Red Flag: Problematic Leadership Behaviors

Photo credit: Zachary Keimig.

The 2017, 2019, and 2021 low-morale studies all reveal and/or validate that the behaviors of formal leaders often are central to the onset and/or proliferation of low-morale experiences in modern workplaces. There are particular leadership styles that are more likely to cause or exacerbate workplace abuse and neglect; the following qualitative data highlight tactics of authoritarian, toxic, or laissez-faire (ambivalent) formal leaders. As you review these data, what kinds of abuse are being perpetrated? What might the impacts be on the target? Their work? Those who witness these events? Moreover, how might you respond in a similar situation? As the target? As the observer?

“[The library dean] pitted staff against each other; she purposely kept us apart, she did not allow us to speak to anybody outside of the library unless we went through her…She called people stupid, including me. She made us do things a certain way, and then when we do them that way, she would yell at us and say, ‘well why did you do it that way, that’s really stupid, obviously you don’t know anything.’ She never made me cry, but she made everybody else cry.”Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (public services librarian), circa 2016

“I was there six years total, but I worked for this woman for two years, and then she was replaced with a very ineffective, ineffective dean that was, like, that’s another whole story –  that wasn’t abuse, that was just somebody who was ineffective and didn’t care.”Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (public services librarian), circa 2016 (Renewals note: Neglect is a form of abuse)

“I had been told [by my manager] that we had enough money for all of the subscriptions from last year, plus $20,000. So I was interested in using that $20,000 for print materials. When I couldn’t get approval for that from the library committee, I had a subsequent meeting with my boss, and at that meeting, she told me that they didn’t want to allocate funds to the library because the students didn’t need one. So that was extremely disquieting and disappointing and discouraging. (And where the $20,000 went, I don’t know. I was so shocked at what she said that I really didn’t follow up on that conversation.” Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (reference and instruction librarian), circa 2016

“I realized that a lot of things started happening – reoccurring – towards me. So, for instance, she would criticize me in front of everyone; she would send these really bizarre emails, very critical of other people….as time went on, it kept making me think, ‘ok, I don’t know if it’s me anymore, but it’s maybe the director,’ where I just feel like I can’t work under this situation, these conditions where I’m being criticized, being mobbed, being stalked by my director at times, like when I went to the restroom, I would come out and then, there she was, waiting for me! [Laughs] And then she would start criticizing me! And it’s so funny, it was really bizarre, and I’m just like, ‘oh my gosh, does this happen anywhere else’? Actually, this was my first academic position, and I was just really confused, and then I realized that it’s happening a lot…”Low Morale in BIPOC Academic Librarians study participant (outreach librarian), circa 2018

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