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    Why Giving Toxic Leaders More Time is an Awful Idea

    Courtesy of Building the Best

    Time doesn’t just kill deals; it also demoralizes employees.

    Working for or with a toxic leader is draining. The longer a team member experiences an absence of empathy, poor communication, or a lack of vision, the more unhappy they are regarding their work.

    It’s an age-old challenge for companies, big and small. Companies often find themselves left grappling with ineffective leaders or toxic leaders who deliver results but leave a wake of disaster behind them while they do it. While the signs may be clear, knowing how to navigate such delicate situations remains difficult. Do you fire them? Do you move them into a different role? Do you give them more time to change?

    Since every situation is slightly different, the answer can be different. However, getting to your correct answer requires knowing the following principle:

    Leadership is temporary; it’s impact is lasting.

    Learn more in this short clip from a recent keynote:

    Patience vs Impatience

    The conundrum of patience vs impatience in developing a leader is real. More often than not, companies opt to give ineffective leaders more time in hopes that they develop and change.

    Chris Hoffmann , the CEO of Deutschmann Lane Holdings and Hoffman Brothers, said it much better than I could have on X.

    Giving ineffective leaders long periods of time to improve seems like the “nice” thing to do…then I considered the effects on the people they lead. The “nice” thing to do was address the failing leader right away.

    Another way to think about patience vs impatience in development is:

    Be patient when it just impacts one person. Be impatient when it impacts other people.

    Options Aren’t Endless

    In many scenarios, there are endless options to solve a problem.  When it comes to toxic or even just ineffective leaders, that isn’t the case.  There are only three options:

    1. Do Nothing
    2. Remove Them
    3. Provide Help with a Change Timeline

    Do Nothing

    Doing nothing and allowing a toxic leader an infinite amount of time to change themselves is an option, but it’s not a good one. While it doesn’t seem like a bad idea on the surface, it ignores a key principle.

    Development takes time, but growth only happens if you are intentional.

    If the manager is unaware of their skill deficiencies and isn’t proactively working to become a better version of themselves, nothing is going to change. The short-term effects of doing nothing are

    • Unengaged Employees
    • High Voluntary Turnover
    • Drastic Underperformance

    The long-term effects are even more catastrophic. Look no further than Enron.

    Remove Them

    Removing an ineffective or toxic leader is the second option. It’s clean and leaves no ambiguity about the values the organization upholds or tolerates. This is an important point because the best leaders know what they tolerate, they encourage.

    What you tolerate, you encourage

    The downside to immediately removing them is you don’t demonstrate the patience of human development and skill building.  It doesn’t matter if you are a welder, an electrician, a golfer, or an executive the mastery of a skill takes time.  However, if the leader isn’t working hard to develop or you have a better candidate that can step in and lead effectively, removing them is a great option.

    Provide Help with a Change Timeline

    Providing help with a change timeline for an inneffective leader is the third option.  It’s a powerful and important option because every company should have the mentality of “pouring into their people.” One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is assuming that they are just going to hire leaders without developing them. Bob Chapman , CEO of Barry-Wehmilller said, “You can’t ask people to be leaders, you have to teach them how to be leaders.”

    Great organizations don’t ask people to be leaders, they teach them how to be leaders.

    When we get the opportunity to partner with an organization to provide leadership and performance coaching, I ask the HR or executive team an important question: “How much time are you willing to give them if everything stayed the same?”

    The answer to this question tells me the kind of urgency they have for a leader to improve. If you are looking for ideas download the free guide, “5 Elements Your Leadership Development Program Should Include”


    Time is the one resource you and I can’t get back.  Wasting it shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. Being intentional about helping ineffective leaders or moving on from toxic ones isn’t a decision you should take lightly.  Remember, leadership is temporary; it’s impact is lasting.

    The Leadership Lens Newsletter Join over 20,000 readers of the Leadership Lens Newsletter for free.

    About the Author 

    John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

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