TTLS S1 22 | Toxic Leadership


Today’s episode is with Dee Dee Hawman. Dee Dee is a regional human resources manager and a dedicated leader in building sustainable partnerships with all levels of employees in an organization thus increasing employee engagement, job satisfaction, and financial viability.

This episode is important because Dee Dee was my very first boss when I interned in her HR department many years ago, it is great to hear how she has counteracted toxicity throughout her career in health care.

The Toxic Leadership Podcast
Instagram: @ToxicLeadershipPodcast
Twitter: @ToxicLeaderShow

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.

Follow KEVRA: The Culture Company on Linkedin to keep up with your favorite behavioral scientist, Dr. Sansberry. At KEVRA: The Culture Company, we partner to effectively evolve your organizational culture by focusing on competency development, best practices, and leading research to deliver systemic and innovative solutions for company success.

Have a question for Dr. Sansberry? Visit to send your leadership and organizational-related questions.

Listen to the podcast here


How Can HR Counteract Toxic Leadership Behavior? An Interview With Dee Dee Hawman

Our episode is with Dee Dee Hawman. She is a Regional HR Manager and dedicated leader in building sustainable partnerships with all levels of employees at an organization. She focuses on increasing employee engagement, job satisfaction and financial viability. This episode is important because Dee Dee was my first boss when I interned in her HR department many years ago. It was great to hear how she’s counteracted toxicity throughout her career in healthcare.

We have a very special guest, Dee Dee Hawman. How are you?

I’m good. Thank you. How are you?

For the readers, I want to lift up that Dee Dee was my first inspiration to get into human resources. Back in 2008, I was an intern. I told her my journey, how it all started from that internship. I wanted to thank you for that. We can make space for people to get to know you. I want to give you space to tell your story. Who are you? What you have been working on? Where have you been?

I started my career in HR by doing an internship as you did at a hospital when I was working on my MBA degree. I stuck with it. I have been in a hospital environment my whole career for over twenty years. It’s hard to say that but that’s how I started. That’s why it was important to me to continue to do internships and develop new HR professionals in that environment because HR is so much about the hands-on experience that I certainly didn’t learn in school. I grew from being an intern to an HR generalist and did a lot of recruitment. I moved around the country with the same hospital system and moved up in positions within that company. It brought me to where I am.

I work for a consulting company. We are a healthcare management company. I’m no longer in the building but I visit multiple facilities. I have a certain amount of facilities within my portfolio. I visit them and help them with a variety of issues that are HR-related. Sometimes not HR-related. Sometimes operational in general because I have been in the hospital environment for so long. That’s it in a nutshell. It seems long. I probably missed a lot in between. Going through each level of HR helped me understand each of those aspects from recruitment to employee relations to strategic development, organizational development, coaching and operations.

Due to our history, you were the first person who ever exposed me to employee relations. As I have learned to know through my career, we tend to run into a lot of toxic leadership situations or toxic culture types of things. When we think about toxic leadership, talk to me about your experience there, in general.

When you asked me to talk about this, I had to drop an example I could provide because there are many over the course of twenty years in various degrees. There are some that are terrible and there are some that are the tip of the iceberg. One that came to mind immediately when you reached out to me was one that I had a few years ago with a leader with who I was dealing with my reports, which was a Director of HR.

They were having to deal with their toxic leader. I had coach that HR Director regarding their toxic leader, how to manage them, and how to manage that relationship. A lot of it was related to their ability to get their job done in a successful manner where they felt personal success, and where they were meeting objectives.

One of the issues that the manager was doing was the constantly changing of priorities. When you are a very busy HR professional, you need to have priorities. Everything is urgent. You need to lay out what you need to work on as a priority, also in HR and healthcare, especially what I know well of is your resources are limited. Most resources go to your clinical areas as they should.HR is usually a pretty small department. When your leader is constantly changing priorities, it’s hard to stay focused, get things accomplished, and executed to improve the organization. That’s what this leader was experiencing. They felt they were defeated. It was affecting their mental health as well as physical.

That was the first thing that I thought of. As the leader, they would change priorities but they would also not be clear on expectations. When there was a product produced that wasn’t right but yet they didn’t give any guidance, any parameters so that ended up being a source of frustration. Making everything HR’s responsibility and not holding other leaders accountable is also a problem.

It was all the classic toxic leadership characteristics that affected the mental health and the ability of my HR Director to be a good leader to his direct reports. He couldn’t show up for his direct reports because he was frazzled all the time. I found myself having to coach his direct report, too. It was a rough road for a while there but we managed to move out of that. He chose a different path, thank goodness.

TTLS S1 22 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: When your leader constantly changes priorities, it’s hard to stay focused and get things accomplished and executed to improve the organization.


Did you end up hiring a different director at that time after that person?


What was that relationship like once the new incumbent came in?

The new incumbent came in and the relationship with the organization changed a little bit because there was also a different health system partner within the organization that came in and helped manage that. There has been a different shift in leadership expectations. With the leader of the HR Director, expectations have changed. They have been able to be less focused and less micro-managing of HR tasks. They have to deal with growth, physician relations and things like that. It helps when they are shifting gears to let off the gas on the other side.

As you think about it over your career, I’m sure you have had to mitigate a lot of micromanaging issues and stuff like that. Where do you think that behavior comes from with the micromanager?

Control comes from the pressures we all face from our leaders, environment or from the business itself to be successful, to produce results, whether that’s improved quality or increased volumes of patients. Depending on what state you live in, there are a lot of competitions in healthcare. Patients have lots of choices of where they seek their care. There are a lot of that are going on. It’s a competitive environment. That’s not to say there are other industries. They are competitive. It’s quite the dichotomy where you are in the environment to take care of others but sometimes you forget to take care of the people taking care of others. A lot of leaders are good at business.

