How to tell if you are a toxic manager (Proceedings)


Most common complaint of managers in veterinary medicine.

Why this? Why now?

•           Most common complaint of managers in veterinary medicine.

•          People join practices and leave doctors/owners/bosses.

•          We live in an era of consolidation and collaboration if we are to be successful providers.

•          Must address the “schism” between owners and doctors and front line employees.

The toxic employee

•          Highly Intelligent and Confident.

•          Not happy unless they are calling the shots.

•          Use “Toxic Tactics” to get their way.

•          Note to women: Rarely will you exhibit all of the characteristics of the alpha doctor), but you can have many.

•          It's about being socialized to be good collaborators and compromising.

•          Reach the “top” because they are natural leaders.

•          Comfortable with responsibility and being the “final word.”

•          Get stressed when they DON'T have tough decisions to make.

•          They get such a charge out of being in control that they willingly take on more responsibilities than any normal human being would.

•          Genius and Madness are hard to separate.

•          Their greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses.

•          Independent and Action Oriented.

•          Take for granted extraordinarily high performance.

•          Expect the same in others.

•          “Impressive, but I wouldn't want to work for them!”

•          Think extraordinarily fast, hard to keep up with.

•          Prevents them from listening to others (especially those who do not alpha speak.)

•          Impatience causes them to miss subtle but important details (lack empathy).

•          They have opinions about EVERYTHING.

•          Rarely if ever admit to being wrong or incomplete.

•          They KNOW they are smarter than most people and learn very early to circumvent “rules.”

•          “The rules don't apply to me.”

•          As adults they believe that their insights are so unique that they put complete faith in their instincts.

Alpha males

Because their intuitions are often right, they feel justified in focusing on the flaws in other people's ideas or arguments. The results:

•  Co-workers are intimidated making learning difficult.

•          The more pressure the “alpha” feels the more he tends to shift his leadership style from constructive and challenging to intimidating or abusive.

•          Organizations become dysfunctional because people avoid dealing with the alpha male, work around him, or simply pay him lip service.

•          Unemotional and analytical in their cognitive style.

•          Eager to learn about business “things” but have little or no natural curiosity about people or feelings.

•          They rely on exhaustive data to make business decisions, but often make snap decisions about other people which they hold onto tenaciously.

•          They believe that paying attention to feelings (others or their own) detracts from getting the work done, making them surprisingly oblivious to the effect they have on others.

•          Judgmental of colleagues who cannot control their emotions.

•          Fail to notice how they often vent their own anger and frustration.

•          Often dismiss their own outbursts or minimize them as the rules “don't apply to the top dog.”

•          They make great entrepreneurs or midlevel managers, but the more pressure they feel to achieve, the more their faults become weaknesses.

•          They find difficulty in the transition to inspirational leader.

•          It is at this stage in their career process that coaching can become helpful.• 

General alpha attributes

•          Self confident and opinionated

•          Highly intelligent

•          Action oriented

•          High performance expectations of self and others

•          Direct communication style

•          Disciplined

•          Unemotional

•          Acts decisively, good intuition.

•          Sees beyond the obvious- takes creative leaps.

•          Produces results.

•          Sets and achieves high goals.

•          Moves people to action.

•          Extraordinarily productive.

•          Laser focus on objective.

•          Closed minded, domineering or intimidating.

•          Dismisses or demeans colleagues who disagree.

•          Impatient and resistant to process changes.

•          Generates fear and gossip-filled, CYA culture.

•          Misses signs of burnout-unreasonable expectations.

•          Difficult to connect with-does not inspire teams.

Coaching the alpha

•          Requires much skill and “chutzpah.”

•          Difficult for them to ask for help.

•          Stubborn and resistant to feedback.

•          As much as they love talking about accountability, they fail to see that their own communication style is the roadblock to progress- not someone else's shortcomings.

•          Uncomfortable not in action.

•          Feel that coaching is an unproductive use of their valuable time (out of control).

•          Coaches challenge is to preserve strengths while correcting weaknesses.

Tools and traps

•          The best tool is the 360? Peer Review:

•          Involve all stakeholders who have direct interaction or directly report.

•          Suggest a coach who is used to handling “superstars” and standing up to bullies.

•          Coach does not have to be alpha but must be able to think analytically and be direct in their communication style.


The traps

•          Playing “loose and light.”

•          Too passive.

•          Reacting anecdotally or with their own non-executive/entrepreneurial experience rendering them irrelevant in the alpha mind.

•          If the alpha believes that the coach will turn him into an overly sensitive wimp (which he KNOWS the organization does not need), he'll never give the coach a chance.

•          Excessive Secrecy

•          Can't operate in a vacuum.

