Are They Destroying Morale and Motivation in Your Organization?
Safety is a hallmark of the law enforcement business. Yet, a substantial number of public safety officers consistently identify a toxic work environment as their greatest source of stress and threat. A large percentage of officers feel far more stress from their own supervision, than they do from simply doing their job. More than a few officers believe they have been victimized by those who are in charge at their own workplace.
In law enforcement circles, it is often said that threats from the street are potentially lethal, but that the threat from the enemy within is a far worse hazard to a law officer’s health and well-being. The toxic boss plague, denied by many in leadership positions, is the elephant in the room for public safety. Almost to a person, law enforcement retirees will say that what they do not miss about the job are the politics, ineffective bosses, and management shenanigans.
Who is a Toxic Boss, and What Do They Do?
Bullying bosses inflict emotional (and sometimes physical) violence upon the target. Overly aggressive force is used to instill fear and influence the actions of co-workers and direct reports. Yelling, screaming, and out of control behavior causes work trauma that poisons the culture of an organization. The bully boss delights in humiliating, demoralizing, or embarrassing subordinates both publicly and privately. Caustic intimidation naturally creates anger, resentment, mistrust, and hostility.
The arrogant boss is autocratic, ignores input, and will frequently talk down to employees by making condescending remarks. Heavy doses of misguided vanity, pride, and sarcasm, fortify a rigid hierarchy that supports the belief that the arrogant boss has a right to expect allegiance to them as a person because of their inherent greatness. Consistently demeaning behavior highlights the inequality of an unbalanced workplace structure, thus constructing a tone of antagonism and disgust between those who are meant to be teammates. No-one likes to be talked down to as if they are lower than dirt.
Cautious and tentative, the paralysis by analysis, black hole manager, quickly loses credibility amongst the people. U- Turns, outcome reversals, start and stop; change, change, change, decision making cause’s disheartened ineffectualness. Management impediment becomes standard operating procedure. The indecisive boss is often a timid, hesitant decision-maker who likes to wait and see if more information will become available. These “blind follower” bosses give only safe and unobjectionable answers to questions. The result is that very little is actually accomplished. Because of the life and death nature of the job, the indecisive are arguably, the most dangerous toxic boss in the law enforcement business.
The mere fact that incompetent bosses make bad decisions that prove to be wrong more often than they are right, fuels decline in organizational performance. Employees see right through the anemic boss, and when the boss has no credibility, effective leadership is impossible. The entire operation sputters and stumbles its way straight toward uselessness. Officers find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced to act outside the parameters of management directives just to get the job done.
Micromanagers typically turn every task or assignment into laborious chores, overwhelming the average officer with heaps of useless drudgery and documentation. Nearly every action must be approved and sanctioned by the supervisor. The “Don’t do anything until I get there” manager feels the need to make most decisions. Commonly they are heavy handed, highly critical, control freaks who impose ridiculous artificial deadlines. Excessive monitoring, and frequent correction of insignificant flaws (red pen monsters), fuel frustration and encourage sheep-like behavior from subordinates.
Toxic Untruthful Boss
Pinocchio bosses model behavior that can range from pathological lying, political deceit, lying for convenience, duplicity for personal gain, spinning the message, and dishonesty to cover their rear end. The untruthful are often good actors, charming and manipulative. These masters of embellishment will purposely mislead, cover-up, frequently change their story, and fabricate accomplishments. Those surrounded by supervisors who master verbal falsehoods will rightly ask themselves “Is this an organization worthy of my loyalty and affiliation?”
Toxic Corrupt Boss
Compromised bosses who engage in scurrilous behavior, OR who fail to make the difficult decisions that relate to subordinate misconduct, are underwriting entity corrosion. Morally bankrupt managers create a workplace that features corruption, cover-ups, denials, and other forms of unscrupulous activity. Deception causes the diminishing of worker integrity, and the unhealthy erosion of innermost trust. Personal and business reliability can perish amongst a culture of distrust and dysfunction.
Toxic Suck-Up Boss
Agency imbalance and blatant favoritism fostered by the success of the suck-up, is likely to cause the wrong people to be put in powerful positions for all the wrong reasons. The suck-up boss tells management exactly what they want to hear. Two-faced bosses like to see which way the wind is blowing before they commit to any position. Constant insincere behavior is patently obvious to co-workers, and recognized by direct reports as a brazen attempt to gain favor with those who hold power. Sadly, the posterior kisser is frequently rewarded by his/her toxic boss, yet they are sowing seeds of disgust throughout the workplace.
Toxic Egghead Boss
An organization that is led by an egghead boss will often confuse credentials and degrees with competency. Many times the egghead boss lacks common sense, and over-relies on academic and hypothetical concepts. Theory replaces tangible results, and statistical proof of performance becomes the prototype that is used to verify agency success. Intelligence, critical thinking, decision-making ability, work ethic, maturity, wisdom, and personal discipline are but a few of the attributes that cannot be assessed by the accumulation of credentials and degrees.
How Does A Leader Mitigate the Threat Posed By Toxic Bosses?
The solution to the toxic boss threat is simple and straightforward. Consistently reward appropriate behavior, and unfailingly punish toxic behavior. Indeed, the answer to this dilemma is just this uncomplicated. The astute leader should ask themselves “what behavioral values are truly being rewarded in our workplace?” Are toxic bosses enjoying the fruits of their poisonous labor?
Force, threat, and intimidation are the gold standards of toxic management. Professionals know how to coach, mentor, correct deficiencies, and enforce standards of success without being rude hostile jerks. Great leaders combine dignity and decency with order, prerogative, and governance. Civility, tact, and gracefulness are sophisticated leadership skills that facilitate greater employee pride, self-respect, purpose in our work, and enhancement of our product.
It is our solemn duty as leaders to diminish or eliminate the toxic management practices that combine to form the enemy from within law enforcement. Albert Einstein once said “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.” Malicious, discourteous, discriminatory, or deliberately hurtful behavior towards law enforcement officers by their bosses should never be acceptable.
Captain Steve Neal (Ret.) served as a law enforcement officer in Virginia for 29 years. During his tenure he was fortunate to experience a wide range of assignments which included Uniform Operations, Criminal Investigations, Covert Operations, Director of the Emergency Communications Center, Director of Training, Support Services Commander, and Inspector for the Office of Professional Standards. Co-founder and partner of the Leatherman & Neal public safety consulting team, Steve enjoys providing leadership training for peace officers. In addition to his consultancy, he currently works as a media contributor; furnishing analysis, consultation, and crime commentary for television broadcasters. Steve Neal is the author of a great new book Toxic Boss Blues. www.ToxicBossBlues.com