Signs of a Toxic Boss: How Good People Can Succeed In the Executive Suite

Dana Theus
2 min readMay 12, 2022

I can’t tell you how many clients come to me with what they understand to be antithetical desires: executive success and authenticity. They’re very aware of the signs of a toxic boss and they don’t want to be that. They hope I can help them figure out how to be authentic, supportive of their team and successful at reaching the top even though they are not completely sure doing all that is even possible.

Their uncertainty is surprising considering how many leadership books promote authenticity, collaboration (and the trust that results), as critical to every level of success — especially the top jobs. However, as we know, many leadership cultures tolerate and even support toxic leaders, so these concerns are not unfounded.

Photo by Brett Jordan

Signs of a Toxic Boss

Even more perplexing is that over the course of my career I’ve observed that many of the best people opt out of top roles, or the desire for them, because they believe the only way to get to the top is to do “whatever it takes” and exhibit signs of a toxic boss:

  • Self-centeredness somewhere on the narcissism scale
  • “Us-vs-Them” competitiveness
  • Unrealistic expectations and impossible deadlines
  • Favoritism based on personal loyalty
  • Dictatorial decision making
  • Information hoarding
  • Emotionalism and reactivity
  • Lack of feedback or recognition
  • Unactionable negativity, criticism and belittling
  • Disinterest in others’ ideas
  • Blaming and shaming others
  • No accountability for themselves
  • Taking credit for others’ work
  • Unwillingness to consider ethical issues in decision making
  • Demanding 24 hour access to employees and face-time at the expense of personal productivity

When deciding whether to climb to the top, many believe that doing “whatever it takes” to get to the executive suite means becoming the kind of person they hate. Given this choice, opting out of the climb makes a lot of sense.

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Dana Theus

Thought leader on how personal power creates change. Coach. Entrepreneur. Women’s Leadership Advocate. CEO: