Lacking Leadership becomes Toxic

People watch your feed, not your lips!

How lacking Leadership grows a toxic organization….

In the more than 25 years that I worked with leaders from all walks- and all types of organizations, I did not come across one who did not say that safety was the top priority for his or her organization.

With the hand on the heart. Almost all.

But what is the practice? What happens if you, as an employee or as an outsider, unambiguously name a safety issue?

Did you never witness how honest employees, or observing externals, suddenly become whistleblowers and then “persona non grata”…? 

The “my door is always open” attitude changes in many cases surprisingly subtle but quickly to: “Arrange it with my secretary, take it with the coordinator”.

The reporter of the issue soon gets the feeling: “Don’t bother me with details” and many will leave it at that, others will indeed report it and very occasionally the issue is indeed resolved. If it was convenient…


On the occasion of a training course, a leader once again tells employees: “first safety, then quality, then volume is the rule”. An employee answers: “Yes, but during the night shift there are still employees driving on forklifts that do not have a certificate for this. If we don’t do that, we can’t load the installation.”

The leader reacts somewhat irritated; “But we agreed that there would be someone in every team with a certificate? Why hasn’t that happened yet? Those people have to take a course!”

The situation that the employee appointed remains unchanged, no firm agreements are made about who has the certificate and when, the employee feels very uncomfortable and certainly not rewarded for naming the security risk.

What will the effect be on his other colleagues?

Reporting unacceptable behavior

Sometimes the situations identified are precarious, personally sensitive. What happens if someone comes to report unacceptable behavior that you as an organization do not have to be proud of; that you would rather not see it in the newspaper?

What do you do when you are “blocked” as a reporter and end up with the secretary, who then asks for the details? What happens if you have the courage to say that you want to report a bad condition but don’t want to mention details, in particular names of colleagues?

“I can’t do anything for you unless you tell me who did what and where”?

Won’t most people leave it silent? Go back to their place with a rotten feeling?

What does the leader or manager do?

How many leaders immediately pick up such cautious signals and take action: Is such a reporter invited in a secure environment, to tell the story in a safe setting, knowing that the reporter is often involved in some way?

Should we be surprised and think it is strange when dozens of people had knowledge about unacceptable situations, yet for years, “nobody did anything about it”?

What I see too often is this:

When a reporter persists and the leader can no longer ignore it at some point to take action and when the name and behavior can no longer be denied, the reaction is:

“We have addressed the person concerned, he has apologized and promised never to do it again.” Or worse “We have disciplined or fired him”

However nothing has been changed about the system, we move on to the order of the day. The reporter can then see for himself how he is staying in the organization. He usually just goes back to the situation he just reported.

When Lack of Leadership becomes Toxic

Where the right behavior (Reporting unacceptable situations) is not being rewarded or worse, it is being punished, that is the guaranty for a toxic organisation. Now people are being forced to keep working in situations that should not be. Critical and motivated employees see no other choice then to ‘switch off’ or to leave. Which is better…? The organization begins to die.


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