Leaders V’s Managers- The Rise in Toxic Work Culture

“The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviours, the leaders are willing to tolerate”.

Having spent 35 years working for a large Australian company, I noticed 2 very specific changes over the years. First was a shift in culture, from a place where most people were happy to go to work, and staff were proud of not only where they worked, but also the job they had. Second was a significant shift from Leaders to Managers.

Understandably companies are all about profit, the shareholders and being ahead of their competitors. The more profit made- the more people employed and the more generous the benefits and rewards for employees, right? Not necessarily the case, because greed, ego, control- slowly creep in until they putridly soak through every layer. What remains are lavish benefits and rewards for different parts of the business and cuts and downsizing everywhere else.

What remains is toxicity. A culture of people who once held certain values going against themselves to fit in, be liked, be validated- in the hope they will be promoted, get a pay rise or stand out as a “performer”. Many still hold their values and their own behaviour to “get their job done” in this culture causes great conflict and anxiety within.

What I have learnt in my 35 year career is those who get themselves into senior positions are on the narcissistic, even sociopathic scale- at the very least they are master manipulators. The lack of self awareness these people have and the loss of compassion and empathy is obvious. It sadly becomes all about having their ego stroked or self promotion to stroke their own ego, in a culture that not only encourages these behaviours but also rewards them.

My biggest learning is that these people are incredibly insecure. A secure person who knows what they stand for has no need for external validation at this level, nor do they need their ego stroked. They certainly don’t need to manipulate people or bulldoze people for their own gain. Some people reading this that work in an environment like this, will either understand exactly what I’m saying, or it will ruffle their feathers because they lack that self awareness, self worth and perhaps haven’t done the work on themselves to fully appreciate the perspective of others. They also have little regard for anyone but themselves.

Here’s the thing happy, confident, secure, self aware people have no need to belittle another to make themselves feel better. They have no need to “throw another under the bus” or sell their soul in order to seek validation. They don’t need power to feel good about themselves.

Toxic culture lacks complete authenticity. Things are done to tick a checklist rather than have any real meaning-especially around staff morale and wellbeing. We all at some point wear a mask in the workplace- perhaps to please the bosses but the real issue is, masks have become so common, that people are too scared to be themselves. It’s such a fake environment.

Now let’s look at Leaders Vs Managers.

  • A Leader is empowering. Finds your strengths and inspires you. Takes the time to know you as a person- what drives you- what’s important to you. Understands that we all as humans struggle from time to time and those struggles can affect you at work. Knows that every person in the team will be different, and have different motivators, so each person will need to be led differently.
  • A Manager is disempowering. They focus on your weaknesses and overshadow your strengths. You are not really an individual just another person or number. Believes that personal issues should not affect your work and manages everyone in the same way, through their own drivers because a lack of self awareness clouds their perception. Believes you should just “stay busy” to overcome stress and obstacles.
  • A Leader is authentic and shows vulnerability. They understand that true connection is through showing their human side. They are unafraid to question their own strengths and weaknesses and seek out team members and colleagues to coach or support them, knowing that as a team they will garner more success and alignment if they work together at the same level.
  • A Manager is afraid to be vulnerable as they see it as weak. Titles and their perceived belief that they are above their team, will see them forever struggle to gain real traction, without bullying type tactics. They prefer to direct staff, rather than lead by example- this is usually driven by a) they don’t actually recognise what’s involved in what they are asking or b) insecurity masquerading as ego as a form of self preservation.
  • A Leader acknowledges that reality is not negativity. The amount of times throughout my career I was “spoken to” because of a managers perception that I was being negative, was countless. The thing is I was being realistic, I was pointing out issues and looking at ways we could do things better. I was saying what so many were thinking. What so many had in fact raised with me. A Leader wants to hear the good and the bad. They want to look at ways to do things better and be more supportive to staff. And they absolutely want to know what their team are thinking.
  • A Manager wants everything to be rosy. They want to talk about things like “people’s brands” and how speaking up will ruin your brand. They believe the way they are doing things is the best way and that nothing should be questioned. They care little about others thoughts or ideas because they themselves are too afraid to speak up or question their superiors. And this is the disastrous recipe for toxic positivity which creates an inauthentic and game playing workplace.
  • A Leader shows courage, compassion and empathy. They are real people and they lead their people in an open way. They know they need to earn respect and loyalty and they do this by respecting each individual in their team. They understand loyalty means confidentiality and trust and it’s a two way street. They know that different things in life will affect people differently and never invalidate a staff members feelings. If staff are struggling with work or something personal, they work with them to find the best way to support them. They never dismiss someone’s coping strategy as a lack of resilience- as they can never possibly know the full situation of that person.
  • A Manager lacks courage, compassion and empathy. They are either scared to show that to their team or due to their own issues, just lack these emotions. They demand respect due to their position and at times show little respect. They don’t have the emotional intelligence to realise we as humans all react and deal with things differently, therefore they invalidate the feelings of everyone else. They bandy around the word resilience in a judgemental and close minded way- which does nothing to encourage or empower their people.

