Auzmor

Culture Couch: Toxic Leadership

Toxic leadership is detrimental no matter where it lands. It’s poisonous among our politicians, within families and schools, and in the workplace. Putting a person or group who hold holds toxic traits into powerful positions of leadership at a business is a serious demoralizer and an often overlooked aspect of failure among the C-suite searching for answers when an organization is in trouble.
How to handle toxic leadership

From our recent webinar, “Toxic Leadership,” we proudly introduce Dr. Burl Randolph, an extraordinaire if there ever was one on this topic. Read on for the full take on this incredibly important and relevant issue.

Host: Sean O’Brien (Principal, Business Development Executive at Auzmor, Inc.)

Speakers: Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr., DM, MSS, MBA Colonel, US Army, Ret (Leadership and Management Consultant; Executive Coach; Author and Editor; QC REBOOT Combat Recovery Outreach Coordinator) 

 

How to handle toxic leadership
Click on the photo to watch the full podcast.

INTRODUCTION

Sean O’Brien:

This is Sean O’Brien with Auzmor and today we’re here to talk about toxic 

leadership. My guest is Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr. Dr. Burl, Doctor of Management, Organizational Leadership, Master of Strategic studies, Master of Business Administration, retired Colonel in the US army, winner of the 2014 Doctoral Leadership Scholarship, member Delta Mu Delta, International Honors Society in Business and founder and president, and chief consultant of My Wing Man, LLC. I dare you to find someone more qualified to speak on this topic. How are you, Dr. Burl? 

 

Burl Randolph:

I’m great, Sean. How are you? 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Good. Thank you so much for joining us here today. First, let’s start, how and why did you go out and get all these incredible accolades? 

Burl Randolph: 

Sean, you made the comment that there may not be anyone more qualified than me, I don’t know about that, but I’m a very, very deliberate person. Spending so much time in the army, 32 years. When I became a junior executive, I didn’t feel as if I had enough to leave in a peace-time army at the time. I was trained to do the war-time stuff. But the peace-time stuff, the organizational things, working with civilians, which to that point I had not really done. 

So I decided to obtain a Master’s in Business Administration because I would be leading people who had been in their jobs, 10, 15, 20 years. What is a young major like me going to tell them about their job? But with my MBA, I knew what they knew, and possibly a little bit more, so we could have very, very good conversations. 

The Master of Strategic Studies, that was really a bonus from attending the US Army War College. As a Colonel, once you get to that level, you’re dealing strategically. You’re briefing members of Congress, members of the Senate, possibly the President of the United States. Everything you do on a daily basis is strategically, so you do need the tools to be able to think strategically and act strategically. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah, absolutely. We can just jump right into it. First off, if we could define a few things. 

Burl Randolph: 

Okay. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Number one being, what is leadership? 

WHY TOXIC LEADERSHIP IS AN OXYMORON

Burl Randolph: 

Sean, I look at leadership, it’s an art, not necessarily a science. It’s just the art of influencing and directing people in such a manner as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect, and loyal cooperation to make them successful and to make the organization successful. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. Going off of that, how would you define toxicity? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

The true definition of toxicity is, poisonous, right? 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Right. 

 

Burl Randolph: 

Toxic, chemical, degrades, compounds together are poisonous. Something that’s toxic is something that’s poisonous, something that degrades, something that deteriorates, something that destroys. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Right. Now that we have those definitions set in place, we’re leading somewhere, right? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

Right. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Next, what’s the incongruity between leadership and toxicity? 

 

Burl Randolph: You hear the term, toxic leadership. The reason I believe it’s an oxymoron, because toxic is poisonous, and leadership helps you become successful. How can you put those two together? The sole purpose of leadership is to make us all better. Toxicity doesn’t do that. There are no toxic leaders or managers, just toxic people in leadership and management positions. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Okay. How have those toxic people then, redefined leadership, if at all? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

First of all, the term itself, toxic leader. It’s not a mean person, we hear bad bosses, we see the movie and stuff like that. But it’s toxic because of the impact that it has on people. There are books, there are articles, there are journals, there’s an immense amount of research to what I consider as antisocial behavior. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. We’re jumping ahead, and there’s some questions from our viewers and things like that. First off, with all the work you do, My Wing Man, LLC, you do phenomenal work with leaders, execs, managers, whatever it may be, to strengthen their skills and everything. 

Burl Randolph: 

Yes.

 

Sean O’Brien: 

I have to ask you, do you come across toxic leaders often? No need to name names. 

 

 CHARACTERISTICS OF A TOXIC LEADER

Burl Randolph: 

In civilian life, not very often. I ran across a few in military life. There’s probably certain characteristics, if you will, that identify toxic leaders. Some of those characteristics are the narcissists, the person that thinks that he or she is God’s gift to the world. Of course the obvious ones, the bully, the insecure person. Sad to say, the incompetent. The person who can’t do their job but they mask that through antisocial behavior. There are all kinds of different characteristics for toxic leaders. It’s just the way they come across, if you will, in the work environment. 

 Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. I kind of digress here, can a leader become a toxic leader over time? 

Maybe due to the organization’s culture or actually changing them from a good leader, in to a toxic one? 

 

Burl Randolph:

I’d say that they can if they allow themselves to become a toxic leader. You mentioned a very good point, Sean, organizationally. There are some organizations, the culture in that organization is toxic. They’ve had toxic leaders for years, whether it’s the business owner or the executives or coworkers. 

