Transforming Toxic Leaders
By Alan Goldman,
Stanford Business Books, 2009
You may feel that your organization or certain of its key leaders are toxic. Somehow, things that are potentially healthy and productive have a way of turning unproductive or even corrosive. In his book, Transforming Toxic Leaders, Alan Goldman takes a detailed look at such situations and how they can best be improved.
Goldman advocates a comprehensive and diagnostic look at such organizations. He illustrates his findings and recommendations through seven carefully developed case studies of situations in which he has been instrumental as a consultant and executive coach. He points out how these cases show that labels of “toxicity” are often misapplied and misunderstood. Such accusations, for instance, can easily mask more specific psychological and cultural dysfunctions. Toxicity often grows subtly and imperceptibly over a period of time. Yet, when top management finally wakes up to its impact and pervasiveness, it often appears, erroneously, like it happened over night and they rush frantically to fix it quickly. Further, it’s all too easy to blame one person as the sole cause when the matter is often far more complex and permeates large parts of the company.
The book’s theme is the necessity to closely examine what is actually going on in an organization. The goal is to seek out possibilities rather than perpetuating or even inadvertently increasing toxicity. Goldman suggests finding opportunities to move from deficit management to an “abundance” approach to leadership. He also critiques all too common coaching and consulting practices and offers an approach that he considers to be most healthy and productive.
Personally, I find the use of the term “toxicity” as the constituting metaphor tends to misdirect the reader’s attention toward labeling rather than inquiry into what is really being addressed. However, it does capture the way that many people see things. To his credit, despite the metaphor, Goldman clearly advocates inquiry. His notion is that toxicity frequently represents “environments caused by demagogic leadership, downsizing, feuding between employees, post-traumatic stress and burnout and emotional trauma.” His prescription for detoxification involves bringing in a consultant who is trained in both psychological and cultural assessments to formulate a differential diagnosis and foster a collaborative transformation.
Though not an easy read, the book will be of intense interest to Human Resource professionals and others, either internal or external, acting as or aspiring to be coaches and consultants. Key executives with a strategic role will also find it worthwhile reading and highly enlightening if they are willing to consider the selection and best use of coaches and consultants to deal with organizational issues.