TTLS 19 | Toxic Leadership


If you’re experiencing non-stop toxic leadership, you really need to think about leaving. You need a change of environment because you cannot grow in a toxic workplace. So many people give off the impression of competence that they forget to make the right decisions. Things have to be done in a collaborative manner, but some people get stuck in impression management. And that can breed a toxic environment.

Join Dr. Kevin Sansberry as he talks to Dr. Richard Claydon about fixing toxic leadership by changing the environment. Dr. Claydon is the Chief Cognitive Officer of EQ Lab, an extended intelligence network focused on leadership and organizational behavior. Learn what the coping mechanisms for people in toxic environments are. Discover what impression management is. And find out whether the work-from-home or hybrid style of work is the way to go today.

Listen to the podcast here


Why Tackling Toxic Leadership Requires Changes In The Work Environment With Dr. Richard Claydon

Dr. Richard Claydon is the Chief Cognitive Officer of EQ Lab, an extended intelligence network focused on leadership and organizational behavior. His research on high performance in toxic environments has been described as “outstanding, daring and imaginative, a touchstone for future work in management and organizations.” In our episode, we discussed the source of toxicity in organization systems. We’re going to hear about insights from Claydon’s as well as what the research says about behavioral change overall. Finally, it’s insightful to hear how COVID and a highbred work environment further impact the current state as we examine toxicity. Let’s get to it.

In this episode, I’m excited to get to talk to Dr. Richard Claydon. We’re going to discuss organizational toxicity and the sources that are. We’re going to talk about the different facets of coping mechanisms, impression management, and further, how has COVID and the work-from-home revolution impacted these aspects of everyday work life for many people? Before we get to that, Dr. Claydon, how are you doing?

I’m very well.

I’m happy that we had a chance to connect and have this great conversation. I read a lot of your work and I’m sure my readers will gladly appreciate your expertise. Before we get started, it’s always great to know people. I want to know a little bit about you. Tell us about your background, what you do and why do you do the work that you do?

I’m an accidental management researcher by trade. I was originally teaching soft communications in IT companies. I did a lot of that in my younger years and that shifted into cross-cultural communication and that kind of training. I only had a Fine Arts degree in those days. I thought I got to do a Master’s to back up the fact that I was teaching all of these executives communication skills. The Master’s then became a Ph.D. The Ph.D. took me away from Europe and to Australia. I did my Ph.D. in Sydney. I focused on organizational irony. This was the fact that there was a big gap between styles cultures, and cultures in use, and the styles theories, and theories in use.

How do people respond to those gaps? Part of the response is toxicity, which is why we’re talking. They couldn’t cope with the gaps and you got this frustration, aggression, and other responses with cynicism and apathy. I was looking at the ironic response, which was a more playful response to the gap assuming it was going to be the laughing and then playing around with it to try and close it. That still underpins all the work I do. It is trying to find these people that see big gaps, don’t take themselves seriously, and trying to play around with it.

From there, I got employees to teach MBA programs. I got employed to teach leadership. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in leadership at the time at all. I’ve probably done a second Ph.D. around Reading to try and understand leadership because, in your first academic job, you pretty much take what you can get, and then that’s what I was offering. Slowly over the years, it pulls together all of that stuff on irony, apathy, cynicism, and the dark side of cultures into the leadership staff.

It has allowed me to talk about leadership from both the classic, “Isn’t leadership a great lens,” and also leadership can be pretty toxic to the self, as well as to others. It can be quite damaging to the self. That’s a long winding story of how I got to be interested in this. A lot of the work I’m doing is commercial with organizations. It’s not specifically talking about toxic leadership per se, but talking about how to create organizational environments in which toxic leadership doesn’t happen in the first place.

When you think about toxic leadership, other than your reading, have you had the experience of working with one or with individuals who exhibit some behaviors that people may identify as toxic? What’s your experience there?