 

A coworker can create, and I’m sure you and I have both seen it, a coworker can create a toxic environment in an organization. The difference is, that coworker, we’re equals so we can get with the coworker. We can tell them what we think, how we feel, and we’re one-on-one. The toxic leader or manager gives us a paycheck, or provides us with one. I wouldn’t say they give it, we work for it, but they provide us a paycheck, and that’s the reticence. They control our livelihood, so a toxic leader may be allowed to do things that you would never put up with from your coworker. 

 Sean O’Brien:

Right. It’s kind of funny because, if we really think about it, if you as a leader go into an organization and allow that organization’s, any negative influences to change you into a toxic leader, that’s almost being a follower and you’re not a leader to begin with, right? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

Exactly. 

 

COMPANY SUCCESS UNDER TOXIC LEADERSHIP

Sean O’Brien: 

The reason I ask this, the media is always reporting on these big wigs that are toxic, some of the most influential companies and organizations in the country. Why do you think those companies have been successful, while all the arrows are pointing to clearly having toxic leadership at the very top? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

One, Sean, many times an organization is already successful. Having led a successful organization, one of the things I found out was that any and everybody wants to be a winner. They want to come to a successful organization. They want to bring their baggage and everything else to that organization because they think it’s easy. The reason they think it’s easy is because they didn’t do that work. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Right. 

 

Burl Randolph: 

There was no blood, sweat, and tears on their part to get that organization where it was at. Enter someone who may have, we’ll say, toxic tendencies. When you engage the toxic leader, most people just want to be left alone. I don’t want to be around Sean, I don’t like the way he talks to me, he’s a screamer, he’s a holler-er, he does all kinds of stuff. If I just do my work, he’ll just leave me alone. 

Studies have indicated that organizations do well because they don’t want to be bothered with the toxic leader. They just want to do their work, get it done, and fly under the radar screen, so they’ll do a little bit better. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

With that, playing devil’s advocate, if they’re going to get the work done so they don’t have to be around a toxic leader, would you almost call that a benefit? Are there any benefits whatsoever to being a toxic leader? 

 

 

Burl Randolph: 

The literature would say that’s not a benefit, that’s an enabler. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah, okay. 

 

Burl Randolph: 

You don’t necessarily just become a toxic leader overnight. You’re in a leadership position, you exhibit that abhorrent behavior. People accent the abhorrent behavior. 

Guess what? It must be okay. 

I’ve had to remove people, relieve people, for toxic leadership and their response was, I’m not going to change anything I’m doing because my behavior is what got me here. Okay, that is a logical conclusion, however, it should have never been that way. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Right. Maybe they were in a position beforehand where they could get away with that behavior because they were in some other role that maybe wasn’t a leadership or management type role. Have you ever seen that, where it magnifies itself the second they become a leader? Where it’s like, we didn’t know John Smith had those issues, or whatever? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

There’s some people that, again, the hardest transition is from the worker, meaning Burl has his technical skills to becoming the manager or leader. But now I have to interact with you. I need something they call interpersonal skills. I don’t need interpersonal skills with me because I just do my work. If I have three or four people underneath me, and I’m not really an outgoing sort of guy, and I have to talk to you, find out how to motivate you, provider purpose, direction, and motivation. Inspire you, hold you accountable, I have to do all those things? That may kind of annoy me. 

Or, I may believe that I’ll just tell Sean to do it, he better do it. You’re appointed, not anointed. You’re not a king or anything. You’re there for a very short period of time and you’re kind of an employee just like me, so you can also be fired. People don’t necessarily think that way. 

I think that if I tell Sean to do it, and he doesn’t do it, then I can threaten him, I can counsel him, I can do all these things. As opposed to just asking, hey, Sean, how come you didn’t that done? Real simple solution. Sean, how come you didn’t get that done? Hey, Sean, what help do you need from me for you to be successful? 

But oftentimes if you don’t have interpersonal skills, or as a CEO once told me, there is no CEO school. There is no training to become a CEO. There’s not a lot of leadership training per se, in civilian life in organizations, versus the military, every position I went into there was some amount of training prior to taking over that position. I knew my left and right limits. I knew what I could do and what I could not do. That didn’t mean that sometimes people don’t go against that anyway. But I had some sort of training, which is why I actually pursued my Doctor of Management and Organizational Leadership, because what did I do for 32 years? I trained people, I led people, I was a leader. 

But that doesn’t necessarily translate being an Army Colonel into civilian life because there’s not a bunch of Army Colonels running around going, “I’m a Colonel, I’m a Colonel.” But when you say doctor it makes people a little more curious. Doctor of what? Oh, Doctor of Management. Oh, really? Oh, okay. They understand management, they understand leadership. Okay, it makes perfect sense, you were in the military? It makes perfect sense. But you don’t have that necessarily in civilian life. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Right. I like what you said about, anybody can bark orders, give direction, but to be able to coach, to empathize with the employee. Throughout our talks that we’ve had and just reviewing My Wing Man, LLC website, your literature, and in speaking, you say something to the effect of, toxic leaders might be able to get people to get work done, but not good work. What’s that quote that you have? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

Toxic leaders can get the most out of people, but good leaders get the best out of people. 

 Sean O’Brien: 

There you go. 

