21 Worst Traits of Toxic Managers
Navigating the minefield of toxic management, we’ve gathered firsthand experiences from CEOs and founders to spotlight the worst traits they’ve encountered. From a CEO’s perspective of neglecting constructive feedback to a president’s encounter with credit-stealing, explore the candid reflections of twenty-one leaders on the damaging behaviors that define a toxic manager.
- Neglects Constructive Feedback
- Lacks Empathy
- Zero Self-Awareness
- Imposes Poor Work-Life Balance
- Fixated on Metrics
- Engages in Petty Gossip
- Publicly Criticizes Team
- Practices Micromanagement
- Displays Favoritism
- Exhibits Physical Rage
- Disregards Others’ Time
- Fails to Communicate Effectively
- Hides Critical Information
- Sets Unclear Goals
- Refuses to Accept Change
- Demands Nonstop Productivity
- Resists Industry Trends
- Uses Sarcasm Excessively
- Lacks Availability and Accountability
- Shows No Empathy
- Steals Team Credit
Neglects Constructive Feedback
Reflecting on my professional journey, the most detrimental trait I’ve seen in toxic managers is their failure to provide constructive feedback. I recall a manager who never offered any guidance or praise, leaving team members unsure about their performance.
Effective feedback is essential for growth and development. Managers who neglect this responsibility not only hinder their team’s progress but also create a disheartening work atmosphere. A good manager should regularly provide constructive feedback to help team members thrive.
The most challenging thing about a toxic manager I dealt with was their complete lack of understanding and care for the people on the team. It felt like they didn’t bother to listen or consider the challenges we faced.
I remember when a team member was going through a tough time personally, this manager showed no empathy or support. It created a negative atmosphere where people felt undervalued and unmotivated, making it hard for the team to even work together effectively.
Any toxic manager I’ve worked for had one thing in common—zero self-awareness. It was their way or the highway, and they were like a tornado whirling through. These managers thought they were very self-aware but actually exhibited none. It was difficult to work for someone who had tunnel vision.
Imposes Poor Work-Life Balance
Not having a good work-life balance and then pushing this onto others is problematic. My last manager would regularly bite off more than she could chew at the expense of her own work-life balance. She was extremely stressed and anxious, and would frequently describe how busy she was and how little sleep she got because of all her work.
Normally, I would dismiss this behavior as someone’s own personal choice of not respecting his or her own time or not setting up appropriate boundaries. Unfortunately, as my manager, she would then assign additional projects to all the members of her team in the same way. If anyone objected to the extra, unnecessary workload, she would respond that she barely had time to do anything for herself and insinuate that we had to model her chaotic workdays. It was not a healthy environment, and I was happy when I left that role under this manager.
Fixated on Metrics
The most detrimental trait of a toxic manager I encountered was an unwavering fixation on metric-based results. Unfortunately, this singular focus fostered a culture of fear rather than fostering a sense of team buy-in.
The manager’s disregard for anything beyond the numbers left me feeling devalued, as it became evident that personal growth and well-being were inconsequential. Recognizing that I was seen merely as a tool for achieving metrics, I seized the first opportunity to depart, prioritizing a work environment that values individuals as more than just data points on a spreadsheet.
Engages in Petty Gossip
There is nothing worse in my mind than petty gossip from a manager, because gossip destroys trust and goodwill. A manager who gossips about other employees for entertainment value creates an environment where trust will be hard to establish, and people won’t want to share what’s really going on in their lives. This does not make for a productive work environment with good communication and trust.
Publicly Criticizes Team
Drawing from my wealth of experience, the most concerning trait I’ve witnessed in toxic managers is their tendency to undermine their own team members. I remember one manager who would publicly criticize team members, eroding their self-esteem and confidence.
Such behavior not only demotivates the team but also leads to decreased performance and loyalty. A good manager should support and uplift their team, fostering a positive and productive work environment.
Gil Clark Jr.
CEO, GH Clark
Micromanaging is undoubtedly one of the most detrimental qualities a toxic manager can possess. It refers to managers who constantly check in on their employees and criticize every tiny detail, causing unnecessary stress and demotivation in the workplace. Micromanagers often do not trust their team members and feel the need to control every aspect of their work, resulting in a lack of autonomy for employees. This can lead to low morale, reduced productivity, and high turnover rates.
Additionally, micromanaging can also hinder the development of team members as they do not have the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, which are crucial for learning and growth. Moreover, micromanagers tend to take credit for their team’s successes while blaming their team for any failures. This creates a toxic work environment where employees feel undervalued and unappreciated.
Overall, micromanaging is a destructive trait that not only affects the well-being of employees but also hinders the overall success of the team and company. It is important for managers to trust their team members and give them space to work independently in order to foster a positive and productive workplace.
Throughout my career, the most egregious trait I’ve observed in toxic managers is their tendency to play favorites. I’ve had a manager who blatantly showed favoritism toward a few team members, providing them with better opportunities and promotions while neglecting the rest of us. This not only fosters resentment but also destroys team cohesion.
A good manager should treat all team members fairly and provide equal chances for growth and recognition.
Exhibits Physical Rage
Physical display of rage. Several years ago, I had a manager who crossed a line while communicating his unhappiness when the team was not able to hit the quarterly targets. He threw his phone and a few files on the floor during the meeting. While the manager was not abusing me or any specific person on the team, I would consider this behavior toxic.
Disregards Others’ Time
Early in my career, I reported to an executive with blatant disregard for others’ time and efforts. He would sabotage progress by continually questioning direction midstream, then get upset when projects didn’t meet deadlines or budgets. Wasting resources to correct course killed morale. I watched talented people burn out under the churn and challenges to their expertise. His refusal to empower teams kept productivity in a chokehold.
