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My Job Would Be Fabulous Without My Leader: Navigating Toxic Leadership

Do you work with the leader who blocks access to other senior resources and insists that all information must be channelled through them? Or perhaps you're dealing with the leader who constantly shifts priorities, dives into the minutiae of tasks, and leaves you feeling overwhelmed and directionless. Then there's the leader who never provides feedback, leaving you in the dark about your performance, or the one who hoards knowledge like it's the key to the kingdom.

These leadership archetypes can make work feel like a never-ending struggle but fear not – there are strategies to cope and thrive.

The Gatekeeper Leader

This type of leader insists that all information and resources flow through them, creating a bottleneck in the organization. It's like trying to get into an exclusive club where the bouncer won't let anyone in without their say-so. Here's how to deal with a gatekeeper leader:

Build Relationships: Foster connections across the organisation with other senior leaders and colleagues. Invest in your own network.

Seek Alternatives: Explore alternative channels for information and resources to avoid reliance solely on the leader and to stay connected to the organisations core strategic priorities.

Diplomatic Approach: Approach your leader for an open conversation around decentralising access to resources for the team's benefit. Can you think of 2 or 3 examples that will add value and raise them?

The Priority Juggler

Constantly shifting priorities and diving into the minutiae of tasks, the priority juggler can leave you feeling overwhelmed and directionless. It's like trying to keep up with a hyperactive meerkat on a caffeine binge. Here's how to handle them:

Clarify Expectations: Set clear expectations and priorities upfront to minimise confusion and ensure alignment. Create your own one-page plan. Agree it with them and keep it handy as priorities shift to check in which ones are now lower priority or can be stopped because they are no longer relevant. Don't assume everything they ask you to do is still a top priority.

Advocate for Realism: Agreeing the priority of activities will help with the juggle. Advocate for realistic timelines and boundaries to prevent burnout (yours) and maintain focus on critical tasks. 

Encourage Delegation: Encourage the leader to delegate tasks effectively and trust team members to take ownership of their responsibilities. Be specific and ask what information they need to see from you to know you are on track. It's ok to let your leader know you work best this way. Be generous on this one. Maybe they work for a juggler too!

The Feedback Phantom

Feedback is essential for growth and development, but some leaders are notoriously elusive when it comes to providing feedback. It's like performing on stage without an audience reaction – are you nailing it or bombing? To navigate this challenge:

Initiate Feedback: Take the initiative to solicit feedback directly from your leader, setting aside dedicated time for constructive conversations. If that doesn’t work, ask specific questions designed to elicit feedback. An example could be:

  • Is there one thing you see me doing that I should do more of? or
  • Is there anything you see me do that isn't working for me, and I should stop doing or do less of? I’d love your thoughts.

Seek External Feedback: Seek feedback from peers and mentors to gain additional insights and perspectives on your performance. 

Create Feedback Opportunities: Create opportunities for ongoing feedback to build a culture of continuous improvement within the team. It is ok to schedule meetings with your leader and be open that you welcome feedback and would be keen to get more.

My hot tip is if you ask for it, then take it on board and demonstrate you have done something with it!


In CultureAmp's State of the Manager Report 2023, they share:

Managers aren’t providing their direct reports with the development they crave

"A staggering 3 in 10 employees say that their manager doesn’t show an interest in their career aspirations, and therefore, also doesn’t help them understand what growth opportunities exist within the company". 

This is the number one reason senior female leaders share behind feeling stuck in their career - they can't see a pathway in their organisation. *

The Knowledge Hoarder

Knowledge is power, and some leaders are reluctant to share it for fear of losing control. It's old school leadership and it's like being in a treasure hunt where the map is locked away in a vault, and only they hold the key. When dealing with a knowledge hoarder:

Stay Open & Collaborate: Don't follow their lead. Offer to collaborate on projects and share your own expertise to encourage knowledge sharing within the team. 

Advocate Transparency: Be specific about the skills and knowledge you would like to gain and why? Look around to find out who else might be able to share this knowledge with you. Be transparent and open yourself. 

Lead by Example: Lead by example and demonstrate the value of sharing knowledge for the collective success of the team and organization. 

The Reluctant Departure Delayer

This leader stays so long that everyone else leaves, turning the workplace into a revolving door of talent. It's like being stuck in a never-ending loop where every departure is delayed until the leader decides to move on. Here's how to cope with this situation:

Invest in Your Own Growth: Focus on personal and professional development opportunities outside of your current role, preparing yourself for advancement or transition when the time is right. 

Foster a Supportive Network: Surround yourself with a strong support system of colleagues, mentors, and industry contacts who can provide guidance, encouragement and offer perspective on future career pathways for you.

Maintain a Positive Attitude: Keep a positive attitude and mindset and stay open to as much learning and/or opportunities to grow. I recently saw Andy Penn (former Telstra CEO) speaking and he shared that you should look for the projects that are closest to the core organisational priorities. This is a great place to learn and to connect with sponsors.

Do I stay or go?

Well, this is the key question so many leaders ask me in coaching sessions and all too often I see people leaving without attempting to address the issue. Go and have the conversations you need to have. Only after you have done this should you consider if your skills and talents will be better aligned elsewhere.

Sadly, many of these leaders remain oblivious to the high turnover rates and disengagement among their team. Often, they will call out other "external" factors like flexibility or money and employees quietly slip away, seeking opportunities where their talents are appreciated, and their contributions valued. This scenario reflects the sobering reality of many workplaces, where disengagement and turnover are prevalent due to ineffective leadership.

 According to recent studies on employee engagement, Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, shares that globally a staggering 77% of employees fall in the disengaged or actively disengaged category. 

It serves as a reminder of the importance of effective leadership and creating a supportive work environment where employees feel valued and motivated to contribute their best.

In conclusion, while working under a toxic leader can be challenging, it's essential to proactively manage these relationships and advocate for change when necessary. By building relationships, setting boundaries, and fostering open communication, you can mitigate the negative impact of toxic leadership and create a more positive and productive work environment for yourself and your team. Remember, you have the power to navigate these challenges and thrive despite them (and you always have a choice) 

Think about how you can use this when moving into a new role in a new company – do your due diligence beforehand. Good questions to ask that might see you go deeper and sniff out what you are really walking into…:

  • How are decisions made around here?
  • How often do you meet with your direct reports to assess continuous improvement for them? (anything longer than monthly should set off alarms)
  • Can I see a standard agenda for your team meetings? I'd love to know what is discussed and shared.
  • How long has the leader been in the role. And their leader and so on…. You will soon have everything you need to assess the situation.

Go and make every aspect of your job fabulous. Life's too short.

Love to hear if you work for any of these leadership archetypes OR if you suspect you might actually be leading this way and want to find a role model to show you another way.


* Brave Feminine Leadership Poll on Reasons for Feeling Stuck in your Career, 2022.

CultureAmp State of the Manager Report, 2023.

Gallup, State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report