The real experience was the first job that I had. I was hired by a blue chip company to work in marketing in those states in the regional office. I was brought in as a supposed future high flyer. The manager of the regional office was competent rather than toxic, but it felt toxic. I remember on my first day, he pointed me to this office manager. He said, “Your job is to learn her job without her knowing that you were learning in her job so I can fire her.” This is my first ever corporate role. I have no idea whether that’s normal or not, but that was my introduction to corporate life.

If you're creating an environment where people are backstabbing, and nobody trusts each other, you're not ready to be a manager. Click To Tweet

He wasn’t equipped to be a manager. He made many decisions like that. He caused an environment where people were backstabbing and nobody trusted each other. All the orders and decisions he made were cost-cutting decisions. What they did was increased the workload for everybody without saving any money. You ended up instead of doing an eight-hour day, it was becoming 9, 10, or 11-hour days. Everyone was in this office where the atmosphere wasn’t particularly great anyway because he wasn’t good at that stuff. The moment that always stuck in my head was the moment I left. We were all covering for each other because people have all their needs, etc., and again, the atmosphere was bad.

We had to stay late on a Monday evening, but not very late. Somebody in the office do not want to go off and do something in the evening so I said, “I’ll cover for you,” but I was finishing up when they were driving out of the parking lot. The next day, it was my turn to go and do something, but it was a much heavier day. Most of them go at me for leaving before it was finished. I said, “I covered a few yesterday.” It was standard office squabbling.

I had to leave anyway. People are relying on me so I left. The next day, it was the first time I think in about five months. They had beaten me into the office and requested a meeting with the boss. I got pulled into his office at 10:00 in the morning. I was told that I wasn’t fulfilling my high potential. I had to shape up or ship out. If I worked for this company, I wasn’t to have a social life. I remember that sticking in my head completely. Again, I was about 23 years old at the time and this was my first real job. I had months of stress with this bad atmosphere and to have that thrown on you. I walked out, drove home, and never came back.

That Thursday morning, my first job was to fill out my CV. It was terrible. For a career, it was terrible. I got to the point where the atmosphere and the bullying from the other members of the staff, his incompetence, and the workload were getting so on top of me. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I used that to underpin. I don’t think I realized that was what underpinned my interest in toxicity until quite a long time into my research, but that was the trigger.

That story stuck with you. I’m pretty sure that this experience has been something that’s common for a lot of people. What you had there was you all, as employees were put into a situation where it’s like The Hunger Games. You all are fighting amongst yourselves and losing trust and not even a team. The blame is getting pressed on each other and now you’re quitting. That’s unfortunate because then you quit. Now the workload is even more hard to deal with because we’re down one person, too.

Both the salesmen quit within three months of my quitting because I was the first one to make the step. Once one person goes, other people go, “Why am I working still?” I was still quite friendly with them because they were out of the office, but I was friendly with them when they came back. They both said to me, “You quitting gave me the courage to quit myself.”

Let’s talk about toxicity. The first question I have is when you conceptualize and you think about it, is this toxicity a property of the person or the environment?

When I teach it, I say it’s both, but it’s largely a property of the environment. That would be my approach. The way I look at it is if you’re looking at the dark side because that’s what people tend to talk about. We’re talking about psychopathy and narcissism. I wouldn’t treat Machiavellianism as the dark side because you’ve got high Mac and low Mac. There’s only the very ruthless top hand that is problematic. Most of us are Machiavellian to an extent.

I’m looking at psychopaths and narcissists. There are not that many of them around. There’s a lot of research about more and more narcissists that are emerging from Western cultures, but there’s not a hugely high percentage of them in the general population. There’s a fair amount of research. Once you get to high levels of the organization, you do have more of them at the high level. I’m looking at the core stats and I recognize that it can happen.

TTLS 19 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: When you’re at the point in your job where the atmosphere is just bad, you’re getting bullied by the staff, and the workload is just too much to handle, it’s time to leave.