I have worked with some great leaders and I have worked with some pretty poor managers. When the work environment becomes that of fear- fear to be yourself, fear to speak the truth, fear that someone’s warped sense of who you are is going to ruin “your brand”- the place is toxic. When you hear things, see things and are even involved in things- that go against who you are- the place is toxic. When you begin to promote yourself in a way to impress others, knowing this is not who you truly are at the core- the place is toxic.

The sad reality is that most of these people are searching for their self worth in job titles, pay grades, status and power. They wrongly believe they have respect because of their perceived power, whereas the simple truth is people’s behaviour towards them is to either better themselves or they fear what these people can do to them. If a senior manager was to post on LinkedIn for example, there would be a multitude of likes and comments and I can guarantee the majority are from people trying to be seen. People hoping they are noticed so they can climb up the chain a little higher. Further stroking of the ego.

From a counselling and therapy perspective, I would have to say many really need to go within and do some work on themselves. It’s their own unhealed wounds and limited beliefs that drive these behaviours.

Power and status does not equal success- well not a successfully happy life. I feel sad for those who think life is about more money, power and prestige and I say- I’m sad for you as you have misunderstood life.

But in the corporate environment these toxic behaviours are not only tolerated but encouraged. Therefore the toxic cycle will continue. And these companies will continue to put everything above their actual people. And the people will either feel conflict within as they know it’s wrong, or they will conform to the toxicity and become part of the problem.

Where do you sit?

“If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”.

Published by Michelle

After a long marriage, 2 children (now grown), a separation and embarking on a brand new life, I have realised life is always a journey. I have made mistakes, I have hurt and been hurt, I have loved and I have lost and at times I completely lost myself and forgot the Queen that I am. As women we are the nurturer, the caregiver but sometimes we underestimate the Goddess within us and my journey has made me realise that when our crown is crooked, we need to adjust it ourselves and remember the Queens that we are! This will be a blog about what I have learnt, what I am continuing to learn and how we can help each other. I will talk about all things love and life and at times this will be controversial but life and love is never black and white but varying shades of grey. We live in a judgemental society and so many of us live our lives according to the expectations of others, rather than doing or being what truly makes us happy. I hope you join me on my journey and on my quest to find that Inner Goddess and we can learn from each other and we can discuss the judgements and societal expectations that hold so many of us back. It's time to seek our inner happiness!!

2 thoughts on “Leaders V’s Managers- The Rise in Toxic Work Culture

  1. Such a great post. I’m about to walk away from my career because I value my core beliefs and what is best for me over being “managed” in a toxic, coercive bullying company that I was once proud of. If we aren’t true to ourselves, we sell our souls and need to start numbing the pain that grows inside. We only have ourselves in this life we can truly count on, if we sell out to these toxic environments we are left soulless, unfulfilled, angry and bitter. I’d love to be on this journey with you. Thank you Michelle 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ky and you are so right, if we go against who we are at our core, it causes us great conflict. Life is too short to spend so much of it in that sort of an environment!


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