"Micromanagers are full of insecurity." The 5 red flags of a toxic boss to look out for.

Almost each and every one of us has encountered a toxic boss or manager at some point in our lives. Perhaps we ourselves have even been a toxic leader in the workplace, knowing deep down some of our past actions have been less than desirable.

Only recently though has research cemented the fact that having a bad manager can in fact cause anxiety and depression for employees in extreme cases.

A survey of professionals showed that respondents had listed 'bad bosses' as their primary workplace stressor. And consistently high levels of stress without any resolution can impact our mental health significantly.

Sometimes, we can even gaslight ourselves into wondering 'do I really have it that bad?' So to unpack this issue further, Mamamia spoke to Michael Bunting – a leadership expert and the author of Vertical Growth: How Self-Awareness Transforms Leaders and Organisations.

And in his professional experience with over 20 years in this field, he's seen first-hand the impact toxic bosses can have on a workplace – as well as discovering how to manage the situation accordingly. 

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According to data he and his team have commissioned, 33 per cent of your mental health can be explained by your boss' behaviour.

So without further ado, here are the five red flags of a toxic boss that we should all be on the lookout for. 

1. Is your boss self-aware?

According to Michael, this is by far the biggest red flag, as a lack of self-awareness leads to being stuck in self-sabotaging patterns.

Recently Michael was running a leadership session with an executive team, which involved a 360 assessment on the company's boss. Michael asked the boss in front of his team to respond to the anonymous internal survey results that suggested the boss was unable to hold people to account for poor behaviours in the workplace.

It's how the boss responded that demonstrated a complete lack of self-awareness.

"He flat out refused to believe the results and said his team was wrong. It was a clear sign that he possessed a lack of self-awareness, because instead of asking how he could take more accountability, he doubled down," Michael said to Mamamia.

"A characteristic associated with poor self-awareness is defensiveness. Bosses need to be open to feedback and pull back on the excuses."

2. Does your boss waste time protecting their own ego or managing their image?

We all have an ego, no doubt about it. But when we start pandering to our own sense of entitlement, that's when egotism grows.

"It's okay to be wrong sometimes and to admit that we don't always know the answer. Humility is a strength – it's a waste of time for those in high positions to protect their ego or image," Michael said.


"Often the very act of trying to protect your image does the complete opposite – and it limits the opportunity for growth as well."

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3. Does your boss love to micromanage?

According to Michael, micromanagement boils down to one thing – and that's fear.

"There are two micromanagers – one is the nice one who thinks they are coming to the rescue constantly, and someone who is very conflict avoidant. The other is the more horrible one who does turn to conflict often and thinks they are the only one who can perform the task at hand, diminishing the capability of those around them."

But neither of these micromanaging styles are great. In fact, they can be a little toxic.

"Having a control freak for a boss is something no one likes. Whenever I've come across leaders who are micromanagers, it's often a sign that they need to deal with their own insecurities and control issues. And by not giving their employees the opportunity to make mistakes, be successful or show their skill set, it demonstrates a lack of investment in the employee's growth. And that doesn't make a good leader," Michael said.

Instead, managers should aim to empower their employees to take on greater responsibility.

4. Does your boss struggle to give honest, constructive feedback?

Breakdowns in communication are something that marks the downfall of many team environments. It's easy to happen, but hard to fix once the egg has been scrambled, so to speak.


"I was recently working with a CEO of a particular company, and he was interested to see what his employees thought of his management style. From the results we found that many of the employees were desperate to get some constructive feedback, as there had been a series of firings without much notice. Constantly anxious, the employees wanted to be given honest feedback and address any concerns rather than being let go on the spot with little explanation. Because the research shows that the number one trait people want in a boss is honesty."

Michael said the inability to provide courteous criticism is a red flag. Because it's an act of avoidance. 

5. Last but not least, is your boss short-tempered or unable to self-regulate their emotions?

A leader or manager who hasn't yet learned to self-regulate their emotions will find themselves reacting to situations from the 'fast brain'. This is the part of the brain that controls the fight-or-flight response, leading to quick-fire decisions that aren't often thought through properly.

Instead, Michael said good leaders often react from their 'slow brain', which is the part that controls logical thought and reasoning.

"As noted in the fourth red flag, being honest is crucial as a boss. But it's how you deliver that honesty that makes or breaks a working relationship. Bosses should always remember to deliver honesty with respect, and to think and breathe before being reactive to a situation."

What to do after recognising the 5 red flags.

For employees, it's challenging to speak directly with their manager about toxic behaviours occurring in the workspace.


That's why it's up to HR departments, executive-level teams and managers to lead the change – while also providing opportunities for employees to voice their concerns (anonymously if they so wish).

Ultimately, Michael acknowledged that we as a society have come a long way towards recognising the impact our work environment has on our mental health. But so far, only awareness has been raised – not so much movement. And that's something that needs tackling pronto.

On the same hand, it's important to not be quick to demonise – because we're all works in progress.

"Every single human being is an imperfect work in progress. And the brave ones are the ones that can see it," Michael said.

"It's always better to try and address a toxic situation rather than leave at the drop of a hat. In some cases, leaving a certain workplace is the healthiest thing to do. But if we don't address the problems, then they will continue to flourish – and no one wants that. It's healthy to call out bad behaviour and for us to establish boundaries against toxic habits at work. Because everyone should be respected equally – regardless of rank."

You can purchase Michael Bunting's book Vertical Growth: How Self-Awareness Transforms Leaders and Organisations here, or his other book The Mindful Leader here.

Feature Image: Getty.

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