The core statistic is not that many. There are maybe 1% of psychopaths in the population. Yet in organizations, there are an awful lot of people who behave in psychopathic and narcissistic ways. Something is going on environmentally that is causing these kinds of behaviors. Again, the way I would teach it is not a precise definition. I would be calling to say, “You’re creating sociopathic managers. You’ve got a societal environment that’s causing these pathological behaviors. They would be pathological in some environments and then they wouldn’t be pathological in other environments.”

We’ve always seen the boss. He’s an absolute bully in the workplace who can be completely charming and friendly outside of the workplace. For me, that’s what I look at in my research and what I’m interested in. Why do environments cause this? There are two ways of looking at it. One is that the organization has toxic systems in place so the reward systems are rewarding toxic behaviors.

Nowadays in many organizations, the work has to be collaborative, but then only one person gets the promotion. While you’re doing collaborative work, at the same time that the political player, the more Machiavellian of them all, the more ruthless of them, is stabbing others in the back whilst also being a team player and trying to get all the credit.

We’ve got these systems that don’t reward the way the work is being done. You’re often getting the wrong person promoted. You can go into Luthans’ research on leadership. He also talks about the people who get promoted to the top are the ones who stand outside the system and play the political game rather than being effective managers. They don’t run the teams. They sit outside the teams and they’re very detached almost to an extent of not caring and just building their own careers.

You’ve got that going on within the system. Also, you’ve got basic things happening where people talk over each other in meetings to try and get noticed. They’ll agree to targets that they know are difficult to reach. They will dump all the work on the people they’re working with. “You’re going to have to make this,” and be aggressive towards people that are supposed to be working to do it.

There are these systems in organizations. I would also look at the notion of work itself being toxic. We would normally go back to something like Taylorism and the way that the blue-collar workers were treated in Taylorist organizations. They are treated as lazy, incompetent, stupid, needing the carrot and stick, and being whipped into shape. You also had Elton Mayo’s work. He was suggesting that if the workers resisted the scientific management, it was because they had some trauma at home. It wasn’t because the system was wrong.

It was because there was some dramatic element in their life and blaming them for this, “You’re not good enough. You’ve got to deal with your life properly.” Any critique you have on the work system is wrong because the work system is scientific, therefore your critique is irrelevant. That stuff started it but the stuff I’m most interested in contemporary terms, I go back to Kurt Lewin’s work on leadership.

His classic study on aggressive behaviors from the 1940s is a key piece of research. He’s looking at which type of leadership styles produced aggressive behaviors when doing emergent work. It’s important to realize it’s Gestalt. He’s looking at the self and the environment. It’s key that it was emerging work because the people he was looking at were doing creative and collaborative work where they weren’t particularly skilled. They were having to experiment and do all this emerging stuff.

He had three different styles. He was looking at autocratic versus democratic leadership styles. They then discovered laissez-faire at the time. They looked at the aggressive behaviors and say, “This is where my work sits now.” If you have an autocratic manager when the work is emergent, you have two things that happen. When the manager is in the room, whilst you’re doing the work, you get apathetic and submissive behaviors.

Don't let your fake emotions spread into your home life. If you do, you won't understand the emotions of the people you love. Click To Tweet

When the manager leaves the space, you get bullying and scapegoating. You get a psychological release of the tension. People start bullying and fighting. Often, there’s one person that gets picked on by the rest of the team. You’ve got this passive-submissive behavior most of the time with these spikes of toxicity and personal violence.

The other one, laissez-faire, is the way of understanding corporate culture nowadays, which is a laissez-faire normative control mechanism. You’re looking at behaviors being controlled and a laissez-faire manager. You have to self-manage them. Here are the values. Here are the behaviors. You self-manage them. It’s a very laissez faire system.

That’s when the work emergent produced never-ending toxicity. It was constant. It was this high level of toxicity all the time with all the people. If their work was critiqued by an outside source, they would destroy their work. They deliberately sabotage it. When it was democratic and participative, you didn’t get any of these toxic behaviors at all.

