I’ve been in the newspaper business for going on 24 years now, and seen a lot of people come and go. Before that, I’d been working full or part time since I was a teenager. Some of my bosses have been true leaders. Some haven’t.
Some of the most interesting folks I’ve worked for, whether it was in the newspaper business, contracting, bartending, security or the sports world could easily be described as a “toxic leader.” I’m not talking about the day to day stuff that happens (one editor who employed me actually forgot to pay the entire staff one time), I’m talking about stuff that could land you in a padded room.
I had one editor I worked for about 20 years ago who often changed details in my story that were correct, then made them incorrect. Then, when a reader phoned in to complain, he’d freak out on me. One time, he freaked out so much he pulled a filing cabinet drawer out of a cabinet and threw it at me. Luckily, I was in my 20’s so I moved quickly.
Another fellow I worked for decided to take an office from my department and give it to someone else in the operation (without telling anybody). Later, when the owners of the newspaper found out and chewed me out for a poorly conceived decision, the guy who actually made that decision sat there and said nothing, leaving his subordinate to take the fall for his own incompetence. This is the same fellow who overrode pay raises for an entire department despite the money already being budgeted.
I‘ve often wondered, where do these people come from? From my experience I’ve three levels of severity.
“Toxic leadership” is, according to NPR, “a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance. This leader lacks concern for others and the climate of the organization, which leads to short- and long-term negative effects.” So in effect, this is the boss who is worried about his or her own advancement and little else.
Next in seriousness is the boss with narcissistic personality disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” I suspect this might be the person who thinks every move they make is brilliant and everybody is so frightened of him or her no one has the guts to say otherwise.
Finally, there is the lowest of the low. The psychopath. No, not all psychopaths become cannibalistic psychiatrists. I’ve run into this type of leader in every industry I worked in, from construction to licensed establishments to security to newspapers. Friends of mine who work in government, medicine, police and education tell me the same thing: these people seem to be everywhere. According to Psychology Today, “Psychopathy is among the most difficult disorders to spot. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, they lack conscience and empathy, making them manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal.” This kind of person doesn’t even recognize other people: they’re simply objects to be used then discarded.
For myself, I’ve always been the best employee when I have a leader I can look up to, respect or even admire. As a manager at the Pipestone Flyer, I try as best I can to be that kind of leader.
And since I recently turned 45 years of age, I am too old to be hurling filing cabinet drawers across the room.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.