The Washington Post headline reads “Army worries about ‘toxic leaders’ in ranks.” The Army
defined “toxic leaders” as those “who put their own needs first, micro-managed
subordinates, behaved in a mean-spirited manner or displayed poor decision
making.” There appear to be a lot of them.
“A major U.S. Army survey [of 22,000 Army leaders] of leadership and morale
found that more than 80 percent of Army officers and sergeants had directly
observed a “toxic” leader in the last year and that about 20 percent of the
respondents said that they had worked directly for one.”
That’s pretty serious, but it gets worse. Half the soldiers surveyed expected
the toxic leader to get promoted. There’s some good news, though, in a single
sentence from the story.
“The survey also found that 97 percent of officers and sergeants had observed
an “exceptional leader” within the Army in the past year.”
That finding matches my experience. For more than twenty-five years, I’ve
asked participants in my supervision programs to identify “a time when it was
great to come to work.” There’s never been a participant who couldn’t do that.
They all experienced those times and the vast majority identified their boss at
the time as a key driver of the experience. Class participants used those
leaders as models for what good leadership looked like. The Army could do that
and more and so can you.
Tell the stories of exceptional leaders far and wide,
describe them in action. That would do three good things: it would recognize
exceptional leaders in a special way; it would send the message that the Army
values those leaders; and, it would provide a teaching story so others could
learn exceptional leader behavior.
Use the exceptional leaders as instructors in leadership.
They’re the most credible instructors you can have, especially if they use their
own stories as part of their teaching. As an added bonus, they will become more
conscious of their leadership through the process of developing their
Use exceptional leaders as resources. I’ve had good results
from using panels of exceptional bosses in training for other bosses. You can
also use exceptional leaders as resources to help develop training and
evaluation materials and to provide “what I would do” observations for
Develop training based on the common behaviors of exceptional
leaders. That’s what I did for my programs and the Working Supervisor’s Support Kit.
Boss’s Bottom Line
If you want to become an exceptional leader, observe what exceptional leaders
do and then do it yourself.