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The last post was a short post about imperfect leaders and how it was ok to be imperfect. Near the end, I wrote that imperfect was different than toxic. So I feel compelled to write about toxic leaders. Compelled but not eager.

Actually, Not only am I not eager, I don’t want to write this post at all…. But I guess I have to. I don’t want to because there is little you can do about a toxic leader.

If you don’t want to read this whole post, here is the tl:dr. If your boss is toxic, RUN!

Toxic leaders are self-focused, sensitive, easily offended, often have explosive anger, feel little or no remorse, believe they are always the smartest person in the room, belittle others, are childish, bully people…. The list could go on and on. To be blunt, they most likely have an undiagnosed personality disorder that impairs their ability to have healthy relationships. Working for them is miserable, and the people that thrive with them tend to be as unhealthy as they are, albeit often in different ways, including, but not limited too a strong ability to deny reality.

I don’t think it is overstating it to say that ALL of us have had contact with a toxic teacher, employer, coach, religious leader, politician or even friend. Is that too much of an absolute? I think not. Even as you read that list above, someone likely pops into your head.

Now, just because someone has some of those characteristics, or occasionally has a bad day, it doesn’t mean they are toxic. It is a consistent and persistent pattern of behavior, across multiple settings that counts.

So, what do you do if you are in a subordinate position to a toxic person? I wasn’t kidding when i said run earlier. The number one thing is to do everything in your power to get out from that situation. Find a new job, transfer departments, drop the class. Do whatever you must to get yourself out of the situation if at all possible.

“But Dr. Jeff,” you say, “I can’t get out, I’m stuck.” Well, I can’t argue with you because I don’t know your specific situation. I will first say that in my work with people, they are stuck because they can’t figure out the way out and they need an outsider to give a different view. So, try these ideas:

  1. Discuss this with a trusted person and see if they have alternatives you didn’t think of to get you out of the situation.
  2. Learn how to set firm boundaries with the offender. They might admire you for that and back off or they might fire you. Good you need to be out of the situation anyway. If you are a doormat, people wipe their feet on you.
  3. Avoid them. Keep your head down. Do everything you can to stay out of their line of fire.
  4. Talk to someone often. That trusted person in number one or, if you feel all you do is complain then find a quality therapist. They get paid to listen. Oh, but listen to them as well. They can only help if you follow through on your commitments.
  5. See number 2. I must repeat how important healthy boundaries are.
  6. If all else fails, quit, even if you “can’t.” The toll this kind of person takes on your mental, physical and emotional health is far more than being unemployed for a period of time.

At least that is my opinion.


If you want help dealing with your leader, give me a call. I got your back.


Dr. Jeff


[email protected]


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