 

Burl Randolph: 

I’ll do work for you if I’m “afraid of you”, if I don’t want to be bothered with you, if I just want to be left alone to do my job and get my paycheck so I can take care of my family. I’ll work. I will definitely work just so you’ll leave me alone. That doesn’t mean you’re going to get the best out of me. It doesn’t mean I’m coming in early. It doesn’t mean I’m staying late. It doesn’t mean I’m not looking for another job. I’m probably doing all those things if I’m working for a toxic leader. 

There’s a difference between a paycheck and a good job. If you’re working for a toxic leader, it immediately becomes a paycheck. As soon as you find what you think is a good job, you’re gone. 

 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. That leads us right into, what are some characteristics or things to look for in employees or in retention, or whatever it may be because as we all know, people quit managers, not jobs.

 

Burl Randolph: 

Right. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Is there any other signifiers that there might be a manager or some type of leadership around this individual, that’s not working or needs to be addressed due to toxicity? 

Burl Randolph: 

Sean, I remember years ago when Facebook first came out, what were employers doing? They were checking Sean’s Facebook page to see if he was saying things, doing things, acting a certain way that would not be in alignment with their company policy. Companies still do that, they check social media because Burl sound good, he briefs well, however, is this the real Burl? 

You mentioned my website. The picture on My Wing Man, LLC, the bespeckled, scholarly looking gentleman, calling himself Dr. Burl, is he really like that or is he a stark raving lunatic? With social media, you can check just about anybody out. I would go with Sun Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, author of “The Art Of War,” who said, “Know thy enemy and know they self.” It’s sad to think that the person as an enemy, however we put our trust into boards, into organizations, to our HR, to hire what we think is a good, normal person. Only to find out later on, maybe they’re not. 

You can check out anybody, Sean. You can check out your future boss. You can go to their social media pages, or in my case, I work with four toxic leaders. Two of them, I was forewarned from people that worked for them before. The other two, I had no idea. One of them, you’re sitting around with your colleagues, who’s going to be the new CEO? Sean O’Brien. Ew. Okay, that’s a pretty big- 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

That would never happen, by the way. 

 

Burl Randolph: 

That would never happen, but I’m just using Sean as an example. I’ve never worked for Sean or anything like that, I’m just using Sean as an example because he’s here. But that actually happened. I should have dove a little bit deeper into their reactions. They were very forthcoming in letting me know that this person is not somebody you want to work for or be around. 

In another instance, I had someone come to me as the CEO and say, hey, sir, would you like to know a little bit more about the incoming chairman? Sure, okay. That’s great. Likes to holler, like to scream, got to the point that when people saw him coming they’d go the other direction. If there was a window to jump out, people would jump out of it because they just didn’t want to be bothered with him. 

I was forewarned about this person. There’s nothing wrong with digging a little bit deeper to find out, is this person a narcissist? Is this person a bully? Is this person an incompetent? Is this person an isolator? Is this person a quiet assassin? 

 

What I’ve also found is that a lot of the literature categorizes toxic leaders into certain, singular characteristics. I just named a few of them: the narcissist, the bully, the instigator, the ruthless person. I found that they have a number of those characteristics. The toxic leader that you out as being incompetent, then becomes a bully. I just named three right there. What do they do about it? Maybe they become the isolator where no one talks to Sean anymore because the boss doesn’t talk to Sean anymore. 

Or your toxic coworkers, because you know we all have a few of them. They lie below the surface, the toxic leader will co-op them to help them undermine you, make your job a little bit more stressful. Possibly push you out of the organization. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

That’s one of the things. Toxic leaders, toxic people, may tend to run in packs if you will. 

Burl Randolph: 

Yes. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

I’ve seen it before where they’ll hire people in key roles that are just like them, thinking I was effective. It speeds up the process of almost imploding from within, right? 

Burl Randolph: 

Yes. 

 

WORKING FOR A TOXIC LEADER

Sean O’Brien: 

Of a company, especially those… I honestly can’t think of any companies I’ve truly spoken to whose leadership team is comprised of all toxic people over 50, 100 employees. Here’s the key issue though, if you are an employee of a toxic leader, which often, toxic leaders can create fear. 

Burl Randolph: 

Right.

 

Sean O’Brien: 

I’m afraid of this person. What can you do to help alleviate the situation? Should you speak to them? What’s the best course of action as an employee? 

Burl Randolph: 

I mentioned the first one was to do your homework. Figure out who this person is that’s coming in, because again, before whoever showed up just showed up, you didn’t know anything about them, you couldn’t get any background. Now you can. Again, talk to other people, learn a little bit about them, again, know your enemy. 

The second part is, know yourself. You and I both know the two ends of the tails, we know the person that no matter what is done to them, no matter what is said, no matter how you treat them, they will never say a word. They are fodder for the toxic leader because that becomes my whipping boy or whipping girl. 

We have coworkers on the other end of the scale that, you say the wrong thing to them, they may punch you in the nose. I don’t care who you work for, if you punch somebody in the nose, generally you get fired. But then there’s the rest of us that’s right there in the middle. You have to know yourself. You have to know, what are your lines. 

Don’t holler at me, don’t scream at me, don’t curse at me, don’t talk about my mom. Those are my four. People laugh when I say that, I’m like, it’s true. Don’t get into my space, because now I feel threatened. Don’t give me an ultimatum. These are things that toxic leaders do on a regular basis. We all get a little upset every now and then, may raise our voice or something like that, may say a curse word here or there. But to put up with this every day, that’s what toxic leaders do, those are my red lines. I don’t put up with that. 

