12 Main Characteristics of the Toxic Leadership Style

Being a leader is all about doing the best you can to support and encourage others to be their best. If you find yourself falling into a toxic leadership style, you will see negative results and work from those who once looked up to you. Look out for these 12 toxic leadership characteristics to avoid in leading.

1. Unfair
Being an unfair leader can often stem from many issues and almost always leads to employees disliking you and your power. Being unfair as a leader can come in many forms and usually includes asking people for unfair amounts or forms of work alongside giving unfair treatment to some workers.

To avoid being an unfair leader, you will want to treat everyone with the same level of respect and humanity to avoid conflict. It will make for better relationships and more effective work if everyone feels treated fairly.

2. Lying
Not only can lying get you in serious legal trouble at the office, but nobody wants to work for a liar. Lying is one of the most toxic leadership traits that you can possess as nobody will want to work for you if you keep lying about what you expect for them or fail to deliver on false promises.

Prevent lying by being open and honest with your team so people can form a more trusting relationship and don’t feel manipulated. After jus ta few lies, people will begin to turn on you as a leader and do whatever they can to get rid of you.

3. Unmotivated
Having to constantly push your boss to get things done is annoying for anyone, so having to deal with an unmotivated boss leads to many further issues. Not having the motivation to be a leader not only affect your own performance, but it can have a direct effect on how much others are able to get done.

When you are the leader of a group, it is your responsibility to keep others motivated sot that you can all keep moving forward. If you begin to slack and become an unmotivated leader, nobody will want to follow you or your orders.

4. Unaccountable
Being unaccountable is usually something you expect from a child who did something wrong and not a serious leader. Failing to take the blame for things that were directly your fault or partly your fault shows a lack of accountability and always reflects poorly on your overall character as a leader.

Even if something was not directly your fault, taking accountability and owning up to your involvement shows others that you are serious about your work and want things to get done right.

5. Egotistical
Having a sense of pride in your work is admirable but having a large ego for work that you didn’t do much to complete is toxic. A leader who takes credit for everything that goes right and brags about their performance only comes across as egotistical and puts a bad taste in the mouth of any who listen to you.

Take pride in your work, but make sure you are sharing the wins of others so that everyone can feel good about themselves. Letting go of your ego and helping to raise others up will do far more for your image than acting like the top dog at the office.

6. Poor Ethics
Toxic leaders can often be annoying, but leaders who lack proper ethics can often end up breaking the law. No matter what the case is, being unethical as a leader can lead to severe consequences even if it may not seem like a big deal at the time.

Making decisions without considering the ethical choices that need to be considered can lead to people taking legal action against you or have employees acting out because of your bad example. Make sure t think rationally and carefully before confronting any ethical dilemma.

7. Self-interested
Similar to the toxic leader with a big ego, being a self-interested leader is easy to see and even easier to want to ignore. A self-interested leader isn’t even a real leader as they only do things that will seem to benefit them and will rarely if ever do what is actually best for employees or the company.

What a good leader would do is to ask others before making big decisions and make sure that they are doing what will be best for the company and not just them.

8. Unsupportive
A toxic leader who does not give any support to their team will eventually just be taken out of the picture as they provide little or no help to those in need. Being an unsupportive leader will lead to a chain reaction of people no longer needing you for help and then getting rid of you.

Make sure to offer a helping hand to those in need and be involved in the work of those who you lead. Support others in whatever ways you can, and people will come to respect and appreciate you more as a leader.

9. Favoritism
Nobody likes a teacher’s pet and people often don’t like the person dealing out favoritism. By leading with favoritism, you are showing everyone that your affection can be easily won over and that you do not place value on real elements like hard work and character.

Favoritism can easily lead to discrimination lawsuits and other issues so make sure that you are making rational decisions and treating everyone based on ability rather than who is your favorite.

10. Incompetent
As funny as an incompetent boss may be on television, nobody really wants to work for a leader who doesn’t know what they are doing. You are responsible for leading and guiding other people, so it is especially important that you as a leader know what to do and are comfortable doing it.

Avoid being incompetent by thinking critically when needing to make decisions or guide others. An incompetent leader will quickly be recognized and replaced.

11. Hypocritical
Do as I say and not as I do might work on children, but nobody will follow a leader who is hypocritical and demands things of others that they don’t even demand from themselves. People will quickly realize that you are not following the rules you place on them and begin to see you as toxic and unjust.

Following your own rules will give others the inspiration to follow them too and lead to a more unified workplace.

12. Negligent
Negligence is a world that lawyers love t0 hear and a word that can destroy companies. Being the leader of a group means that it falls on you to be responsible and being negligent can lead to serious issues for you and your company.

Avoid being negligent by making sure everything is in order among others and you will be able to have an effective and negligent free workplace.


Being a leader is much more than just bossing others around and making profits, so you have to ensure you are not turning into a toxic leader in your field. Remember to avoid these 12 toxic leadership traits so that you continue to be the best leader that you can be.

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.