A Toxic Boss - the Main Characteristics

A Toxic Boss - the Main Characteristics

Last update: 31 January, 2018

A toxic boss is one who abuses the power of his or her position. Work psychology studies indicate that good relationships between team members mean better productivity and progress. Despite these studies, there are still plenty of bosses using methods and behavior that is detrimental to their employees.

There is a certain feudal legacy in these kinds of “leaders.” They have an autocratic idea of power. That’s why they aren’t concerned about their behavior causing harm. They see the business or organization as a machine that needs to function properly. Their subordinates are just cogs in the machine. Toxic bosses are more focused on the results than the process.

“…the proletariat, which will not permit itself to be treated as rabble, needs its courage, its self-confidence, its pride and its sense of independence even more than its bread.”

-Karl Marx-

Researchers find, time and time again, that positive leadership leads to greater efficiency. In the long term, democratic and horizontal models generate greater respect among the workers.

An authentic leader exercises their moral authority above anything else. They don´t depend on coercion or punishment to make their employees feel committed to the corporate objectives. Instead, they motivate and reward them. This encourages a sense of belonging and motivates employees to be more committed to their jobs.

A toxic boss relies on fear. This is the tool this type of boss uses to get employees to adhere to corporate goals. Although this model works in the short term, in the long term it will lead to a stagnant organization. In addition, the staff will feel frustrated and ready to leave as soon as they have the opportunity. A toxic boss is damaging to the organization as a whole. Next, we will discuss some of the most common traits of this type of boss.

Toxic bosses are arrogant

A toxic boss believes that their power makes them better than everyone else. It doesn’t matter how they ended up in their position, they always feels superior. In addition, they believe that they have the right to treat others as less important, just because they are the boss.

Boss breathing fire

This arrogance manifests itself in body language, the tone of voice, and facilitation style. Toxic bosses want to be intimidating. They interpret their employees’ fear as something positive. Their arrogance is always related to insecurity and lack of self-confidence, more than genuine superiority.

They don’t know how to listen or communicate

One of the most obvious signs of a toxic boss is how hard it is for them to listen to others. These types of bosses believe that listening to their employees is showing them undeserved importance. They assume that if they listen to their subordinates, their power over them will diminish.

A toxic boss doesn’t know how to communicate. In fact, their instructions might be unnecessarily complicated. They do this on purpose, to try and intimidate their employees. A toxic boss speaks in absolutes to try and emphasize that they have the last word on everything. It is common for toxic bosses not to appreciate what others say. They might do this with indifference, or by questioning employees in a disrespectful way.

They are controlling and inflexible

Toxic bosses don’t understand the difference between managing and controlling. Nor do they see the difference between leading and commanding. They don’t trust the people they work with. As a result, they think the best strategy is to micro-manage everything. They assume that their job is to monitor and punish what they deem improper behavior.

Boss and employee

Toxic bosses are also inflexible. They see situations in black and white. They assume that strength is the same as inflexibility, and if they aren’t extremely strict, people will see them as weak. That’s why you can’t question their orders, and they impose their ideas. Employees must do everything exactly as they say, otherwise, they will be punished.

They don’t know how to manage conflict

These types of bosses look favorably on anger. They believe that bad moods and irritability are signs of a serious and responsible employee. So, they interpret these traits as expressions of commitment and thoroughness. Consequently, they often sound annoyed when they give orders, or “solve” problems at work by yelling. They think they have the right to “scold” their employees.

If they have a problem with an employee, their solution is to impose new orders or give some kind of punishment. They tend not to care if the people they are working with are uncomfortable. If other people don’t follow the rules exactly they get angry and see these people as weak. A toxic boss creates a tense and repressed environment. They believe that this will encourage their employees to work harder.

They reject others’ initiative

Taking the initiative is a sign of autonomy, strength, and ability. That’s why a toxic boss feels threatened by an employee who takes the initiative. They might even think that the employee is overstepping their boundary and challenging authority. Toxic bosses reject anyone with ideas for innovation or improvement.

Bosses yelling

For these kinds of bosses, there is only one way to do things – their way. Employees quickly learn that thinking for themselves or trying to make contributions is a way to provoke their toxic boss. At the end of the day, the organization suffers. The behavior of the boss or supervisor makes it impossible for staff to enrich the organization or business with new ideas.

They don’t know how to manage time

Proper time management is essential to supervise and guide staff and avoid problems. One of the things that makes someone a bad boss is bad time management. This includes poor planning and prioritization of activities.

Poor time management creates a chaotic workplace. Employees often have to finish their work in record time. Or, there will be stretches of time when they have nothing to do. In these cases, the workplace feels unstable and unorganized. As a result, employees feel stressed and tense.

They don’t know their employees needs

Bad bosses have no idea what their employees need. In fact, they have no interest in finding out. They believe that personal stuff is inappropriate or even irrelevant in the workplace. They see people’s personal lives as an obstacle to getting work done.

Boss pointing out bad timekeeping

A toxic boss believes that their employee’s personal needs have nothing to do with work responsibilities. Because they see everything in black and white, they assume that personal problems are just an excuse employees use to justify a missed day or incomplete work. Toxic bosses have a really hard time seeing their employees as whole people.

Labor law all over the world tries to protect workers, but the reality is that there are plenty of bosses who push the limits of what is legal. They subtly ignore workers’ rights and hide their abusive attitudes behind the unpredictability of human relationships.

Toxic bosses abound during times of crisis. They know that they can cross the line and most of their employees won’t say anything because they are afraid to lose their jobs. Nevertheless, all workers should know their rights, and be aware that they can respectfully speak out if they believe they are being mistreated.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.