I have gotten up and walked out of meetings, this is when I was in uniform. I’ve gotten up and walked out of meetings. I will not tolerate this, sir, and walked out. I’m not putting up with it. If you don’t know your red lines or have your red lines because you’ve led a charmed life and never had to deal with somebody like that, then I sure hate it for you, but you have to know yourself. 

The last thing would be, options. How can you work with this person? How can you work around this person? Is it worth staying at that job? Can you get another job? Do you have another means of employment? I hate to use the word, confrontation, because those don’t necessarily end well for the person doing the confronting. But like I told my son once, when I was a CEO, I said, if I ever seem out of sorts to you guys when I come home from work, just let me know. Came home one evening, my oldest son was going up to bed. He said, “Dad, are you mad at me? “I said, “No. Why?” “Why are you talking to me that way?” He’s seven or eight years old. I was like, “Oh.’ 

Sometimes people don’t realize how they come across, they really don’t. 

Sometimes you can just mention to someone, Burl, why are you raising your voice to me? Why are you acting the way you’re acting? Somebody asked me once, you got a bur under your saddle? Excuse me? Do you have a bur under your saddle about something? It made me realize that, whether I did or didn’t, that was the way I was coming across. 

Sometimes it’s just sitting down, talking to people, telling them the way they come across. If you don’t think you can do that, another method is, we won’t talk about you, we’ll talk about me. I can’t control your behavior, but I can control the way it makes me feel. You know, Sean, when you raised your voice to me back there in the cubicle and shouted me out, I felt like this. Or when you fronted me out in the conference room in front of the entire C-level staff, it made me feel this way. Or you did this, this is the way I felt. I’m talking about your behavior, but I’m talking about the way it made me feel. It causes the person to think a little bit more, a little bit better. 

You can also attempt to go to the next higher. But, I read an article once that said, toxic leaders kiss up and kick down. Their boss doesn’t know the toxic leader- 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

That’s so… 

 

Burl Randolph: 

They’ll pretty smart, they’re pretty shifty. They kiss up, but they kick down. Their boss doesn’t necessarily know, and in some instance the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Their boss is just as toxic as they are. You have to be very, very careful with doing things of that nature. 

 

I’ve seen it where lawsuits, class action suits. Where an organization files suit against this person. Toxic leaders have a tendency to say things that are contrary to federal law. They talk about your age, they talk about your gender, they talk about your race, they talk about your family. Like I say, talking about my mom is a different story. We’re going to get into a fight. But they have a tendency to do stuff like that because they have free rein. 

 

Sometimes employees can band together and identify there being more than one instance of this person being toxic. Sometimes when just one person tries to stand up to the bully, maybe they get punched, maybe they don’t. But if you have a group of people doing the same thing, then it calms them down. 

 

Another technique, and it may sound weird, ignore them. I had a boss who would send me emails, not intimidating, but would get my dander, because that’s what they’re trying to do. I’d respond back. My right hand man told me, sir, it’s being said that you’re bordering on insubordination. I don’t care. I’m not putting up with that email. I mentioned it to a peer of mine, he’s like, ignore him. Ignore him. He was sending me emails like that, my right hand man said, ignore him. If he wants something from you, he’ll come to you. Three days of ignoring him, the emails stopped. The emails stopped, we went on to have just a regular relationship. Just a normal person. 

 

Sometimes the toxic leader wants to see what you’re made of. Will you stand up for yourself? 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Kind of the kid testing to see what they can get away with. 

 

Burl Randolph:

Testing the waters, testing to see what they can get away with. Kind of archaic, you shouldn’t be doing that in 2019, but there are people that do that. 

 

Toxic leaders change. They can if they actually want to, or if they don’t actually know they’re a toxic leader, or the consequences are high enough. Like I said, I mentioned before, some people don’t know the way they come across. They’re just gruff, they’re just angry, they’re just blah, blah, blah, blah. Those are actually excuses. Don’t let them get away… That’s just the way Burl is, he’s just a gruff old man. No, no, no, no, no. He’s gruff for a reason. 

 

Burl Randolph: Has anybody ever mentioned to Burl that hey, you come across kind of gruff. 

Oh, okay. Yeah, that has been mentioned to me. So maybe you need to take a softer tone, maybe you need to take it down a notch. Whatever you’re chasing, maybe you need to slow down or catch it, one of the two, I don’t know which one. But you don’t really know how you come across. So just telling the person, yeah, they do change if they want to. They try to make an adjustment. 

The person that, they’re that way, they know they’re that way, can always recommend a coach. Some people do need coaching, they need to understand how to speak to people at a different tone. What you did at the tactical level doesn’t work at the operational level, or the strategic level. The strategic level is a lot about communications and how you come across not just within the organization, but outside the organization, shareholders, stakeholders. 

Burl Randolph: 

What if, for example, within your organization people do what you say? People don’t have to do what you say outside your organization, so what if you start losing vendors? What if you start losing clients? What if you start losing customers? What if the board starts murmuring? Those can be clear indicators that you need to change some things. 

You mentioned before, we see in the media, people just being fired because of their toxicity. The consequence is too high. You know the funny thing about that? We never hear from them again. We never hear from them again in public life doing anything. They just- 

Sean O’Brien: 

That’s interesting. I never even thought about that. 

