Mental hygiene for companies

Mental hygiene for companies: How to expose destructive leadership behavior.

Many people suffer from destructive tactics of their superiors. They can’t thrive in such a toxic work environment. Sharpen your eye for such tactics - using three examples.

In my work, I have encountered many destructive tactics. They torpedo cooperation and communication, slow down the performance process, stir up conflicts and promote power games. They all primarily damage interpersonal relationships - stoking fear, fostering mistrust and arbitrariness.

The following three examples are probably not the most devastating, but they are very common - and therefore easy to expose.

1. Listening to win.

Leaders often try to hide their own insecurity by not letting employees have their say or by picking apart their arguments instead of listening to them. Three tactics can often be distinguished:

  • Leaders feign interest: They wrap employees in an illusion of trust. As a result, they feel encouraged and disclose all their arguments. These are then used against them.
  • Leaders become personal: they aim their arguments directly at the exposing employee and relentlessly point out deficiencies in content, ridiculous justifications or unrealistic assumptions. You exaggerate the complexity of the “big picture” and stifle further discussion by referring to your years of experience and expertise.
  • Leaders use worldly words: With meaningless argumentation, rambling, incoherent explanations or far-fetched justifications, they leave employees or even initiatives in the dust. They deliberately confuse and then dissolve the situation themselves with their own suggestions.

Tip: Debunk this “listen to win” approach. Instead, encourage people to learn as much as possible from conversations (“listen to learn”). Otherwise, this destructive approach is guaranteed to stop engagement and frustrate employees. Their performance will decline noticeably and for a long time.

In this short video (3.30 min), Jennifer Garvey Berger explains the "listing to learn" approach.

2. Demand agreement.

In 1988, psychology professor Jerry Harvey presented the “Abilene Paradox” (see Harvey, Jerry, B.; (1988): The Abilene Paradox - the Management of Agreement). It shows how a group of people decide to take an action that none of the individuals personally wanted (namely, an hour-long trip to Abilene, a place no one cares about, in a non-air-conditioned car in sweltering heat and dusty roads). To the need to belong, individual desires, ideas, opinions were subordinated.

I often observe that leaders drive a wedge between employees. They want to separate the followers from the rebels, to “rule” over belonging or exclusion. Many explain this black-and-white, destructive tactic to me with fear of losing power. But when we stop questioning things or see ourselves as the only one who knows, we slow down the development dynamics in the company: Employees fear isolation or sanctions, teams learn nothing, new ideas are not voiced - in short: the company rots from within.

Tip: Debunk this compulsion to consent. Many leaders practice not merely tolerating dissent, but consciously demanding it in order to find weaknesses in their own argumentation, concept, or presentation (see Taylor, Bill; 2017); see also #attitude_02 “first time right “).

3. Bypass corporate culture.

It is not uncommon for me to hear the argument that anyone who is concerned with values, cultures or even meaning in the company is being used in the wrong way and is not suitable for the tough competition. In addition, these topics set the wrong impulses, for example in recruiting: People are addressed who are not committed to the central performance process, but prefer to occupy themselves with irrelevant or detached things, which disrupts cooperation and ultimately provokes an entrepreneurial imbalance. A quote from a customer, who left me speechless for a moment, fits this:

“If my people talk about values, I dramatically increase pressure”.

If employees do not recognize the company’s contribution to society or do not feel the company’s values, their work seems pointless and they do duty by the book. Lacking energy and joy, they leave their mark on the company, which therefore sinks into the great swamp of meaninglessness without character and charisma.

Tip: Debunk the cynical approach to corporate culture. Instead, make it tangible for employees by, for example, explicitly justifying decisions with it (see McKinsey Quarterly; December 2021); Purpose, not platitudes: A personal challenge for top executives).

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