You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.


5 Reasons to Dehire Toxic Executives

toxic executives

We have all hired that person that looked good on paper and interviewed well but did not turn out as expected. How do we undo this mistake? You went to the board and made the pitch but alas they simply don't perform.  Or worse, they have changed into someone that is no longer the person you hired. What now?  I have coached several top level executives through the challenge of undoing the mistake they made with a bad hire.  It is never easy however it does require a willingness to place the good of the organization over any one individual.


According to the Harvard Business Review, “Senior Executives have the power to create an environment that allows people to grow and give their best – or a toxic workplace where everyone is unhappy.”  The article goes on to state that the mental health of the executive plays a significant role in how they use the newly gained executive power.  Specifically, the article states: “Sound, stable bosses generally build companies where the rules make sense to employees, freeing them to focus on performing their jobs well. But if the boss’s psychological makeup is warped, business plans, ideas, interactions, and even the systems and structure of the organization itself will reflect his or her pathologies.”  Of course, psychoanalysis is not plausible at the time of hire; however when these pathologies manifest themselves in executives, action must be taken for the good of the organization.  The following five reasons make taking action sooner rather later, critical:


  1. Morale equals productivity.  It is difficult to quantify the relationship between production and employee morale.  However, most people agree that a happy and engaged workforce will be more productive that an unhappy team that has mentally disengaged from work.  Bad morale can be devastating when organizations are faced with market challenges that are external to the organization.
  2. Top performers go silent and disengage. Studies suggest that seventy percent of management employees are disengaged in the average organization.  The remaining thirty percent are those that make things happen.  They close deals, meet production demands, and solve the never-ending flow of challenges that appear regularly.  When these thirty percent disengage, the organization is headed for disaster.  Key problems go unreported and are not addressed at the incipient stage.  They grow into large wild fires that the organization must fight.
  3. Top talent disappears. Under the leadership of toxic executives, key players are forced to make a decision.  Stay and remain disengaged or leave for new opportunities.  With today’s nomadic workforce, talent is difficult to retain talent in the best of organizations.  Key players have options. They probably have offers they have not taken in the past.  A toxic environment makes it easy to revisit these opportunities.
  4. Toxic executives have a history. Because of today’s litigious reality, hiring professionals have a difficult time determining a candidate’s true past.  Post termination policies limit what the former company can say during past employment verifications.  It is easy to be seduced by a powerful resume that does not reflect reality.  Most job interviews are superficial and do not dig into the candidate's past relationship with the people they led. And frankly, previous employers may be excited that the toxic executive is moving on and no longer infecting their own culture.
  5. Toxic executives are pathological. The most common form of executive toxicity is narcissism.  We all have narcissistic tendencies however when these are amplified, they become a problem.  So how do you spot a narcissist?  Following are some clues to determine a toxic level of narcissism. They live in a binary world in that is only one way or another.  It is usually their way or no way at all.  They do not utilize the input of subordinates when making decisions.  Coworkers are either “in the circle” or “out of the circle of trust”.  These executives see themselves as the “Messiah” who is omnipotent with solutions.  They also place the appearance of reality over solving problems.  In other words, they are more concerned with how a situation will reflect upon themselves rather than finding a solution.  This is easy to spot while coaching these executives because they reveal it readily when under stress.  “How will it look to our customers, the board, or my boss?” is a common first reaction to a challenging situation. 


The human reality is more similar than dissimilar.  We are more alike than we like to admit, however toxic executives seem to be an exaggeration of the challenges we all face that has become amplified by power.  Generations of humans have formed our instincts as a key indicator of success and survival.  If you think you have a problem employee on the team, you more than likely do.  If you feel like you might need to make a people decision, you probably do.  We cannot act on instincts alone.  When helping a manager or executive navigate the dangerous waters of terminating the toxic executive, it is equally important to perform due diligence.  If done properly, the rewards are immediate.  It feels like a weight has been lifted or the storm has passed and the sun shines brightly again. Toxic employees are like a disease that needs to spread in order to survive.  If not treated early, these toxic tumors can metastasize and literally kill your organization.  The most challenging part of being a truly effective leader is making difficult decisions based on imperfect information. You know in your gut what you must do; dehire them and let them go infect your competitors!