Why is it important to talk about toxic leadership?

„A job is a job. A boss is a boss “. For centuries people complain about their work-lives and yet the world goes round. Why is it suddenly such a big deal how we feel about our jobs, colleagues, and bosses?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we became more conscious of the importance of mental health. There is increasingly more light shed on what aspects of our everyday lives hinder our well-being. As we shift from a reactive state to a proactive one, we aim to prevent harm rather than gather what pieces are left once the damage is done.

On one level, toxic leadership is very expensive for companies and organizations through employee turnover, loss of know-how, lawsuits, and harm to reputation. On an even larger scale, harmful leadership practices and self-serving decision-making of leaders are the decisive factor in failed attempts to implement sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems.

It is in fact a worldwide, cross-industry, cross-generational and cross-gender problem. Its consequent negative impact on mental and physical health often destroys lives, draining societies‘ capacities to support people unable to work because of the abuse they experienced.

From trouble sleeping, digestive issues to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and heart attack.

From withholding holidays, extending short-term contracts last minute, calls in the middle of the night and gaslighting to sexual harassment and threats.

How did you exit the situation?

– „I got a new job and quit“
– „I quit without a new job“
– „I got so burned out, that I couldn’t say my name and was hospitalized. They fired me when I came back.“
– „I asked for feedback and got fired on the spot“

Did you consider taking legal action?

– „I spoke to a lawyer but they discouraged me saying I would have to have a recording of them abusing me basically“
– „I didn’t know where to turn and how to look for the information“
– „No, nobody does it. Nobody wants to leave a bad smell after they leave. You never know where and when you meet this person again and how much more damage they can cause in your life“
– „We can’t take legal action – they are too well connected“

According to International Labour Organization and Lloyd’s Register Foundation Survey 2022, 1 in 5 people world-wide experience violence and harassment at work. Half of them never tell anyone.

This silence allows for the circle of abuse to continue.

More often than not, the immense damage caused by toxic leaders goes completely unaccounted for. It is, therefore, important to first de-normalize toxic behaviours and management tactics so that more people recognize the signs early enough to decline an offer or to find a new opportunity before life gets unbearable.

Focusing on leaders and training them how to do no harm is not enough. Employees themselves must be able to recognize, speak up and reject harmful leadership practices without fearing for their reputation, well-being, and future.

Why is it important to talk about toxic leadership? Sharing our experiences of harassment and violence at work is the first step in solving this pandemic-scale problem. The only people benefitting from the silence are toxic, self-serving leaders themselves. The rest of us, the society is who ends up covering the bill – literary and metaphorically speaking.  

Who is Kasia Musur?

Kasia Musur is a Berlin-based founder of an early-stage startup dealing with toxic leadership through preventive, protective and accountability measures. Passionate about human dignity and human rights, Kasia also runs lightup Germany, a non-profit focusing on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Germany.

Author: Kasia Musur

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