TTLS S1 17 | Permissive Leadership

Tyler Asman is a scholar, practitioner, and consultant who brings a dynamic and futurist perspective to workplace issues.

This episode is important to me because of Tyler’s insights related to how toxic leadership can manifest even in well-meaning leaders. As we examine a pendulum swing in leadership approach, we explore a phenomenon called permissive leadership and we discuss how toxic masculinity can impact everyone in the workplace.

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Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.

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Exploring Toxic Masculinity And Permissive Leadership With Tyler Asman

 

Tyler Asman is a scholar-practitioner and consultant who brings a dynamic and futurist perspective to workplace issues. This episode is important to me because of Tyler’s insights related to how toxic leadership can manifest even in well-meaning leaders. As we examine the pains in them swinging and leadership approach, we explore a phenomenon called permissive leadership and further, we discuss how toxic masculinity can impact everyone in the workplace.

We have Tyler Asman. How are you?

I’m well, thank you.

I’m so happy to have you here, and I am excited about digging into different forms of organizations and toxic leadership, but before we get to that, I’d love to hear your story. Who are you and what have you been working on lately?

I had a conversation with a new colleague and she asked how I got to be in my position. I’m the Vice President of Operational Effectiveness for a nursing college, and my short answer was by accident. I’m a social worker by training. I intended to go into therapy, but it turns out that I’m too mean to be a therapist. I switched my focus midway through my graduate program, and instead, I work with systems, leadership, policy and advocacy staff, looking at the systems that people live in and how that changes our behavior, relationships and interactions.

I’ve had a hilarious amount of jobs. I taught Inner City behavioral managed high school. I was a copy editor for a little while. I tried to be an English Major in my undergrad. Teaching and writing lots of cool stuff. I have some amazing experience, doing some consulting early on, whereas essentially, assisting somebody. I got exposed to a lot of different business models and businesses that I brought with me into my graduate program, where I laid that human behavior, social science land on top of the business mechanics. Here I am. I’ve primarily been an organizational development.

I can already tell by what you explained that you probably have a lot of academic knowledge related to toxic leadership and some of these behavior traits that we hear about on this show. What is your experience as we dive into toxic leadership?

You get the results that you design.

Lucky for our conversation, I have academic knowledge and personal firsthand knowledge. I’ve certainly been in work environments where there is some toxic leadership, either that I was experiencing personally but more so as an internal consultant for the folks that I was working with. Nobody calls an internal consultant. I was like, “Everything’s great, and all my people are happy and we’re meeting our goals. Can you come to talk to us?”

When things are going sideways, when people are leaving and productivity is down that I’m going out to work with people generally, that’s what I’ve been specializing. From a personal perspective, when you do get into that academic study or when you do start to put some frameworks and some labels on some of those concepts, you’re able to deconstruct what you experienced firsthand when you didn’t have the words to describe it. I’ve been able to form some theories based on some of my personal experiences as well.

I find sometimes being able to name something is a coping mechanism. Whatever you’re experiencing, you’re able to name it or find somebody else who has experienced it. It sometimes creates a barrier to some of the trauma that may be existing. That’s great to hear. As you think about organizational models and different things that go on in the organizational structure, what are some of the things that you see nowadays that perpetuate some of the toxic behaviors?

I think those two things are closely related and I’m probably biased because we get the results that we design. We’re working in a capitalist, White, heteronormative male. That’s the corporate structure that we work with. What I’ve noticed is interesting. We’ve heard that typical toxic leadership has traits where it’s around too much authority, very authoritative or authoritarian. It creates competitiveness, favoritism, nepotism and things like that. The things that I’m seeing coming up are, as all leaders and because of that White male heteronormative system that we work within. Most leadership looks male.

As men start to reject that, as they start to say, “I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be this authoritarian, bossy guy.” They abdicate all of their power, and then they don’t have any boundaries. They’re mistaking not wanting to be an authoritarian, power-hungry and fear-mongering leader, which is like having no boundaries, expectations and clarity.

It’s this new toxicity that I see that’s around permissive leadership. I think that the easiest way that people can recognize this is in parenting. This is a parent that’s like, “No, Billy. Don’t eat those cookies. Get your hand out of the cookie jar. Okay. Only one cookie. I’m going to take the cookie away if you don’t stop now.” A box of cookies later, Billy is developing childhood diabetes and that parent has no boundaries and has taught Billy that nobody is in charge, and then he doesn’t feel safe as a child.

TTLS S1 17 | Permissive Leadership

Permissive Leadership: Leaders are mistaking not wanting to be authoritarian, fear-mongering leaders with having no boundaries, no expectations, and no clarity. That’s a new kind of toxicity that’s around permissive leadership.

 

I see that same phenomenon happening in organizations where people don’t know who’s in charge. They don’t know when rules are going to be enforced and when they let it slide. They don’t know what the expectations are for themselves and for other people. It makes people feel unsafe. The intention is good that they’re rejecting this toxic masculine leadership model. They haven’t replaced it with anything that works or is as effective.