•          Only by seeking and getting input from co-workers can the coach truly understand the issues surrounding the alphas behavior.

•          Only by truly talking openly about his commitment to change can the alpha turn around the pervasive organizational distrust he has created.

•          Avoid kowtowing at ALL COSTS.

•          Alphas are relentlessly intimidating.

•          Expect the world to show them deference.

•          They possess genuine power.

The right way to coach

•          Get his attention:

•          Copious, credible DATA.

•          Provide undeniable proof of how his behavior is negatively affecting the organization.

•          Let the data shape the questions and the ask the difficult questions.

•          Demand His Commitment.

•          Do you want to change?

•          Are you willing to change?

•          Will you allow me to help?

•          If the answer is no to any of these- move on and let them stew- the coaching will do no good

•          Speak his language.

•          Use graphs, metrics and charts for maximum impact.

•          Turn feedback into quantitative data.

•          Hit Him Hard Enough to Hurt.

Review and discuss verbatim comments from co-workers organized into competencies and themes.

•          “He's brilliant but he doesn't know a thing about people”

•          “We feel as though we get raked over the coals every time he is around.”

•          Deliberately preserve the emotional language.

•          Many alphas have been dishing out feedback with a 2x4 their entire careers, and this process turns the tables on them.

•          “No pain, no gain” works with them.

Engage curiosity and competitive instincts.

•          Defensiveness/Openness scale.

•          They often give long winded explanations for their shortcomings.

•          Quick to subtly blame others.

•          Alphas genuinely believe that everyone else gets defensive, but he just speaks the truth.

•          Ask the alpha to monitor his own defensiveness.

How defensive are you? (Better)

•          Plan the change, engage others, set milestones and implement.

•          Communicate genuine enthusiasm about change.

•          Think out loud- make new associations about the problem.

•          Take full responsibility for the problem.

•          Request information and examples about the problem.

•          Openly wonder about your role in creating the problem.

•          Express genuine curiosity about the issue and wonder how to resolve it.

•          Express appreciation for the messenger, regardless of delivery.

•          Summarize key points w/out interjecting your own thoughts.

•           Look interested, breathe and demonstrate open posture.

How defensive are you? (Worse)

•          Appear to comply with no intention of changing.

•          Intimidate or attack the messenger.

•          Blame or complain about someone who is not present.

•          Make snippy replies and show your irritation.

•          Convince them they are wrong and you are right.

•          Interpret comments as attacks.

•          Interrupt to give your perspective.

•          Justify actions with compelling logic and interpretation of events.

•          Provide a detailed explanation of your view.

•          Show polite interest inwardly while preparing your rebuttal.

5 steps toward alpha growth

•          Admit vulnerability.

•          Accept accountability.

•          Connect with underlying emotions.

•          Balance positive and critical feedback.

•          Become aware of patterns.

Admit vulnerability

•          Milestone when they express fear or admit vulnerability.

•          They will want the feedback to remain private-but it has to be open.

•          •he stronger and more dominant the leader the more powerful the disclosure.


Accept accountability

•          Difficulty accepting their responsibility.

•          Never met an alpha male who does not try to shift the blame to others.

•          Until they accept ownership, the problem will not go away.

•          The rule of 3: If something goes wrong three times, the alpha leader needs to look to himself for the “problem”.

Connect with underlying emotions

•          Doesn't like them because they cannot be controlled.

•          Will acknowledge they may play a role but not with him.

•          They confuse feelings and intuition and often mislabel them.

•          Tie emotions to physical sensations.

Balance positive and negative

•          They are uncomfortable with giving and receiving praise- don't overdo it.

•          “When people show me appreciation, I feel________.”

“If I give someone appreciation, I would be afraid that…..”

Be aware of patterns

•          They spring from family dynamics and they are often predictable.

•          NO ONE is immune to the affects of their upbringing.

What to expect

•          360? feedback and a few days does the trick for some.

•          Typically 6 months to a year is needed for sustainable change.

•          In the beginning of the coaching process, he may only pay lip service.

Are there alpha females?

•          Can be just as data driven as men.

•          Comfortable with control but do not seek to dominate others.

•          Rise to their positions by excelling at collaboration.

•          More likely to use a velvet hammer

Alpha females

•          Can be defensive and resistant to criticism.

•          Society is LESS tolerant of these behaviors in women than men.

•          Less likely to avoid interpersonal issues.

•          Follow distinctive patterns

•          Stung by negative criticism early in their careers.

•          They come across as more affirming than their male counterparts so you may not see the criticism coming.

•          Can be accused of being political because they  do not always let others know what they feel- what she calls diplomacy, he calls politics.

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