she has found her own corner in the stories of the coaching world. While away from work, you can find her traveling or scribbling her musings in a notebook.

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