I recently reconnected with some old colleagues and coworkers and learned about the fates of a few “leaders” I had the pleasure of serving under at various points in my career. These leaders I’m referring about were cunning, evil beings who delighted in pestering me and others while attempting to collectively ruin the careers of many of my colleagues.
In the past, the power trip was magnificent. They never anticipated the conclusion. They would sit in meetings and in their offices day after day planning all the ways they might torment their people while getting away with it. They grinned and pranced out of conflict resolution sessions to talk about employee concerns, brushing allegations of harassment and unfair treatment under the rug. They used closed door techniques because they were cautious of acting indiscreetly in front of others, as cowards frequently do. The legacy of their leadership was built on dismissing people’s ideas or concerns, insulting staff members in meetings, making grown adults cry because they felt their work was never good enough, and having staff members carried out of the office on stretchers because the job and these leaders combined to cause anxiety, ulcers, and other illnesses.
By the way this was all in HR.
We talk about the benefits of being a leader year after year, yet not much actually changes. It does make one wonder how seriously businesses consider the requirement for having capable, productive, and compassionate leaders in charge. The majority of businesses have done well to get the competent and effective part right, but it is shocking how lacking in kindness and humility the leadership is.
In each of my jobs, I have done well to see when the writing was on the wall. My career spidey sense has allowed me to jump ship right before shit hit the fan. Many of my co-workers will also remember me saying before all of my departures that these toxic leadership regimes would not last forever. In some cases, the fall from glory was quick and shocking-yet for others it has been a long, painful journey. I am a firm believer of the idea that you get what you give in life and that also holds true in business.
If you lead with negativity and malice in your heart, that karma will come back to bite you. Alternatively, if you choose to lead with dignity, humility and positivity this too will be your legacy and follow you as you progress in your career.
I don’t have to tell you that the people that I speak of are now out of the very roles they abused and on the unemployment line. While I am sorry for their current imposition, I am far more disappointed in how common this narrative is in the workplace.
With this realization in mind, I urge leaders everywhere to remember the following:
- Your employees today may be in a position to lead you tomorrow. Be careful how you treat them.
- Power is a dangerous thing. Do well to ensure that you are using your leadership power for good, because it comes back to you.
- Don’t let organizational politics change who you are as a person or a leader. Rely on your values before playing the political game.
- Organizations are cyclical. You may be on top for a time, but there will come a time when you are not. Let your time in leadership be something that inspires rather than something that becomes fodder for “what not to do as a leader”.
- Trying to destroy your employees’ careers will only lead to the destruction of your own career. That’s leadership karma.