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Toxic Leadership: My Story

I did not grow up thinking about toxic leadership. Nor did I set a goal in college or early in my career to research the dark side of leadership. Instead, my goals surrounding and knowledge of toxic leadership grew out of necessity. Or in other words, I learned about toxic leadership to survive.


I graduated from college and started my career. I was fortunate to work for individuals who cared about me and my development. Because of their mentoring and my natural ability and grit, I started to rise in my career. I continued this way for many years—excelling, feeling supported, and learning. I furthered my education and earned an MBA and my success in my career continued to rise.


And then everything changed. Specifically, I had a change in the individual(s) I reported to at work. Instead of feeling successful, I started feeling like a failure. Instead of having a work-life balance, all I did was work and worry about work.  I received inappropriate messages and phone calls at all hours of the day (or night). I watched people being ridiculed, fired, and belittled on a daily basis (And on many occasions, I was that person being ridiculed or belittled.) When I did not want to engage in those behaviors, I was “coached” to act differently. 


I started not being able to sleep at night, making bad decisions, not liking myself, and having great feelings of anxiety. And through all of this, I always thought the problem was me. I thought I was causing this that I needed to change that I was not good enough.

Luckily for me, I created friendships at work and these individuals helped me see that perhaps I was not the problem. One friend recommended that I watch a documentary (I am Fishhead). This documentary literally and figuratively changed my life. (Note, if you are interested in learning about the dark side of leadership, I highlight recommend watching this documentary). I distinctly remember watching this video and feeling a complete sense of relief as I realized I was not the only one to blame in my situation; the leader(s) I worked for were creating a toxic environment. And at that moment, I realized two things: 1) I needed to leave my environment and 2) I wanted to help others understand that toxic leaders exist. 

I am happy to report that I successfully left that position and I am now starting my official quest to bring awareness to toxic leadership. As I reflect on the classes I took in college, the leadership training I received, and the mentors I had, I notice that no one talked about what “bad leadership” is and what to do when it exists. Instead, I learned that leaders were good and to be followed. My understanding, which I contend others have as well, almost ruined my career and my well-being. So how do we help others understand the dark side of leadership? How do we shine a light on this phenomenon so followers can understand it’s not them always? 


I believe this is supposed to be my journey in life and I am completing my dissertation on this topic. I will continue to share my journey with you all on a bi-weekly basis. It is my sincere hope that I can help individuals who are suffering because of this phenomenon.

I did not grow up thinking about toxic leadership. Nor did I set a goal in college or early in my career to research the dark side of leadership. Instead, my goals surrounding and knowledge of toxic leadership grew out of necessity. Or in other words, I learned about toxic leadership to survive.


I graduated from college and started my career. I was fortunate to work for individuals who cared about me and my development. Because of their mentoring and my natural ability and grit, I started to rise in my career. I continued this way for many years—excelling, feeling supported, and learning. I furthered my education and earned an MBA and my success in my career continued to rise.

And then everything changed. Specifically, I had a change in the individual(s) I reported to at work. Instead of feeling successful, I started feeling like a failure. Instead of having a work-life balance, all I did was work and worry about work.  I received inappropriate messages and phone calls at all hours of the day (or night). I watched people being ridiculed, fired, and belittled on a daily basis (And on many occasions, I was that person being ridiculed or belittled.) When I did not want to engage in those behaviors, I was “coached” to act differently. 


I started not being able to sleep at night, making bad decisions, not liking myself, and having great feelings of anxiety. And through all of this, I always thought the problem was me. I thought I was causing this that I needed to change that I was not good enough.

Luckily for me, I created friendships at work and these individuals helped me see that perhaps I was not the problem. One friend recommended that I watch a documentary (I am Fishhead). This documentary literally and figuratively changed my life. (Note, if you are interested in learning about the dark side of leadership, I highlight recommend watching this documentary). I distinctly remember watching this video and feeling a complete sense of relief as I realized I was not the only one to blame in my situation; the leader(s) I worked for were creating a toxic environment. And at that moment, I realized two things: 1) I needed to leave my environment and 2) I wanted to help others understand that toxic leaders exist. 

I am happy to report that I successfully left that position and I am now starting my official quest to bring awareness to toxic leadership. As I reflect on the classes I took in college, the leadership training I received, and the mentors I had, I notice that no one talked about what “bad leadership” is and what to do when it exists. Instead, I learned that leaders were good and to be followed. My understanding, which I contend others have as well, almost ruined my career and my well-being. So how do we help others understand the dark side of leadership? How do we shine a light on this phenomenon so followers can understand it’s not them always? 


I believe this is supposed to be my journey in life and I am completing my dissertation on this topic. I will continue to share my journey with you all on a bi-weekly basis. It is my sincere hope that I can help individuals who are suffering because of this phenomenon.

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