In fact, it’s super harmful to people. They don’t know what to expect, what’s expected of them and what to expect of their peers. I see more and more rates of people feeling personally harassed and certainly feeling like they are not succeeding at their jobs because they don’t know where their goals, boundary and scope are. It’s an interesting thing to observe and it’s a new form of toxicity that we’ve come across.

Where do you think it’s coming from?

I can only speculate and maybe I’m being optimistic. I’ve certainly never been accused of that, but I think it’s this rejection of this toxic, traditional and very patriarchal leadership. Men are like, “I don’t want to do that,” or they’re rejecting it. You don’t know what to put in its place.

It’s like a pendulum swing from one extreme to the other. It’s like, “I don’t want to be authoritative, so I’m going to completely abdicate authority.” It sounds like an unsafe piece when we talk about psychological safety. The unsafe piece comes in and affects abdicate authority or not. There still is a hierarchy. There are still decisions you got to make. They come out of the blue because you weren’t clear on defining those boundaries for people to know what’s safe and what’s not. I do agree with you and see how that going that far to that extreme could become toxic to folks because I’m scared, but I’m fearful for another reason other than the authoritative one.

They think they’re always consistent. It’s not like I advocate all power all the time in all cases, but sometimes I got to be the boss and the nice guy. It’s like that psychological phenomenon of not knowing what to expect. People are hypervigilant because they have no idea what they’re getting into every day.

In this situation, it’s like the leader means well, but they’re doing harm unknowingly to those who follow them. I appreciate you painting that picture, I would say. My next question is, what is that alternative model? As we think about that permissiveness, because let’s say somebody is like, “I’ve seen what happened on the news and toxic workplaces. I don’t want to be that person,” and they become totally permissive. We know that’s probably not optimal. What’s the remedy? What’s the fix for that?

I don’t know that we figured it out totally. We’ve been hanging out for 2,000 or 4,000 years in this masculine space is a patriarchal space. Our whole countries’ whole economies are built on this. To figure out an alternative, we have to do some experimentation, and in a lot of ways, you have to swim against the current because not all parts of society are moving along in the same way. If the rejection of toxic masculinity as a leadership model is creating a vacuum that creates a lack of safety, presumably, we need some balanced masculinity and balanced femininity. We need to introduce femininity into our leadership.

You can’t change things by looking externally only. The only way the tides turn is if you start doing your individual work.

That doesn’t mean more women because certainly women, over the years, have embraced a toxic masculine model in their own leadership styles as we repress our femininity and we associate success and power with that toxic masculinity. It seems to me approaching leadership and organizational design with a more holistic framework that aims to balance the best of masculine traits and feminine traits and do that intentionally.

Certainly, there are organizations that are attempting to do that, that are experimenting with it and some greater degrees than others. I’m thinking of holacracy, which is attempting to make this network-like flat organization approach. Zappos has embraced this and operationalized it in the last handful of years.

There’s a model that deliberately developmental organizations. It sounds true, which is a publishing company. They utilize this organization, they have embraced this model as well, and it looks to link personal development and actualization as one of the success metrics of organizational outcomes. They basically say, “If we have humans that are trying to be better humans and are trying to be more fulfilled, then probably that’s going to make our organization better, which is going to make our product, service and business better as well.” They invest intentionally on the front end on the personal development of those individuals, which is in and of itself a pretty feminine approach.

With that trait, I want to lift up for readers that when you say masculine and feminine, it’s not intentionally meant to be gendered. If you look at the research literature, that’s how they explain those traits. I totally agree with that notion you lifted up related to balance. It is important to balance because as we think about the pendulum switching over from totally authoritative to advocating authority already, both at the extreme have toxic effects.

They may have similar outcomes, whether you know it or not. Let’s say I have a very tyrannical leader, and I don’t know what to expect from that leader because they’re high and cold. I’m skittish on decision-making. I don’t know what my expectations are because I need to be perfect, apparently. You have that versus advocates authority altogether. I don’t know what to expect and my expectations. I’m still skittish about decision-making. I get the results in the same thing, except you’re toxic with a smile.

You made me think of something else. I’m thinking back to a manager that I worked with, I was coaching and she is a woman. This is going back to your distinction between masculine and feminine and male and female. Those are not at all related, but what she did is she rejected that authoritarian masculine model so much and embraced a toxic feminine model where it was around in measurement over personalization, nurturing at the cost of doing stuff and getting things done. Certainly, that toxicity can exist in both extremes, but it still lacks safety. It’s still unclear and it doesn’t work. That balancing, you triggered that anything can get out of balance if it’s overdone.

Even our best intentions can be out of balance. I totally agree with that. It’s also important as I think about that need for balance. You reminded me of something where it’s like, you also need balance in power in a way. Let’s say I feel I don’t have power because I’m not in the authoritative position or the leader, but there’s a balance where I feel I have the power to speak up when something’s off. I have that agency. That’s another way to look at balance too. A balance of agency and communication.