The thing I’m most interested in is the way culture has manifested. You’ve got this sophisticated value set and behaviors, but it’s laissez-faire in self-management. it predicts toxicity at pretty high levels when you’re doing emergent agile work. With more and more organizations doing emergent and agile work, you see the toxicity beginning to bubble up across all different organizational systems.

It’s demonstrative of how the different ways a leader will show up will result or influence behavior even when the leader is not there. There are a lot of behaviors that are typically induced by the environment that people are in. One of the things I wanted to ask about was impression management. That’s another area in which people will respond to their leader’s behavior or their leader and affect. Tell us what that is and how that comes into play.

Impression management is acting toward the audience’s expectations of you and the situation. Clearly, you have two audiences. The first audience is yourself. You’re watching your own behavior. The second audience is the manager, the teammates, etc. You’re trying to give off the impression of being potentially a future leader, a good teammate, or fitting the organization. You’re looking at the acceptable behaviors. How do I have to perform in order to fit in and contribute?

People would like to describe themselves as being open to contributing all these systems, creative, critical thinkers, and able to do the work. In lots of these environmental conditions, they’re frozen. You’ll see this in any big meeting. Someone who you know is a good thinker and got loads of energy. You stick them in the room where there’s some power there and they freeze. They’re trying to give off the impression that they’re doing a good job and then narrowing it down to this small version of themselves to give off an impression of competence.

They’re spending so much of their cognitive energy on doing impression management and performing in a way they think that they should perform. Their cognitive ability to make decisions to contribute is going backward. They’re not utilizing all of their brains in contributing to the collaborative system. They’re spending so much of it looking at how to give off the right impression and feeling depleted and energized because of it.

Because you’re then getting a room where everyone’s feeling de-energized, the irritation level will start to rise. The apathy starts to rise. You’re beginning to create this toxic environment and it goes on all the time. The solution is to be authentic and be yourself the whole time. I don’t think that’s very realistic in these toxic organizational systems, because you’re just opening yourself up for attack.

TTLS 19 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: Impression management is when you’re acting toward the audience’s expectations and the situation. There are two types of audiences: yourself and your teammates.


It is great if there is no political promotion system and you’re just there to contribute. If there’s any chance of someone being politically aggressive towards you, not doing impression management is a risky tactic. Whereas doing impression management doesn’t contribute as well as you can do. You’re locked in a toxic paradox.

What I’m hearing is doing impression management is going to be a drain on resources, but then not doing impression management could be detrimental to your environment or to you in the environment. It’s a catch-22 there. We see not a lot of impression management but more so emotional labor, which is related but not the same thing. You see a lot of that in the workplace. It comes up in toxic environments where let’s say somebody is upset emotionally. They probably will bury that. They don’t want to look weak. They don’t want to fly off the handle. They’ll take it.

A lot of people don’t have coping mechanisms that are healthy sometimes. I see the danger here as it relates to too much impression management without any coping mechanism or release. You all are projecting onto each other because you all couldn’t do it to the boss. Imagine the people can go home and have an increase in work-family conflict as well. The word toxic implies a spread. Talk to me about that spread that may manifest as it relates to, “I have this toxic boss. How might I show up now since I can’t address it? I feel like I can’t address it directly, how could it spread in my life?”

You’ve already pointed you to one. If you can’t get rid of the toxic emotions in the workplace, you’re having to do the emotional labor and pretend to be positive because any negative response is risky to your career. You might be able to form some management plan or sit before you know it by responding that way. As you know, from a mixture of emotional labor, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of self.

If you are having to de-pack these fake emotions that whole time. You’re right that it’s a core issue. If that spreads into your home life, you’re beginning to not understand your own emotions even around the people that you love. It’s because you’re so used to debating fake emotion. There’s not one of my coachees, but one of my colleague’s coachees, the only emotion they could recognize was stress. That was it.

You said, “What are you feeling stressed about?” but you didn’t have the capacity to recognize any emotions as being authentic emotions. That’s Hong Kong, which has a different organizational culture than the States. If someone takes them in Hong Kong to be positive, it is not going to happen. That’s not expected over here, but in the States where this positive, can-do, happy vibe is much more part of the organizational culture here.

