Three Benefits of Removing Toxic Leaders

Posted 09.19.2023

There was a period in my blogging career when I created a side gig as a vocal critic of former Washington NFL football team owner, Dan Snyder. It started in 2009 with a post I wrote about how leaders could succeed just by not doing what he did. That one led to an appearance on the local TV news in D.C. I wrote three more posts about Snyder ending with one in 2014 about how when you find yourself in a hole you should stop digging.

To borrow a phrase from my favorite podcaster, Tony Kornheiser, when it comes to Snyder, I believe I had that. Over the years, things just got worse and worse with him – a documented management culture of misogyny, homophobia, and racism; credible allegations of financial fraud against fellow NFL owners and his season ticket holders; his intransigence on changing the team name from one that was widely viewed as a slur against Native Americans; and, of course, cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault which were settled out of court. And that’s just a partial list.

The word toxic doesn’t really begin to describe Dan Snyder. The impact he had on the Washington team and fans over the years was truly sad. Losing records, revolving doors of coaches and players, entire sections of empty seats. Then, last year, a minor miracle occurred when Snyder was finally forced to sell the team.

And, as of yesterday, the Washington Commanders have started their season 2-0. Their first game was at home (in the worst stadium in the NFL!) and sold out. Their second game was at Denver where they were down 21- 14 at the half and came back to win 35 – 33. As a former Washingtonian, I said to my wife, Diane, at the end of the game, it’s nice to be able to cheer for the team again after actively rooting against them during the Snyder years.

Are the Commanders 2 – 0 for the first time in 11 years simply because Snyder has left the building? That’s probably not all of it but it’s got to be part of it. Did they open with a home sell-out and have a bunch of fans in Denver wearing team gear because Snyder is out of the picture? Yes, absolutely no question.

And that brings me to the broader point of this post which is the benefits of removing toxic leaders from the mix. It’s highly unlikely that you have leaders in your organization who are as egregiously toxic as Dan Snyder was but if you have leaders who are on that spectrum, you need to move them out. It’s not going to get better over time, it’s going to get worse. By taking action sooner rather than later, you will reap the following benefits:

Protect the Culture: No amount of effort towards creating a positive and productive culture can overcome toxic leadership. Beyond the immediate blast zone of the toxic leader, the hypocrisy of keeping leaders around that are in direct conflict with your stated values will kill your culture.

Happier People Are More Productive People: Toxic leaders bring people down. When people are always watching their backs, they become paranoid, anxious, and unproductive. When they feel safe and supported, they do better work. If you want happy, productive people, get rid of toxic leaders.

Economic Rewards: Happier people are not only more productive, they also tend to make the people around them happier as well. Let’s say that some of those other people are your fans or customers. If they feel better about the product you’re putting on the market (or on the field), they tend to buy more seats or whatever unit of product you’re selling.

The NFL waited way too long to force Dan Snyder out and years and years of bad stuff happened as a result. Don’t let that happen to you. If you have toxic leaders in your organization, move them out now.

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