Burl Randolph: 

They’re just gone. It’s like, we know they’re still alive, likely. But they’re just gone. They’re not in another organization because they no longer have a positive reputation, no one wants to take a chance on them. Whatever amount of money they made, or whatever they’re doing, they’re stuck doing that. Again, telling them, giving them the opportunity to change, or having the consequences be too high, those are the only things that make… 

Of course, you have the fourth category where people just don’t change. They don’t care, they’re just going to do what they want to do. Of course, they don’t change, they don’t want to talk about them. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Then it’s up to you to make a change if it’s really affecting you. 

Burl Randolph: 

It’s up to you to make a change. 

Sean O’Brien: 

You were saying a couple things off camera. It can lead to issues at home and personal life. At that point, if they’re not going to change, you have to change. 

Burl Randolph:

You have to change. 

Sean O’Brien:

I take a similar approach, any type of leadership roles, as you. If we’re doing something wrong or you think we’re doing something wrong, you need to tell me. If we are, we need to switch it as quick as possible. I think you’ve said, what the number one excuse that a toxic leader has? 

I didn’t know I was doing that. I didn’t know you felt that way. I didn’t know things like that were going on. But you mentioned at the very beginning, Sean, the culture of the organization. As regional manager, which is a company commander, I had the culture of open, honest communication. I was also the coach of the basketball team. 

Burl Randolph: 

I came in for my weight lifting one afternoon, back in the day when I was doing all that kind of stuff and I was in great shape, big time war fighter and all that. I noticed a young private standing outside my door, asked, could he speak to me? Oh, yeah. Sure. Long story short, he cut me from the team. I’m the coach, but he cut me from the team. They sent the youngest soldier on the team to cut me from the team. 

The thing that got to me was when he said, sir, we know how much you value honesty and communications, and that you wouldn’t get upset because we as a team, have made a different decision. Of course, I was upset, I wanted to cry like a baby. But you don’t really want to see a captain crying like a baby. Later on that evening we had a game, and I showed up. My assistant regional manager said, “you’re a better person than I am.” “Why is that?” “I’m still mad that they cut you from being their coach.” I said, “Well, that’s what good leaders do. You do what you’re supposed to do, regardless.” 

I had taken the team all the way to the playoffs, which they hadn’t gone to before, they were one game into the playoffs. The person they chose as the coach quit. He quit. The very next game they got absolutely slaughtered. They got absolutely slaughtered. Whereas he was better than me when it came to basketball skills, he didn’t have the one thing that I had, commitment. The will to win, the drive to win. Wanting to work on the basics, wanting to work on the fundamentals. Wanting to do the right things for the organization so that as a team, we could win. 

When he quit, and they saw that, I said there was nothing I could do about that. When you chose who you chose, I knew him. I knew that he would quit because he doesn’t have that kind of commitment. 

Organizationally, if you instill that in your organization, it permeates the entire organization. Unfortunately, sometimes so does toxicity. People that you think were your friends and valued coworkers, that you’ve been working with for 10, 15, 20 years. A toxic leader comes into the organization, they attempt to undermine or deride you, I don’t want to say those people will turn on you, however they don’t support you because of fear that they’ll be the next target. 

Sean O’Brien:

You have a story and you’re too humble of a guy to tell it, but it’s one of those things, the employee that you work with and coach and empathize for, and focus on getting their best work, and utilizing their creativity, will take a bullet for you. 

Burl Randolph: 

Yeah. 

Sean O’Brien:

The employee of a toxic leader might go, eh, yeah I’ll take that bullet for you sir, yeah, absolutely. But the second push comes to shove and it’s actually reality, they’re like, nope. See you later, I was just being the yes man. 

Not only will they not take a bullet for you, they’ll tell you which way to send the bullet. They will. They’ll tell you which way to send the bullet, and you find that afterwards. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Unfortunately. 

Burl Randolph: 

You mentioned the people in the media, you have all these people start coming out of the woodwork, talking about how toxic they were. Are there abhorrent behavior and things of that nature, but I always go back to the original premise, we’re coworkers. I’m toxic, you’re not, you’re not going to put up with me. We may get into a shoving match, a shouting match or whatever, but if I’m the boss and I am in control of your livelihood, that’s the difference. People have to live. It’s very, very difficult to think in your mind, wait a minute, if I can’t put up with this person, where am I going to work? How am I going to provide for my family? 

Back when I was a younger man, a brash captain- 

Sean O’Brien: 

You still got it. 

Burl Randolph: 

Yeah, I still got it. 

Sean O’Brien:

You still got it, Dr. Burl. 

Burl Randolph:

I went into an organization and someone said, you need to watch what you say. What do you mean I need to watch what I say? You need to watch what you say because there may be ramifications. I made the comment that, McDonald’s is always hiring. One guy said, “What?” I said, “McDonald’s is always hiring.” We’ve been lifelong friends since then. He said, “When you said that, I knew you was my kind of guy. You got moxie. I like that.” McDonald’s is always hiring, I’m like 29 years old, why am I going to worry about something like that? I can always get a job when I don’t necessarily need a job, per se, because I’m retired from the army, but when you’re younger you don’t think about stuff like that. You don’t put up with anything when you’re younger. 

 

As you get a little bit older, more mature, have a family, have a car note, have a house note, maybe you’re willing to put up with things that normally, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, you would have never put up with. That’s the sad part about it. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

The consequences, a lot of the time, are higher, right? Or you’re aware of the consequences. 