Once I realized his insecurity drove the behavior, I pushed myself to validate cross-functional contributions. Did it resolve the dysfunction? Unfortunately, not. Toxic managers destroy value by putting self-interest before collaborative results. I firmly believe if you cut others down to feel taller, you have stopped growing. True leaders lift all boats.
Fails to Communicate Effectively
One of the worst traits of a toxic manager I encountered was a lack of effective communication. This manager consistently failed to communicate clearly, causing confusion among the team. They withheld important information, leading to uncertainty about expectations and project goals.
Additionally, they rarely provided constructive feedback or guidance, leaving team members feeling unsupported. This lack of communication created a tense and unproductive work environment, impacting morale and overall team performance. Clear and transparent communication is crucial for a healthy workplace, and the absence of this trait in a manager can significantly contribute to toxicity within the team.
Hides Critical Information
In my extensive career, the worst trait I’ve encountered in toxic managers is their lack of transparency. I once had a manager who kept critical information hidden, leaving the team in the dark about important decisions and company updates. This lack of transparency breeds mistrust and confusion among team members. A successful manager should communicate openly, keeping the team informed and engaged in the decision-making process.
Sets Unclear Goals
In my professional journey, the most damaging trait I’ve seen in toxic managers is their inability to provide clear goals and expectations. I once worked under a manager who never communicated our objectives effectively, leading to confusion and missed targets. Setting clear expectations is crucial for team alignment and success. Managers who fail in this regard sow discord and hinder productivity.
Refuses to Accept Change
I worked for three years at a company, and I was really surprised at how my boss was never willing to change his mind, even when it was obvious he was wrong.
That chair is black, but he thinks it’s yellow? There’s no arguing; it’s yellow. That’s it. Even if ten thousand other people think it’s black.
This means not taking any other opinion into consideration, but, above all, not evolving as a person. His typical response was, “We’ve always done it that way, and it’s always worked.”
The absurd thing is that thinking this way in the marketing sector, which we all know is constantly evolving, means risking not surviving as a company.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to change these people, so sometimes the best solution is to either adapt or change the company directly, like I did.
Demands Nonstop Productivity
The worst trait I have experienced from a toxic manager is one that expects you to be doing something every minute of your shift. This was terrible because you can only do so much during your shift; you can’t possibly be doing something every minute of your shift. It was so unnecessary to yell at us if we were standing around for a minute or two.
Plus, if you are constantly completing the list of things that need to be done, at some point in your 8-hour shift, you are going to complete everything on the list.
Resists Industry Trends
In my extensive experience, the most detrimental trait I’ve seen in toxic managers is their resistance to change. I recall a manager who was stuck in outdated practices and refused to adapt to evolving industry trends.
This inflexibility hindered our team’s ability to stay competitive and relevant. A good manager should be open to change, embrace innovation, and encourage continuous improvement to keep the team and the organization thriving in a dynamic world.
Uses Sarcasm Excessively
I once worked with a manager who used sarcasm excessively. I quickly realized how toxic and condescending this way of communication was.
In everyday life, sarcasm can be a powerful tool, yet at work, it is unacceptable, unethical, and goes against the idea of an open communication environment. My superior’s ambiguous and arrogant comments caused me a lot of anxiety and self-doubt. I constantly felt that my competencies were diminished. Not to mention that sardonic comments sabotaged each decision I made.
It has also negatively influenced my team’s workflow, since sarcastic remarks caused ambiguity and left a lot of space for interpretation. This led to numerous conflicts and a lack of motivation among my colleagues. Consequently, the company’s overall performance has worsened, and many employees, myself included, have decided to quit.
The experience taught me that someone who belittles the abilities of others is not suited for managerial positions.
Lacks Availability and Accountability
The worst toxic trait a manager I worked for had was that he just wasn’t present. When you needed help or needed permission to do something above your pay grade, he just wasn’t available. He would also tell you to do things and then try to throw you under the bus later for following his orders if that thing didn’t go smoothly.
Later, he was laid off, and it turned out he’d been neglecting to do his job in terms of reports, tasks he was supposed to be doing, etc., for about a year and a half.
Shows No Empathy
As a toxic manager, I’ve observed that the worst characteristic was not being empathetic. This person appeared unaware of the personal issues and well-being about which this individual was concerned. Whether one faced a private misfortune or was overburdened with workload—it seemed there was indifference everywhere and in everything. This insensitivity manifested itself through absurd demands, unrelenting pressure, and disregard for voices raised in objection.
The toxic manager failed to understand the human nature of work, perceiving employees more as machine parts than as living beings with lives outside the job. This trait caused not only a stressful workplace but also created an intimidating culture where team members were afraid to communicate freely.
The negative domino effect was cruel, dismantling team confidence and disrupting cooperation. It reinforced my belief that understanding and attention to team well-being are integral parts of any good leadership. When a manager is not empathetic, he or she does more than harm the work environment; he or she hinders individual growth potential within his or her team.
Steals Team Credit
In my extensive professional experience, the most detrimental trait I’ve witnessed in toxic managers is their inability to give credit where it’s due. I once had a manager who took credit for the team’s successes and accomplishments, failing to acknowledge our hard work and dedication.
This not only demotivated the team but also created an environment of mistrust and resentment. A good manager should recognize and appreciate the contributions of their team members, fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual respect.
Submit Your Answer
Would you like to submit an alternate answer to the question, “What’s the worst trait a toxic manager you worked for had? ”