7 Red Flags of a Passive-Aggressive Leader

The pandemic brought on work changes for many people.  They are finding an abundance of jobs out there, but perhaps the leadership isn’t as qualified to lead as the new hires were led to believe.  One club member brought to my attention a situation that had occurred at work, so I thought I would put a few things together for her to read.

A great leader is not born overnight.  In fact, there are many points to strong leadership that get overlooked.  Things like having a great vision, and working toward a common goal, not just “pitching” what you think a vision should mean.  As you work on that vision, usually the word “culture” comes up.  What has been allowed to slide?  How have people been allowed to act?  What are policies on reporting issues and/or things that could potentially harm the company or a co-worker?  A huge mistake that most people make when starting a business or hiring new people is not immediately defining what the culture is and letting many things slide without ever course correcting.

If these things are not already spelled out in the beginning, that might be a red flag.  The same as not being clear about what expectations are, what certain words mean in this business and how the team operates as a, well, team.

An example of what not to do, or how the culture would form if you didn’t define it and listen to your employees concerns would be this:

  • X place of employment creates policies and workplace programs based on what other employees do versus whether the policies fit all.
  • We don’t create and communicate a clear inspiring mission, vision and a set of values.  In fact, we print out our values and never once talk about them at any regular meeting or training meeting with the staff.
  • We don’t consider how our everyday actions (or inactions) as “leaders” might affect the formation of the culture.
  • Each employee has a different set of rules based on how long they have been there, what their role is, or the degree of trust thus saying new hires are not trustworthy.

For these reasons and more, it is important that you take note of how you want to be treated in the workplace and what exactly is the protocol for discussing concerns if things have been brought up, but have not changed.

Here are 7 red flags of the passive-aggressive style of leadership:

  1. They let past employees be talked about.  You hear snarky remarks from the boss about how the person came in dirty/sweaty, not professional looking, were late all the time and that they didn’t even like what they were doing.  Why would anyone tell a new hire this information?
  2. They try to isolate you from the rest of the office.  This is actually a huge red flag.  Why would someone tell you not to collaborate, that people might steal your ideas, and that someone who was hired doesn’t know anything?  It is to isolate and separate.  Why wouldn’t you want inclusion?
  3. The turnover rate was higher than you originally thought.  They cast the people who have left in a light that sounds like they betrayed them.  They get so worked up over this, it is possible they don’t even remember how they phrased it, but the bottom line is, they take no ownership in it.  They might even post passive-aggressive messages on their social media about “trust” and things of that nature.
  4. The other employees are afraid to speak with them about anything.  In fact, when the boss is on vacation, the entire vibe of the office has changed.  People who don’t normally talk to you, seem comfortable stopping by.  You have to wonder why that is.  Perhaps you have noticed loads of hushed conversations when the boss is there, yet a feeling of relief on these other days.
  5. They take everything personally, yet make no effort to change the way they respond.  It would take a different type of leader to admit when they were wrong.  If someone says they are going to do better, but after many weeks and months at the company, the behavior is the same, just know that they will say whatever the employees need to hear, yet not actually apply new training, skills, or leadership methods.
  6. They micromanage down to a “T”.   The scary thing about this is that one part of the business might be blowing up, yet they ignore that area, and try to overcompensate by controlling down to a font the area they feel they have the most control over.  Sure there’s missing paperwork, deleted emails that might have been important, miscommunication, a feeling of friction from one area, but hey.  At least the font is right.  If they throw themselves into this one thing, and place blame here, that other area might magically fix itself.
  7. Passive-aggressive texts, social media quips and language.  Talking under their breath or in low whispers, sarcasm, feedback is not clear and they send texts that seem to be “disappointed” yet then seem like they are fine and “just checking” to make sure you have done x, y, and z.  They are also sticklers for rules that only make sense to them.  They love intricate, pointless regulations that only seem to apply to some.  They ignore you for weeks, but watch your stories.  You probably did something minor that they perceived as a slight.  They also love to set people up to fail.  Extra work, tasks that they will never be happy with and unfortunately, not a proactive plan on something they’d love to see so once you try to do something on your own to please them, it becomes a failed project.

Sadly, the passive-aggressive boss really doesn’t care about cultivating talent and creating more of a mentor type role. You can tell they hold grudges because they still talk about people who left, and that is not really a good thing.  If you mess up, they will most definitely remember as they hoard mistakes and come to think of it, you don’t think you’ve ever heard a compliment from them but you can repeat everything that is wrong about yourself and how horrible you are in this role.

The final word is, get out.  If you have someone above this boss you can go to as a sounding board, chances are they might tell you they are aware your boss needs more training, but at least you have had that conversation.  The culture is created from the top down, and unfortunately, you cannot change a culture that has been allowed to go on this way.  Especially if it was created by the person in charge.


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