When we think about the work necessary to get us there, we’ve been living in these masculine structures for thousands of years. If everybody closes their eyes and thinks about the word leader, who comes to mind or what comes to mind, we have our defaults. The one thing you stated that was important is it’s going to be hard to turn the ship around to get to balance. That’s not going to happen. You also mentioned the point of personal work and what we can do as individuals to sustain. I wanted to hear more about what personal work is necessary as we think about the sustainability of shifting traditional norms.

TTLS S1 17 | Permissive Leadership

Permissive Leadership: If the rejection of toxic masculinity in leadership is creating a vacuum that creates a lack of safety. You need to balance that masculinity with some femininity into the leadership.

 

This is where that balance comes in. We can’t change things by looking and working externally only. The only way that the tides turn is if we all start doing our individual work and we look at what’s my own relationship with toxic masculinity with toxic femininity, with power and authority with my own voice, and with risk-taking. Why am I that way? We can no longer separate or compartmentalize. It’s been interesting. COVID and the pandemic have put a finer point on this. How impossible is it to separate our personal lives from our professional lives? We’re humans and we show up as humans in every space.

If I am a Billy, get your hand out of the cookie jar parent, I’m going to be a Susan, get your hand out of the manager, but they don’t suddenly transform into a new and different person. Until they become a better parent and until I become a better friend and partner, I’m not going to be a better manager. You can’t compartmentalize that.

I’ll share a little bit of my personal internal work. I’ve been going to therapy. I’m not seeing a therapist right now, but I have been off and on for a long time. One of the things that I came to embrace about myself, so I have what professionals call a strong personality. I always tried to keep that in. I was too loud and opinionated, and I took up too much space. I was too much.

Over the course of working on that personally, and there are lots of ways to do it. It’s not just therapy, but experimenting with that in my relationships and finding my voice in those personal spaces. I was able to integrate that as a leader and professional. I once received coaching from someone that had more authority in the organization than I did. He said, “You should not share your opinions so clearly, often or readily. Maybe if you shared your opinions as questions.”

I tried that on for a couple of years, and I finally got to the point where I was like, “I appreciate where you’re coming from, and maybe that’s super valuable for you. I’m going to have to take that feedback and I’m going to slip that right back down.” That’s on for me. I’ve worked too hard to find my voice, to be confident in my opinions and be confident in my ability to change my mind if I’m presented with somebody else’s opinion.

My ability to lovingly engage in disagreement, and that’s the environment that I want to work in. This withholds your opinions doesn’t work for me, and I’m not going to be able to take that feedback. Fast forward to a new relationship or a new colleague who said, “I am so relieved to see a woman in an executive position who has a strong personality and who isn’t afraid to share her opinion,” and is kind about it at the same time.

Do your own work and show up as a whole person everywhere you go.

I don’t feel I have to choose between being clear and kind. That’s the tone that I want to set it. Leadership wants to set my organization as well. Fifteen years of personal work, therapy, self-help and practice, it’s showing up in this conversation. This makes a difference in how I can show up at work, how we get business done and how I feel I can fit into this culture, a leadership role and my own professional growth.

Thank you for sharing that. I can literally see you light up as you talk about it and resonate with how mentally healthy that is, where you don’t have to be somebody else to collect a paycheck. You can totally live into all the work you’ve done on your personal self to contribute to the results your way. I love that. Yes. Take up your space. This is dope. Spending this time with you was awesome. I appreciate contributions and insights, and before I let you go, I wanted to give you space to leave our readers with some words of wisdom.

That would be it. Do your work. Show up as a whole person everywhere you go. That doesn’t mean you can’t flex and accommodate, but find out who you are and what makes you take, and then be that person because the world needs people who are self-actualized. That’s never going to happen if we compartmentalize or if we say like, “My self-actualization happens in the 30 minutes that I do this activity once a week.” We spend too much time working to not use that as a laboratory for our own actualization. Take a space and be who you are. That’s where our best ideas come from, and that gives other people permission to show up as themselves as well. You do it on purpose.

Thank you for that. How can people reach you?

I have a little website as I do some consulting on the side. It’s Pando-Consulting.com. I’m working for the college, in my garden and hanging out with my child. Pando Consulting wherever other consultancy lives.

Thank you, Tyler. I appreciate being able to spend some time with you and hearing your insights. Thank you all for reading the show. Until next time.

 

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About Tyler Asman

TTLS S1 17 | Permissive LeadershipTyler is a practitioner and consultant who has years of experience using her background in social sciences to maximize team performance in healthcare, nonprofit, and corporate settings. Her specialties include leadership coaching and training, employee engagement, talent management, and team dynamics. She is a certified coach, mediator, Birkman consultant, and Crucial Conversations facilitator. Tyler has a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Houston where her emphasis was policy and advocacy.

She was an associate instructor at the University of Utah’s Graduate College of Social Work where she taught Human Rights & Social Justice. Tyler has served on a number of nonprofit boards, has been delivered keynote addresses and training/motivational presentations to diverse groups, and is involved in local politics and advocacy.

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