You’ve got that inability to deal with grief or negative emotions properly. I’m a big fan of Susan David’s work, where she talks about having to do so that both the positive and negative sides of emotions in order to understand your own emotional self, one enough to regulate. There’s a huge danger and whilst understanding why positive psychology became such a big thing, it’s gone so far in positive is the only answer.

We’ve forgotten why these other negative emotions are there to balance this out. It’s not just harming our work and ourselves. It’s probably harming all of our relationships. That toxicity spreads into us almost being an isolated island amongst these people who could help us, but they’re unable to help us because they’re not able to read our emotional state.

There are merits in that point about the positive psychology approach. I don’t doubt it. It was one of the reasons why this show got created. I’ve done a lot of research. I’m an executive coach for a lot of leaders. I encountered more leaders who people described as toxic than I encountered servant leaders. Let’s start there. I’m like, “There is a need for people to get information about this dark side of leadership because that’s what they’re experiencing, more so in my client base.” I wanted to be able to bring on individuals and researchers like yourself, who could be able to shine lights on these topics because that’s the everyday experience that people face.

Impression management goes up for those who are working remotely. Click To Tweet

To answer the question, “What can we do about it?” Thank you for lifting that up. One of the things that are a pivotal situation in the workplace is the COVID pandemic, working from home, and all that stuff. You talked about impression management and also toxicity in general. How is this transition from working in the office all the time to working from home, and the Great Resignation? How has toxicity and impression management been impacted by the state of work?

There are two answers to this. There’s one, which is if you look at some of the statistical pieces of research, it shifted everything around. I’ve done one myself. You’ve got some people who found it tough being in the office who now find it great working from home. You’ve got other people who said, “I can’t deal with working from home. I want to go back to the office.” The researchers have shown at the statistical level roughly the same amount of people who were finding work terrible, okay, and good, but it’s a different group of people. That’s one of the answers.

The other answer is it has impacted things quite a lot. You could argue that the Great Resignation is the output of this impact. First of all, when you’ve got that uncertainty and anxiety that COVID brought into working life. You suddenly weren’t able to plan a career anymore. You didn’t know if you were going to have your job for yourself. If your company was going to survive, you didn’t know whether you were going to be furloughed or laid off.

You had all of this anxiety. You were like, “How do I make sure I’m not being the one laid off?” Therefore, you’ve got the amplification of impression management immediately. “What do I do to show them that I’m worthwhile and I’m the one that should stay?” You’ve got a ramping up of impression management. This is clear in preexisting remote working research that impression management goes up for those who are working remotely most of the time. You’ve got that amplification of that going on.

You’ve got the general amplification of emotionality, both negative and positive, in cyberspace. I’m a big fan of Mary Aiken’s work where she talks about how emotional experiences are hugely amplified if you’re only communicating with people in cyberspace. You think the meeting was bad in the physical space, but then when it is in cyberspace, it’s like pulling your teeth without an anesthetic. It’s terrible.

The people that you thought were slightly toxic or rude in the real world come across as being obnoxious and toxic inside the space. You’ve got that amplification effect that we’re all used to in social media responses weighing that system now. We’ve also got the bleeding of life role into the work role and this has been a real challenge for people.

We’ve seen our loved ones in their work roles and we don’t necessarily like what we see. I’m not talking about myself here. I’m happy when I do work role from home. There are a lot of people who were seeing their other half in that work role and were not liking what they see. You’ve also got transition tensions. You’ve got this, “I’ve got to go from this role to that role.” There’s no space between the role shifting and that causes all kinds of anxiety in people. The anxiety and the irritability rise. They’re likely to become more toxic themselves.

Anyway, you don’t have any decompression time. You finish work and you’re at home. There is no decompression of, “I’ve got half an hour to calm down before I talked to my loved ones.” You’re suddenly there with your loved ones. You’ve also got the challenge of not having actual magical moments. Everything we do is turning on a computer, looking into a screen, doing something, and turning off the screen and the computer. It’s bracketed by the same experience.

