Psychological safety is widely recognized as one of the most significant predictors of high-performing teams, enabling open communication, creativity, and innovation. When team members feel safe to express their ideas and concerns without fear of retribution or ridicule, they’re more likely to collaborate effectively and bring their best selves to work. Unfortunately, many leaders inadvertently undermine that safety with their behavior.
At NextArrow, we’ve studied the behavior of leaders and identified our own taxonomy of psychologically-unsafe leaders. It's important to note that the purpose of this list isn’t to judge or criticize, but to raise awareness. We all have the potential to exhibit these behaviors, so it's crucial to reflect on our own actions and ask ourselves, "Have I ever acted this way? How can I improve and be a better leader next time?"
Here are 7 types of psychologically-unsafe leaders and their unproductive management styles:
The Credit Thief: This manager loves to take credit for others’ work. They never give their team members the recognition they deserve and, often, present other people's ideas as their own. They’re more interested in their own success than the success of their team.
The Fear-Monger: This manager rules through fear and intimidation. They use threats and punishment to motivate their team, which creates a toxic work environment. They might get results in the short-term, but it's not a sustainable management strategy.
The Silent One: This manager is distant and uncommunicative. They don't provide feedback or direction, which makes it hard for their team to know what’s expected of them. They may be dealing with their own issues, but their silence can create a feeling of uncertainty and mistrust.
The Misleader: This manager misleads their team through dishonesty or lack of transparency. They say one thing and do another. They, sometimes, make false promises or provide misleading information to achieve their goals. This can create a culture of mistrust and make it difficult for their team to believe in their leadership.
The Backstabber: This manager talks behind their team's back, criticizing and undermining them to others in the organization. They may also throw their team members under the bus to protect themselves. This creates a toxic work environment and destroys trust between the manager and their team.
The Judge: This manager is quick to judge and criticize their team members. They focus on the negatives and rarely provide positive feedback or praise. This creates a negative work environment where team members may feel demotivated and undervalued.
The Gossiper: This manager loves to gossip and share personal information about their team members. They may talk about their personal lives or share confidential information with others in the organization. This can create a culture of mistrust and harm relationships with team members.
The good news? The skills you need to build a psychologically-safe workplace — and avoid being a psychologically-unsafe leader — can be learned!
Check out our Psych Safety workshop so you can create a workplace where open communication, trust, and collaboration are prioritized.