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Toxic Work Culture Series: Passive-Aggressive "Leaders"

As we explore attributes of Toxic leadership, we will peer through the lens of a passive-aggressive leader. We have all experienced the wrath of a passive-aggressive person. This person crouches like a lion and then leaps at an opportune time of the attack. Such behavior wreaks of intimidation and bullying, whether a formal leader or not. Someone who is passive-aggressive is typically concealing the animosity until the right time. Such behavior in the workplace fosters a hostile work environment. Let's scrutinize further.

Compared to passive, aggressive, and assertive styles, passive-aggressive leadership is characterized by:

  1. Blaming others for mistakes

  2. Indirectly criticizing employees

  3. Implementing unnecessary or confusing workplace rules

  4. Avoiding building relationships with employees

  5. We are giving vague feedback or directions without explanation.

  • Blaming others for mistakes- A leader who assigns blame to others is an individual who was never held accountable for their mistakes. This can be as simple as the submission of the incorrect order that your leader forwarded. Frequently, the frontline person is held responsible for any error within that transaction.

  • Indirectly criticizing employees- a person who leads with a critical eye is one who finds comfort in demoralizing others to the company's detriment.

  • It is implementing unnecessary or confusing workplace rules-lack of clarity. An ineffective leader typically manages with a divide and conquer mentality by implementing conflicting policies. This is driven by the leader's fear of being found out about whatever they are concealing. It might lack qualifications, experience, skill sets, degrees, subject matter experts, etc. When there are conflicting policies, it is challenging to ascertain who is right and wrong.

  • Vague feedback or directions without explanation-this is a tactical tool used by ineffective leaders. Driven by fear of being found out, this person acts deceptively by providing little direction and feedback to staff. In addition, poor feedback may also result from resistance to existing policies that compromise the culture.

If your boss is passive-aggressive, CPR agrees with Indeed's July 2021 article recommendations. Indeed's editorial team recommended the following tips for working with a passive-aggressive boss:

#1. Identify the passive-aggressive traits as the norm, then manage up.

#2. Offer a polite greeting each day-(used as a daily lifeline. This leader should not feel isolated)

#3. Communicate effectively

#4. Keep records of interactions

#5. Respectfully share your concern

#6. Display empathy and compassion

#7. Practice active listening

#8. Remain professional

#9. Hold productive conversations

Let's face reality; pigs enjoy playing in the sty. If it is within your leader's nature to be hostile and passive-aggressive, then it's your leader's nature. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it unless the leader wills change. In that case, having someone to coach the leader instead of train the leader will be of great value to the organization. If not, muddying the waters will persist, and the expectations of swimming through the mud will remain a heavy feat.

CPR offers leadership training modules as well as one-on-one coaching for leaders. Take advantage of CPR's recession rate prices today by registering on the website or emailing

Warm Regards,


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