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Toxic Leaders: 3 Reasons to Hold Them Accountable at Work


Yes! Accountability is the foundation of every high-functioning team and healthy culture. The main distinguishing factor between good teams and great teams is how they make decisions and solve problems. The best way to improve these two critical factors to team success is to increase team trust. Trust is only built when team members feel safe enough to hold one another accountable.

Before we get any further, let's dive into what accountability really looks like in action. Accountability is not a moment to pile on shame or a tool to pull one over on your coworker. Most simply, it is an opportunity to hold one another to our commitments. Accountability is an active choice to choose success in our own lives and the lives of those we work with daily.

Healthy accountability fosters a winning mindset, not one built on shame. However, this type of positive accountability requires difficult conversations. These discussions will be uncomfortable, and they may lead to strife. Discomfort and disagreement should never deter us from striving to become our best. Sabina Nawaz writes, "Creating productive tension is dangerous and messy work. The only reason to risk being on the edge and inviting others to join you there is for the right purpose." Purpose guides accountability and creates a shared sense of direction and corporate trust. Lean on your purpose as a guide in times of discomfort.


When handling disagreement, holding people accountable actually increases trust within a team. By addressing problems as they arise instead of letting tension fester beneath the surface, they increase their ability to focus on success factors moving forward rather than fear living in the back of their mind, worrying over unresolved distractions.

Since accountability leads to trust, it is essential to recognize the impact trust has on workplace performance:

The difference between cultures that foster behaviors that lead to High Trust Teams and those that do not is astounding. Team success finds its footing in trust and accountability.


Accountability is vital to creating a workplace that knows what toxicity looks like at work. The bedrock of poor workplace behavior is defensiveness. Defensiveness avoids solutions, and it always points the finger outward, never taking responsibility.

The antidote to defensiveness is taking 100% responsibility for your actions. By making this a non-negotiable characteristic of your life individually and corporately, as a team, you create room for accountability to work its magic. When no one is defensive, there is no fear of stepping on toes, saying the wrong thing, or offending your coworkers. Accountability should still happen in a kind, direct, and respectful manner.

Leaders begin to spot defensiveness more quickly in the hiring process or team meetings as cultures leave it behind. When problems arise or when interrogating historical information, listen to people as they respond. Do they offer a solution? Do they try to dump on other people? Are they willing to learn?

These questions will help you recognize defensiveness and other toxic behaviors throughout your culture.


Rewarding effective behaviors is vital to sustaining a healthy culture. Healthy cultures can root out toxic leaders. Healthy cultures feel unhealthy to leaders that weaponize their toxicity. Leaders subtly teach team members the organization's best practices by rewarding behaviors that shape positive cultures.

Rewarding living with integrity or taking 100% responsibility makes it difficult for defensiveness and a lack of transparency to find a foothold in the culture.

"The idea that a negative has a stronger impact than a positive has been established in fields like finance (losses have more of an impact than gains), psychology (people remember bad experiences more than good ones), and linguistics (we pay more attention to negative words than positive or neutral ones). If toxic workers have a stronger (corrosive) effect on a firm than even the highest performing non-toxic ones, then it seems fair to say that managers should give the former more thought."

Since this is the case, taking advantage of positive moments is critical to teams' psychological and physical health. Making a solid effort toward positive reenforcement will pay dividends down the road and begin to create a safety net around your culture.



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