 

Burl Randolph:

You’re aware of them, yeah. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Let’s take a beat, because this was a good point I wanted to make here. 

 

Speaker 3: 

You want us to cut real quick? 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. 

 

Speaker 3: 

Okay. 

 

Sean O’Brien: 

A lot of what you said really hits true because studies do show that the higher up you are as an executive, the less accurate information you are given due to brown nosing or whatever it may be. It really does take the individual to go and make him or her aware of the action. After that, ask questions. I like the question format of, why? Why did you do this? Why are you doing that? Or putting it back on yourself with the feelings. Listen, even if they’re not a toxic leader, a lot of the times you come at someone with an accusation, just a bold faced accusation, you’re going to get pushback. 

 

What steps should you take to identify toxic leaders amongst your ranks? 

Especially for those larger companies who, someone reports to them after someone reports to that person, so on and so forth. 

 

Burl Randolph:

You sort of need to investigate. Another thing that’s very, very helpful, and it’s not necessarily a shameless plug, but it’s a shameless plug, a peer advisory group. When I was a CEO, you have your peers. When a peer comes to you and says, I’m having this problem. Okay, what’s your problem? They explain the problem to you. Okay, I’ve been told this, I’ve been told if I don’t change this I’m going to be fired. Okay, let’s sit down and brainstorm what you’re actually doing to have caused it to get to this point. 

 

 

ARE YOU A TOXIC LEADER?

Burl Randolph: 

Peers are actually a pretty good sounding board, if you will, to your behavior. 

You may be the CEO of whatever company you want to be a CEO of, but you have competitors. Guess what? Those guys all know each other, guys or gals, they probably all know each other. Sometimes you need to reach out to your peers and ask them, “I’m hearing these things about me, what do you think?” Your peers are going to be honest, “We heard those things about you too, bro. We’re hearing them too so you may want to pull back, you may want to slow down, you may want to do this, you may want to do that.” Okay. 

If you’re fortunate enough to have a mentor, your mentor will probably have heard those things as well. Hopefully they will bring those things to you, however if they’re brought to you and you’d like to stay at your job for a little bit longer, maybe you go back to your mentor. I’m being told I am this way, and have them work through it with you. Yeah, I’ve been seeing this, I’ve been seeing that. Maybe you do this, maybe you do that. You have someone to work with you. 

If you have a coach, hopefully if you have a coach they will tell you from the very beginning, I’m seeing things in you that you’re not long for the job you’re in if you keep acting that way. The beauty about being a coach is, it’s not my job to make you happy, it’s my job to make you better. That’s my job as a coach. I’m not there to make you happy, I’m there to make you better. I may tell you things you don’t like, but guess what? That’s what you’re paying me for. You’re paying me to help you be the best person that you can be, to help refine your knowledge. If that knowledge is your lack of insight into you, your lack of interpersonal skills, then that’s what we’re going to work on. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Absolutely. It’s not a shameless plug at all. I’ve seen the work you’ve done. My Wing Man, LLC, I’ll shameless plug for you, it’s amazing the changes you can get out of any leader. Obviously, there is the fourth category, as you called it, people that aren’t going to change so you’ve got to get rid of them or you have to move on yourself, if you aren’t part of… If they’re higher up that you. 

Burl Randolph: 

Another one, I didn’t mention it, but I’ve seen it done. Most executives have families. They have a spouse of some sort, so sometimes the spouse has relationships within the organization with some of the workers. There are those that, they may not listen to anybody else, but they listen to their spouse. When the spouse tells them to lighten up, they lighten up. When the spouse tells them to back down, they back down. Whatever the spouse tells them, they tell them because that’s a person that’s closest to them and is also a trusted agent. 

Burl Randolph: 

Again, family. Of course even a toxic leader has trusted agents. If they get too far off the reservation, sometimes one of those trusted agents may say, that’s too much for me. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Let me tell you what I’m seeing from the people because they’re not going to tell you. 

Burl Randolph: 

Exactly. Yeah, they’re not going to tell you. I’m out there like you, but that’s too much for me. You’re really getting out there. That’s if you can garner that type of loyalty. Again, those are just avenues. 

Sean O’Brien: 

With checking for retention, three, six, twelve months down the road, and making sure they’re actually putting these things into practice. They’re remembering what they actually learned on the primary training, whenever that may be. What are some things you can do in order to check for that retention of information and what they learn? 

Burl Randolph: 

What I have found, Sean, is whoever did the training, have them come back and do an evaluation. I, as a trainer, am not perfect. I need to know whether or not whatever I trained you on resonated. The only way I’m going to actually know that is in 90 days, 6 months, whatever. Allow me to come back in 90 days. You know that most people, when they know that they’re being checked on, they’ll do it? 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah. 

Burl Randolph

They will absolutely do it. Every person I coach, when they know they owe me something before the next time we meet, they say the same thing. Oh man, I got to get this to Burl, so they do it. 

Same thing in an organization. When an organization knows that you will be “reinspected, re-evaluated” on this particular point, they change. They make the effort to change. For an organization, you come back 90 days later and have a sensing session. What’s changed since I was here last? Six months is a pretty long time to be suffering in silence. 90 days, that’s not bad. People remember all that, people are still motivated. Maybe six months after that, whoever the organizational leader is, they do another sensing session to figure out, to determine, to identify, what’s changed here? What’s taken root? What’s going on? 