A lot of them are good at business and busy in doing their job within their line of scope, whether it be financed, operations, clinical but not all leaders have learned to be good leaders. That’s where HR comes in. That’s where I find my role. My role in many organizations that I have been in is to develop leaders. Some leaders take it to heart and hear what HR has to say about the importance of taking care of employees and about employee engagement. They do it and act on it. They take the steps. Other leaders are in one ear out the other and they don’t believe in it. They don’t buy into it. That becomes a challenge from an HR standpoint but back to what do I attribute it to, its lack of development and its pressures.

As you think about your history with toxic leadership, let’s talk about you a little bit. What examples would you have that you have experienced, coached or worked on? You mentioned coaching, which is underutilized a lot of times. What have you experienced in your career?

I have been fortunate to have good leaders. There have been some better than others. I wouldn’t say that they were toxic necessarily. They were just better leaders than others. I have done a lot of coaching and had to do a lot of development with leaders at new organizations or new leaders that have come on board. The ones that I have found challenging are the ones that we do inherit as an organization because sometimes you have leaders who have been toxic for years and it worked. They have been in that role and have been successful in behaving this way sometimes for several years.

Be true to yourself. Take the avenues you feel like you need to take, but make sure you're healthy and worry about yourself. Click To Tweet

For somebody to come in and say, “What you are doing isn’t appropriate,” I had that occur at an organization where I had a leader who has been behaving badly for a long time. Employees have shared with me through my normal employee development of engagement that their leader has been less than kind. That then translates into their extreme dissatisfaction with their facility as a place to work. That’s stealing the process of dealing with that particular issue.

What I have identified is that the behaviors that are coming out are the leaders very narcissistic in terms of not believing that it’s their responsibility to make their employees happy. They believe people should come to work, shut up and do their job. By doing so, she’s alienated everybody and that’s okay by this leader. She’s fine with that but that’s not aligned with what we expected leaders to be.

This allows us to ideate what do we expect leaders to be. What does the anti-narcissist look like? Walk me through that.

The anti-narcissist leader or the collaborative leader would give praise. They don’t ever take credit. They give credit. They are supportive. There’s an expectation of excellence but there are the adverse of that, which would be you make one mistake, you are chastised or publicly humiliated. All the things that we learn as leaders where they are supposed to praise in public, discipline in private.

You are supportive of your employees. You give them the tool to do their job. Consistent feedback establishes expectations. You don’t continue to change those expectations daily. You set priorities and you keep them. Communicating consistently and effectively. Effectively is the key where leaders will say, “We talk every day.” Not deliberately, not with any substance.

This is why I advocate for performance management programs to incorporate some type of 360 feedback of some sort. They are powerful if you want to listen. That’s the key.

That’s the thing with organizations. There are so many wonderful tools out there. There’s 360. There are surveys. We survey patients, employees and physicians. We have health grades. We have all of these things out there to evaluate our effectiveness. If you are going to do it, you have to act on the results. If you are surveying for the sake of surveying, then you might as well save your money. A lot of organizations do surveys for the sake of surveying and to say, “We did it. Check that box.” You don’t ever do anything with results and it’s pointless. You see organizations like that that don’t succeed or whose metrics aren’t great because you are not following through.

The 360 is a great way but if you do it, and then you are a leader who gets a bad review from your subordinates over time and you still have remained in that role, nobody is going to be honest anymore. That’s what we have had in some of our employee engagement surveys. If you don’t take action on the survey, first of all, people are going to take it. Second of all, they are not going to be honest, so why do it?

TTLS S1 22 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: It’s quite the dichotomy where you’re in the environment to take care of others, but sometimes you forget to take care of the people taking care of others.


You lose the effectiveness of a great tool.

If you are not going to use the results, then don’t do it.

Thank you for a lot of the insights that you lifted up. Before we wrap, I want to hear what words of wisdom would you leave people with as it relates to what you have experienced and how you have been able to mitigate to a lot of different workplace and behaviors? What would you want to leave us with from a wisdom standpoint?

I advise my friends who come to me about how to deal with coworkers or situations, even my employees. You can only take care of yourself, whether it’s a toxic personal environment or a toxic leadership environment where you are dealing with a toxic leader, you can only worry about yourself. You have to do what’s right for you.

You have to stay true to your values. You have to be physically and mentally healthy. If you need to leave an organization because you can’t change the other individual or the relationship, then that’s what you need to do. I’m going to set that aside because then there are also the legal ramifications that we could go down.

You also have avenues that you can take if you are in a toxic leadership environment. You report the behaviors. Be true to yourself. You take the avenues that you feel like you need to take but make sure you are healthy and worry about yourself. There’s a big meme on that. Worry about yourself. In healthcare, we worry about everybody else. If I leave this organization, what does everybody going to do? It will be okay.

I appreciate being able to spend time with you. Before we go, I wanted to give you an opportunity. How can people reach you?

I can be reached on LinkedIn, Dee Dee Hawman. That would be the best way.

Thank you, Dee Dee.

You are welcome. It was nice to talk to you.

I want to thank you all for reading. Until next time.


Important Links


About Dee Dee Hawman

TTLS S1 22 | Toxic Leadership

Dee Dee is committed to developing an engaged and productive working environment. She has developed the experience over the past 20 years working with executive teams and front line leaders to drive outcomes through people. A dedicated leader in building sustaining partnerships with all levels of employees in an organization thus increasing employee engagement, job satisfaction and financial viability. She is a relational leader who’s background in sociology makes her interest in understanding human behavior a natural draw