We have met them in the hallways of our workplaces -- the "toxic" people, poisoning the work environment with their anger or cynicism or excessive criticism of others.
You can identify them since they act as if the only agenda that matters is their own personal agenda, and the only time that counts is theirs. We know them by their rudeness in meetings, or their inability to find the good in any ideas other than their own, or their laser-like ability to find fault without seeming to ever give credit.
The world revolves around them and they are unwilling to really examine the impact of their behavior on others. These people are "toxic" in that their impact on those around them, especially when in critical positions of responsibility, is that they poison trust, trample good will, destroy self-esteem and rot the fabric of teamwork.
They cost industry and government billions of dollars in lost opportunities, re-work, extra sick leave and errors they engender due to the problems in communication, lowered collaboration, mistrust, frustration and fear in their wake.
What gives? Can't they and the powers that be see the effects of their toxicity? Why are they tolerated, and how in the heck did they get to be where they are today?
The answer is that if you were a star producer, or very bright and capable, working hard and getting results then you were often promoted in spite of the way you treated other people or damaged working relationships around you.
After all, we traditionally have measured how long you worked and what you were able to accomplish with little attention on how you helped or hurt the working relationships, trust and collaborative networks around you.
This was poor management and even poorer leadership. In the words of Jack Welch, the recently retired CEO of GE, "We must insist on people keeping their commitments (getting results) as well as those who demonstrate the values (valuing relationship development.)"
He further stated that those who only got the results but damaged relationships consistently were like a cancer in an organization.
Yet, the days of the toxic individual are numbered. There is increasingly less tolerance for their fits of temper or constant criticism or inflated self-importance or disrespectful behavior.
The reasons are two fold. First, as all of us have noticed, the world is changing dramatically. The global marketplace is more dynamic, demanding and less tolerant of mistakes and those who are slow to assimilate lessons or to adapt to changing conditions and customer demands.