Somewhere in that entire process, we haven’t talked about performance assessments. Performance management. Very good to sit down and tell people, this is what I’m observing from you. If I keep observing this, it probably won’t end well. You have to tell people in writing, this is what I’m observing. A lot of people don’t want to do that. 

Sean O’Brien: 

This is what we see, this is what we need it to be, and this is where you’re going to end up for better or worse. 

Burl Randolph: 

Yeah, for better or for worse. Some people, that’s a big deal. Evaluations are tied to bonuses. Evaluations are tied to promotion or tied to retention. First hire might be first fire. Usually last fired, but evaluations have a great… Again, I’m not saying threaten someone with their evaluation. What I’m saying is, tell people what you see. 

When I was a CEO and I had new regional managers come in, I started noticing that they were doing things I didn’t like before they even started working for me. There’s an onboarding period, a reception period. I created something called an observation. The first time we sat down, before they took over, I would give them a copy of their observation. These are things I’m observing that you’re doing that I don’t like. I’m just telling you right now, I don’t like them. If you continue to do them after you formally start working for me, we’re going to have a big problem. That’s all it is, is an observation. I could be wrong, you may act totally different when you’re in charge but right now, that’s just what I’m observing. I’m giving you fair warning. 

After the 90 day mark, because I’ll come in and tell you what I need from you anyway. Accountability plate to a certain degree. At the end of that 90 day mark, if I’m still seeing those things, that observation becomes a permanent part of your counseling packet and we start having a different discussion. I’ve already forewarned you of what I’m observing. Let’s work together for you to get better. 

Someone asked me once, “Why are you mentoring that person?” Because it was easier to mentor than it was to fire. What? Do you know how much paperwork is involved in firing her? There’s a lot of paperwork. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Do you know how much it costs to replace an employee? 

Burl Randolph: 

Do you know what it costs to replace that person? No. She wasn’t totally out there, no one had ever mentored that person before, or told them that you’re doing things that you really shouldn’t be doing. We’re going to rein you in, we’re going to set you down, you’re going to come talk to me every month. That in and of itself should be a deterrent right there, you have to come see me every month. We’re going to talk about things every month and we’re going to see where you’re going to help you become better because I really would hate to fire you. You get fired, then you have to get another job. We don’t want to do that, it’s just easier for me to mentor you. 

Sean O’Brien: 

I’ve noticed that it lends itself to the toxic leader. They are typically those folks that are like, here’s the job, doing well or not. Not, you’re out. Well, keep doing it. As opposed to going, wait a minute, every single human being has a certain set of skill sets and weaknesses, right? 

Burl Randolph: 

Yes. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Forming the job to the person and their skills, and trying to coach them that way and say, you’re great in sales, you’re a great listener. All these other guys are talking a mile a minute, but you’re a great listener so let’s turn that into a strength so you can truly understand clients, or whatever it may be. 

Sean O’Brien: 

To your point with the performance reviews and everything like that, we have a client right now… With the Auzmor LMS, that’s exactly what they do. It’s almost like a threat, they’ll say, we come in we have this incredible speaker. Dr. Burl and My Wing Man works with this individual hours, days, whatever it may be. 30, 60, 90 days, they’re automatically sent a little test and if your knowledge is still not there from the discussions you had with Dr. Burl, he’s coming back. That type of thing. I’ve definitely seen that work a lot. 

Burl Randolph: 

I’ve got a process of, call it a PITA, performance improvement training assessment. The first thing is competency. People fail a lot of times because they don’t know what they’re doing. Every now and then we’re trying to use old data with new information, or old information in a new circumstance and it doesn’t work. Maybe retraining is required. Okay, you’re retrained, you’re taking a test 90 days later, things are looking great, you’re where you need to be. Great. 

90 days come, you’re still the same way you were. Maybe now we need to recertify you. Maybe we need to go through the book of hard knocks, go through different certain things. Maybe we need to actually test you on certain things. Test you on certain skills, so then we have recertification. 

Re-certification works, good, great, wonderful, we’re all happy. Sometimes re- certification doesn’t work, so then we have reassignment or removal. What I have found is what you just said, Sean, everyone is not cut out for certain things. People who can lead small organizations, can’t necessarily lead medium or large organizations. I’ve had to take people and say, you know what? You’re not cutting her here, but you were outstanding here. Guess what? I’m going to send you back here and we’re going to see what you can do when you’re back here. 

Once the person decided to leave the organization, overall, they said, “Sir, I appreciate you letting me go out on top.” I said, “As a fan of Chuck Norris, I could do no less.” He said, “What?” I said, “As a fan of Chuck Norris I could do no less.” Walker Texas Ranger, one of the highest rated shows in American history. Chuck Norris walked away after seven years. They said, you’ve got one of the highest rated shows in America, why are you walking away, Chuck? Because I want to go out on top. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Go out on top. 

Burl Randolph: 

That was my thing with him. No, I want you to go out on top. You’ve decided to leave here after seven years, you always did a great job for me at that level. You just really struggled at this level, you weren’t toxic, you weren’t ugly, you just really struggled. I wanted you to go out on top. 

You can take a person that, again, same situation. Small organization, seem like they were working great, you move them to the larger organization, the demons start coming out. They’re toxic, they’re doing this, they’re doing that, they’re doing this. You move them back down to a small organization that’s doing well, actually doing everything they’re supposed to do, and they destroy that organization. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Because they take the bad habits back. 

