Toxic leadership — how does someone end up a toxic CTO or VPE?
What does it look like when they’re a toxic leader?
First time CTOs often doubt and second guess themselves. I usually find that the CTOs who do that are often the most open to growing into the role and becoming good leaders.
There are however CTOs who often were the “tech diva” before being given the CTO role and those engineering leaders become toxic CTOs and VPs of Engineering. They usually had a toxic CEO and emulate unconsciously that kind of leadership.
A VP Engineering who yesterday was a tech lead and today is a VP Engineering can also be a terrible leader, especially if they were the tech diva and their CTO is toxic. They come to think that this is how you manage people!
Here are the most common signs of a toxic CTO or VP Engineering I observed:
✓ Lack of Transparency:
CTO withholds information coming from the C Suite or makes decisions behind closed doors that can create an environment of mistrust and uncertainty, leading to a lack of collaboration and communication.
VP Engineering creates a wall between the engineers and upper leadership.
✓ Not approachable
Never runs skip level meetings with engineers several levels below them. People don’t even dare approach them in the cafeteria to say “hello”.
CTO goes behind the VP Engineering’s back and asks engineers to do things not in the work plans.
Makes them feel undervalued, disempowered, and frustrated by telling them HOW to do their jobs.
They should only tell WHY and WHAT needs done.
These are the CTOs paid to see your best and most loyal staff walk out!
✓ Lack of Empathy:
Is dismissive of employees’ concerns, ignores feedback, is unsympathetic to their needs. Creates a culture of fear and intimidation, which can lead to high turnover and low morale.
✓ Blaming Others:
Assigns blame (even in team meetings!) for mistakes, takes credit for the successes of their management team, which can create a toxic work environment and damage team morale.
Resistant to change, unwilling to try new things, does not listen to feedback, hinders growth and innovation, making it difficult for the engineering department to adapt to new challenges.
✓ Inability to Provide Feedback:
Doesn’t provide constructive and specific feedback to their VP Engineering making them feel like they’re working in isolation.
Never tells the VP Engineering the impact their delivery has on the business.
VP Engineering doesn’t provide feedback to the engineers, unless it’s negative feedback.
What toxic traits and behaviours have you noticed in CTOs and VPs Engineering?
Which one of these might have happened to you?