Work: These Warning Signs Reveal Your Boss as a ‘Toxic Leader’

Bullying, discrimination or sexual harassment by the boss: Every employee knows that these things go too far. These are red flags that leave no room for doubt – a line has clearly been crossed here.

But what about the yellow flags? In the stressful everyday work, these small violations are easily overlooked. They are an early warning system: they indicate that you are dealing with a so-called “toxic leader”.

“Truly successful men in suits know their craft to perfection”

According to Swiss psychologists Anja Oswald, Pablo Hagemeyer and Jan Gysi, “toxic leaders” are toxic people in leadership positions, driven by a greed for recognition, wealth, power and control. Their behavior is characterized by pathological lies and manipulation for their own purposes. In addition, there is a lack of empathy, arrogance, low tolerance for frustration, inappropriate action and the tendency to devalue others.

Psychologist Pablo Hagemeyer (photo) warns: “It gets especially bad when the toxic boss has chosen someone he wants to finish”

Source: pa/Günther Pich/Günther Pichlkostner

Behind this behavior are the personality traits of the “Dark Tetrad”: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. This may at first sound like an explosive mix that should be easy for outsiders to recognize – but “Toxic Leaders” are surprisingly good at dazzling those around them.

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“Truly successful suits understand their craft to perfection and can specifically use the characteristics of the narcissist, the Machiavellian, the psychopath and the sadist where it achieves the best effect in terms of achieving their goals,” state the experts in a scientific publication.

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These warning signs should make you suspicious

Two office workers talking in conference room

Source: Getty Images/Michael Haegele

Although a “toxic leader” can be incredibly winning at first, it usually doesn’t take long for the first transgressions to occur. “What about the offer from DU, in a company where only SIE is traditional,” says Hagemeyer, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, as an example. “What about the small favor of bringing a coffee? Or going for a ride with the boss? How easily do we cross these seemingly harmless boundaries when we have almost no sense of them, since we ourselves consider boundary crossings to be normal early on in development?”

It is important to recognize such warning signs as they can quickly turn into the red flags mentioned above. For example, when overtime at the office turns into dinner with the boss. When he comes close and puts his hand on your shoulder. Leans close to you at the desk. “The red flag is then starting a sexual relationship with a colleague or supervisor.”

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Through abuse of power and psychological pressure, the employee is subdued by the toxic person. These massive violations are extremely destabilizing for those affected – this can lead to addiction, abandonment of one’s personality and suicidal tendencies. Shame also plays a role.

It is not uncommon for us to betray our own innermost ideals and values ​​just to please the leader.

Anyone who betrays themselves just to gain the love of their superiors can fall into a self-destructive state that casts deep doubt on their own perception.

There are two ways out – and neither of them are easy

Serious young business woman with cardboard box Getty ImagesGetty Images

Source: Getty Images/Westend61

“If the level of suffering grows immeasurably, and enduring and accepting is no longer an option because the suffering increases and lasts too long, resignation will probably be one of the wiser options,” says Hagemeyer. “By the way, any doctor can give ‘dismissal on medical advice’ here, and you will not be locked up at the employment service.” Before taking this step, you can also seek advice from your works council, the HR department or a lawyer. Because some actions – such as insults or sexual harassment in the workplace – are punishable by law and you can take legal action against them.

On the other hand, if you have thick skin and are not easily offended, you can try to get up quickly and quickly to quickly reach a safe position in the company, where the attacks are no longer so massive. Expert Hagermeyer’s tips: If you want to advance or survive in a company, you have to “work hard, be ambitious about what’s important to you and use people and structures that help you do this”.

But there is one thing you should avoid: joining the ranks of people who behave toxically. According to Hagemeyer, that includes making people who stand in your way look bad by spreading lies. Mentally destroying colleagues with massive attacks. Can’t remember what you said the other day. Deliberately misunderstand everything, put off and tire others. This behavior is also a way out, but not an honest one.

Now you know the warning signs. Here you can read all about the tactics of toxic bosses:

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This article was first published in November 2021.

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