You’ve got that mundanity and drudgery. “Is this my life from here on end?” Because of all of these things, you’ve got this amplification of the experience of bad management. Look at the stories coming out of these forums. It’s bad management. A moment of bad management is enough for someone to quit because the jobs are opening up again. “I’m not going to put up with this anymore. This has been terrible in the last two years.”

TTLS 19 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: People are starting to realize that the system has become toxic, and they can just walk out. But management hasn’t caught up yet. Management still thinks that people are just lazy or want an easy life.


We’re becoming much more sensitive to what bad management looks like. We are willing to move around and find something that is useful, good for us, and doesn’t make us feel awful all the time. What the research seems to say is the three groups that are leaving on mass are customer-facing workers, customer-supporting workers, and IT digital workers. You can’t scale or grow organizations without those three groups because you’ve either talked to the customers or you’ve got to have the software and the IT systems to support the customers.

There’s something interesting going on where this big group of people saying, “The system has become toxic. I’m going to walk because there are other organizations that would hire me. I don’t have to put up with this anymore.” The management hasn’t caught up yet. Management is still locked into that, “They’re just lazy. They just want an easy life,” rather than there’s this amplification of values and toxicity going down through their system. They’re at the end of the tunnel so they’re going to go. That’s what we all know. You in the States are ahead of us, but I’m beginning to see it happen in APAC as well. You’ll probably be six months ahead of where everyone else is but it’s coming here, too.

Let me ask, is that a good thing? Does that mean six months ahead, we’ve figured it out?

I’m not sure what everyone thinking about yet. We need to get ready for the tidal wave to hit us as well. You’ve got some advantages. You’ve got a bigger pool of talent than we have here because the education systems haven’t caught up yet with what workplaces require. We’ve got quite a shallow talent pool to do the work that needs to be done to grow organizations.

People have been leaving the region who can do the work. There’s something quite difficult coming into my part of the world. I’m not sure how much we can learn from the mistakes because the reasons are different that people are leaving. A lot of the reasons people are leaving here is, “I’m going to get more money because there’s a talent shortage.”

The Great Resignation is still going on. You’ve got to sort out the behavioral systems to keep people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the States, whether it’s the behavioral systems that perhaps got forced them to leave, or whether it’s here where there are compensation opportunities everywhere. They’re leaving because no one is any good. “I might as well go to another one for the money because it’s not a risk to go from one terrible environment to another terrible environment.” We still got the environmental shifts. How do we retain employees? Because it’s going to be a nightmare if we can’t.

One of the things that is coming to mind is that management and leadership have not been equipped with how to manage and lead in a hybrid or remote work environment. That’s driving a little bit of the, “We got to go back to work,” and it’s, “I don’t know what I’m doing. You got to go back into the wall so I can control you more.” Another one is technology. Our technology systems and structures weren’t designed necessarily for hybrid and remote, which they should have been from the get-go, but we don’t use them that way.

The third thing I see is our mindsets about what work is aren’t conducive to a hybrid and remote workplace at the mindset level. There are a lot of people who are recalcitrant or unwilling to even think of something different in this environment. It’s because there is an opportunity to create something new, efficient, and trusting even in a remote and hybrid setting. I don’t think people even want to go down that path due to fear of the unknown or it’s easy to bring them all back type of mentality.

You’re exactly right. The way I try and define it or describe it as good leadership nowadays or good leadership management is a deep, wide, and broad understanding of human behavior in a complex system. The system has become more complex. It has become more networks. They need to understand how humans are going to behave in these digital networks and interact with them in a way that’s useful.

Good leadership management is a deep, wide, broad understanding of human behavior in a complex system. Click To Tweet

The vast majority of people in management and leadership positions have not had the access to behavioral and social sciences to get them to understand human behavior at that level. That is the big gap at the moment. A lot of the work we’re doing is to try and close that gap. It’s fascinating work because 3 or 4 years ago, they wouldn’t have been ready for it, but they’re now open to doing that work, at least in this part of the world. I can’t speak to America.

