top of page

How to Avoid Being a Toxic Leader in 3 Ways (Part 1)

Let's start with defining 'toxic' for the sake of this article since it's a word that gets used a lot. To me, toxic behaviours ultimately lead the people around us to feel small, powerless, alone, unseen, unheard, and misunderstood. To be honest, again personally, I believe that most people work very hard to behave in helpful ways. At the same time, we don't always know what that entails, particularly in terms of leadership.

From this perspective, the opposite of 'toxic' leadership is not perfect leadership. Instead, the opposite of 'toxic' behaviours are intentional ones that aim to reduce harm, honour agency, and root in purpose. Intentional leadership is and will be imperfect. You'll notice recurring themes: practice, commitment, and (un)learning. I invite you to consider 6 key behaviours that can help you become the leader you want to be in your personal and professional lives:

  1. Practice continuous learning *and* unlearning

  2. Practice ABCs

  3. Commit to *your* Why and root in purpose time and time again

  4. Learn to repair and build community

  5. Practice self-attuning

  6. Learn with, from, and alongside the best

We'll explore the first 3 key behaviours in depth in this article and continue with the next three next week. Here we go:

1. Practice continuous learning *and* unlearning

So, let's check ourselves before we wreck ourselves... and others. Key question:

What are we doing to *continuously* unlearn our own internalized racism, sexism, misogynoir.

homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fat phobia, diet culture, xenophobia,

and ableism, to mention a few?

Whether we're hiring, firing, recruiting, teaching, mentoring, coaching, collaborating, partnering, befriending, supporting, or even simply getting to know others, we all carry some expression of these -isms within us as members of a society that perpetuates systems of oppression. As leaders, this has nothing to do with our 'goodness' and everything to do with ensuring that we're safe landing places for those around us. This is particularly the case if we want to make the most of many minds and create transformational change.

How do we do this? Yes, a big part of it *is* books, podcasts, articles, music, art, and movies written by Black, Indigenous, people of colour, women, queer folks, trans folks, immigrants, fat people, and disabled people, to name a few. *And* another part is learning to sit with physiological discomfort of being called out and called in, acknowledging that we mess up despite our very best intentions, and figuring out how to uproot unconsciously held belief systems that we don't consciously believe in. This is another reason why nervous system work can be world-altering. We need to learn to self-regulate and co-regulate physiologically through continuous learning and unlearning.

2. Practice ABCs

When it comes to explicitly and clearly communicating our needs, capacity, and expectations, here are 3 key questions to consider:

a) How are we practicing A for Accountability with ourselves and others?

b) How are we practicing B for Boundaries with ourselves and others?

c) How are we practicing C for Consistency with ourselves and others?

3. Commit to *your* Why and root in purpose time and time again

Key Question: When you think of leaders in your personal and professional lives who you admire, respect, and feel inspired by, can you name their Why?

Chances are that, even if you need to think about it for a sec, you can. From what I've learned, 9 times out of 10, that Why is the underlying connection we feel towards them. It also tends to be what we admire when we observe How they move through the world. When it comes to remembering *your* Why, I invite you to write it down somewhere that you often come back to. You can also make a list of reasons Why that Why matters to you. The important part is to come back to it on the good days and the hard days. Your Why is what will carry you through change and help you connect with your community in meaningful ways. At the end of the day, our Why is one of the strongest anchors we've got.

What are your thoughts on these? Please let me know via email at or leave a comment on the site.

To receive Part 2 of How To Avoid Being A Toxic Leader *Your* Way, sign up here to receive it fresh in your inbox next Blog Day Thursday at 11 am EST. See you next week!

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page