Burl Randolph: 

Then you realize, three strikes you’re out. What? You were okay at that organization, we promoted you, you tore that organization up. We moved you to an organization that was successful, you decimated that. It’s not our system, it’s you. We’re going to have to get rid of you. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yeah, that’s the perfect way of looking at it because all too often, I have seen leaders take someone from… I’ll relate it to sales, that’s what I do. They’ll say, you’re phenomenal at this type of sales, inside sales, customer success, whatever it may be, so we want you to do this type of sales. Outside or moving, even. Whatever it may be. Then they fail at that and they go, all right, see you later. 

Burl Randolph: 

Right. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Instead of at least asking the employee, do you want to go out on top? Do you want to go back to this position? Because you were very successful there. Have the conversation. I’d say more than half will go, yeah. I liked that position better, I was doing better back there. Instead of just cutting the ties there. 

Burl Randolph: 

I’ve seen sales organizations where every person had a specialty at certain points along the sale paradigm. Some people love making telephone calls, most sales people don’t. They avoid making telephone calls, but they were really good at making telephone calls. They were really good at contacts, they were really good at conducting appointments and getting people in. 

Then you have someone else who is very good at selling the benefits and options. They’re very good at that, so they keep the interest, they keep the person in the pipeline. Then of course, you have the closer. The person that can close on anybody, any place, any time, any way, and they seal the deal. 

I had an entire station that did that, and even though the station commander should have been commanding all of them, he said, they don’t have the skills. We, together, can’t all do those skills, so I created this system. It worked. But oftentimes, like you just said, if I hired you for sales my expectation is that you should be able to do all the things I hired you for. 

Everyone’s not good at everything, so find out what their optimum solution is, or your optimum solution is. That station made it every time. Every single time. 

Sean O’Brien: 

I always think of a company like sports, like basketball. You’re not having your seven foot center dribbling the ball up and down the court, that’s the point guard’s job, right? 

Burl Randolph: 

That’s right. 

Sean O’Brien:

 Center gets the ball down low, scores or whatever. But the point guard is the guy who runs the operation. But yet the shooting guard needs to be there to be the athletic one, whatever you’d like. Your position is good too, whoever is watching this. That’s how it operates, making sure you allocated responsibilities and correctly within the organizations. 

Burl Randolph: 

What if people are mismatched? You show up at the organization, you’re the new leader, you’re pulling your hair out because nothing is going right. Absolutely nothing is going right. You’re becoming a little toxic yourself, but it’s because you don’t realize that the organization is misaligned. You have people in jobs that they shouldn’t be in, they’re bringing down the organization, things aren’t going the way they should. Maybe you as the leader… You asked the question before, can a non-toxic leader become a toxic leader? You can if you don’t take evaluation and stock of the organization that you’re in. 

Again, there’s no toxicity, no one is doing anything “wrong”, they’re just misaligned. You have the person with the very analytical mind as your customer service person, greeting people at the door. Hello, Sean. How are you? Good to see you. You have the person that’s light, bubbly, energetic, outgoing, she’s in the back trying to do analytics, or he’s in the back trying to do analytics hating life. Absolutely hating life. 

I had a client like that. Maybe you need to make some changes. Switched it around, both sections went up about 100% by just doing that. Now you’re not pulling your hair out anymore, you’re not going crazy, you’re not bordering on toxicity because you’re so angry. You’ve just reorganized the organization to the way it should be, or the way it needs to be to run effectively. Again, it does happen sometimes. I should know from personal experience. 

Sean O’Brien: 

It lends itself to the entire conversation, making a full circle. It’s more effective if you focus on the individual rather than, just work harder, you’ll figure it out. Get this done. Learning what makes them tick and everything. 

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Sean O’Brien: 

Closing remarks. Toxic leadership is an oxymoron. What are the top things that viewers should be taking away from our conversation today, in terms of toxic leadership? 

 

Burl Randolph: 

Some of the top things, Sean, is that really there are no toxic leaders or managers, but toxic people. Identify them as toxic people. Learn about whoever it is you’re working for, learn as much about them as you can. There’s reasons behind the way they are. Know yourself and how much you can deal with, how much you can put up with. Identify your options. Can I stay here? Can I leave? Can I get another job? Can I talk to this person? Can I change the culture? 

 

That’s another one. Can my presence, the way I act, the way I interact, can I change the culture? You have to know what the options are. But don’t simply accept that, that’s just the way Burl is. There’s a reason why Burl is the way he is. Sometimes Burl doesn’t know it. Sometimes it needs to be communicated, not always in an aggressive manager, but again, it needs to be communicated in a manner that Burl understands. You have to know a little bit about Burl to know how to approach him to get to him, and hopefully reduce and/or eliminate the toxicity in his personality and in the workplace. 

Sean O’Brien:

Awesome. All right. Dr. Burl Randolph, Jr. So amazing to have you here. 

Burl Randolph: 

I appreciate it. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Thanks for all the viewers. Once again, My Wing Man, LLC. The president, CEO,  he does phenomenal work and we were happy to have you here today at Auzmor. 

Burl Randolph:

I appreciate y’all. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Thanks so much, Doctor. 

Burl Randolph: 

Thank you so much. 

Sean O’Brien: 

Yup. 

 

 

 

End of transcript.

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