How leaders should detect and deal with toxic behaviors in colleagues

Professional workplace behavior is necessary for the long-term success of any organization but still is not given its due. Good behavior is not just a nice thing to have, but is essential for the morale and well-being of the team and the organization. Prolonged exposure to toxic behaviors can have a telling effect on the performance of the team and hence this is something that leaders need to keep an eye out for. However, many managers still have difficulty in nailing down toxic behaviors.

The different kind of toxic behaviors exhibited by employees include negative attitude, lack of integrity, gossiping, narcissism, lack of ownership, tardiness, frequent absenteeism and irreversible addiction to social media. Many employees are very good at camouflaging these traits and it takes experience, skill, an eye for detail and discretion in managers to identify such individuals and put them on course correction to rectify these behaviors or even let them go in some cases.

Colleagues with toxic behaviors upset the morale of hardworking colleagues by grabbing someone else’s credit. They engineer an issue to their favor and provide the ‘appropriate’ solution to the boss, thereby stealing credit that rightfully belongs to some other team member. They are also smart to align themselves with someone from the top management by being a ‘buddy’ to them and get the so-called necessary ‘protection’ thus making it even more difficult for their immediate managers to penalize or discipline them.

The performance indicators or KRAs often focus on functional parameters and don’t have a provision for measuring behaviors in individuals. Hence such employees get away as there is no penalty attached to exhibiting toxic behaviors. Companies are today rectifying this situation by adopting new systems of appraisals, which capture behavioral aspects as well as performance indicators of individuals.

Direct reports generally do not want to antagonize their managers, even if they are aware of their colleague’s toxic behavior for fear of being socially excommunicated. On the other hand, managers too don’t want to deal with the situation either due to the lack of time, focus or just the knowledge of how to handle it.

It must be noted though that in some cases employees are not aware that they possess toxic behaviors.  It takes a wise, strong and an empathizing leader to help individuals identify these traits and assist them in overcoming it, thus benefiting both the employee and the team. The ability to remain calm under pressure and the ability to neutralize toxic people are two of the biggest gifts of top leaders. Toxic behaviors have a direct impact on performance, so it is worthwhile to make it your priority as a good strong leader. 

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