Are you being led or ‘managed’? It matters. Do not compromise
You may say, "I don't understand why you are asking this question, Robert. I obey instructions given to me. I complete my tasks and receive my salary monthly. Does it matter whether I am being led or managed? What do you mean?" Several scholarly research points to the negative impact of toxic leadership on job satisfaction, employee well-being and professional development. So, your answer matters.
Consider Kojo, who joined an organisation with an important mandate. He aimed to contribute to his society. Kojo had been outstanding in several roles before joining this organisation. Three months into his new role, Kojo needed professional support.
Strangely, he's not doing well in his new position. The medical professional advised Kojo to quit due to a toxic work environment created by his leader and the impact on his mental health. You may say this doesn't apply to me, but how do you know? Kojo is not the only professional who has experienced this.
How do you know you?
Being managed means you are a cog in the machine, only needed to produce the golden eggs and nothing more. You must show up at the appointed time and do what you are told to do without asking too many questions.
At the end of the workday, you go home, stay on your phone and watch some YouTube videos. And you come back the next day to continue the same cycle.
There is no opportunity to bring your humanness and creativity to your work. Even though you have been working for a couple of years, you have not experienced any growth in your skills and abilities.
Working with an effective leader feels different
They acknowledge you as a professional with needs and aspirations. This recognition influences the work environment leaders design to support your growth.
There is no fear in effective working relationships. You look forward to going to work and engaging proudly with what you do. You are empowered to see how your work contributes to a better society.
Your leader puts your performance in perspective. You are asked about your professional aspirations, whatever they are. There is a discussion about how the work fulfils your aspirations and meets your needs as a human being.
You are encouraged and supported to pursue your professional goals and interests. One may expect that every professional will receive the leadership described above. Sadly, it is not very common for this to happen.
The consequences of being managed:
The most damaging part of being managed is the inappropriate coping mechanisms and responses team members develop to function in the management system. Unfortunately, such negative habits become part of how they act in the workplace.
They stifle progress. You only really get to know how badly you have been affected when you are ineffective in new situations due to fear and bad habits formed earlier.
Though effective leadership is rare in most workplaces, sometimes toxic leaders may not be easily identified.
Studies show that "toxic leaders may be highly competent and effective in their work, but they contribute to creating an unhealthy environment among their subordinates and peers, with the consequences of their actions reaching more than just a few individuals."
Some organisations are at the edges of leadership, which may provide a false impression. Toxic leaders and the environment take away the simple joy and progress associated with your work.
To move forward, you must recognise where you are on the spectrum. Do not deny your experience because it matters. Also, do not accept that your toxic boss will change when the person has shown any meaningful attempts at changing.
Accept the situation for what it is and take steps to ameliorate the impact of the lack of effective leadership in your workplace on your personal life and professional growth.
What do you do when you realise you are being managed instead of led?
Your leaders may not know any better. They may also have been victims of even worse management. Now, you must take action. You must break the silence and seek support for your own sake and others.
You may not be able to change your boss, but you can change how you respond to his leadership. You must decide to act in your best interest.
Guard your mental health:
The consequences of working in an unhealthy environment with a bad boss can be dire. It takes a toll on mental health. You must take every step to guard your mental health.
If this means resigning from the job, you must do so immediately. Kojo resigned, found a new job and is thriving.
Develop your curiosity:
Staying curious about your aspirations and profession enables employees to thrive even in toxic environments. Managers only show you what they believe is necessary for the work.
They do not want you to know too much. Achieving progress requires that you challenge the status quo. Don't let a toxic leader make you give up on yourself. Seek out effective leadership to feed your mind with possibility.
Learn to lead yourself:
Be mindful that you do not begin to act in the same ineffective ways your boss does in the future. To grow your skills, you must find opportunities to grow your skills and find expression.
You must continuously develop your skills, even if not valued in your current workplace. Volunteer and join other social or community endeavours that provide an opportunity to lead a project or an event.
Volunteering can help you improve your skills for the future. Probably, you are not allowed to make input at work. Hence, you have not learnt how to communicate your opinions effectively in meetings. Take advantage of opportunities in other situations to practice this skill.
You are afraid to act because fear is part of the system designed to keep you under management. Do not fear. Every professional deserves to be led rather than "managed".
Determine to use your leadership to inspire confidence and creativity in others to achieve their dreams.
Be of good cheer.
The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program, (https://ceoacceleratorprogram.org) and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory (www.thelearningtemple.com). The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice. If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to