The ironic thing is even before the pandemic, I don’t think the majority of managers had the training or the skills to be managers of people in the first place. A lot of people got promoted due to their task orientation, not necessarily people orientation. That’s interesting to me. I don’t think we are ready before the pandemic. I still don’t think we’re ready. Due to those factors that you lifted up, a lot of things feel heightened in this remote environment. You are spot on. Thank you for sharing all of that. What words of wisdom would you want to leave our readers with based on what you’ve seen and some of the things you’re working on right now?

The first thing that I would do is go back to my own research on irony. If you are seeing these gaps in organizations, first of all, they are inevitable. It doesn’t mean that the people on either side of that gaps are necessarily toxic if they haven’t seen them. It’s walking into an organization with your eyes ready for this and your mindset ready to be responding to the absurdity of the gaps in the playful sense because that gives you a protective wall against this toxicity.

If you don’t have that readiness to play with the gaps and you’re like, “The gap shouldn’t be there. It sounds terrible. I don’t understand what I’m doing.” You’re then going to find yourself spiraling into cognitive confusion or emotional exhaustion. Your defense mechanisms are going to be apathy and cynicism. You’ve got to go in with the readiness to start playing a little bit. This does mean not taking your organizational role and organizational life so seriously.

Again, talking to an American audience, that’s a big piece of advice because it’s a big part of the American audience’s identity, less so in parts of APAC and Europe. My job is what I do. To tell them to be a bit more playful with it and a little less serious with it and think of it as part of your character, identity, self, or however you want to call it, is clashing with the cultural norms. It’s the best defense mechanism to take. The main word of wisdom is either go in and recognize that the job role is part of your identity and play with it a little bit more.

I’ll add that it’s not the only part of your identity.

It’s not even close. My whole way of dealing with identity itself is there’s a lot of it. If you recognize that you’re more than just this one thing, suddenly you’re freeing yourself in many ways. Just because this part of your job sucks, play with it, go, and live other parts of your lives in a way that doesn’t suck. Use those as ways to gain energy and to self-actualize.

How can people reach you and learn more about what you’re working on?

There are two easiest ways. One is my website. We have a contact form for the website. It is It’s where we put on our articles, our interviews, and some of our learning programs. You can reach me through that or on LinkedIn. I’m Dr. Richard Claydon on LinkedIn. I’m pretty active on there. Not quite as active as I used to be, mainly because I’ve got more work over the last year or so.

TTLS 19 | Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership: Stop taking your organizational role and organizational life so seriously. A huge part of the American identity is your job. Learn to be a bit more playful with it. Let it just be a part of your identity.


There’s a lot more need for the services so I don’t have quite as much time, but I’m trying to be active and I try to throw stuff out there and try to be interesting. Again, if you read my posts, most of the interesting stuff that is related to my posts is the comments people write below the line. The aim is to create meaningful discussions with interesting people when I write posts. I learn a lot from the people responding to some of the things I write, which can be quite provocative.

What are some things you’re working on?

We’re working on the content of extended intelligence. We’re looking at that collective intelligence and collaboration are not enough anymore in the complexity of the world. We’re looking at how you build a human intelligence system in organizations, taking advantage of the technologies that go out into the world, and bringing in different thinkers and different ideas to help with organizational decision-making. We do a lot of that work. We’re trying to and we’ve done some of it, but we’re trying to do more of it is scaling this human behavioral side of leadership training in the organization.

Instead of what the current way of doing things is, maybe you get your very top-level people getting this high-end behavioral training. We still do that and we do the one-to-one coaching and we do that work. We try and build self-managed leadership development throughout the organization. It’s a scaled-down version of the program, but everybody gets access to behavioral knowledge. It also then recognizes that this is what leadership looks like from day one. They’re trying to deepen the talent pool.

If you’ve got this self-managed leadership development program embedded in an organization that’s self-managed by everyone, you’re growing people across the bottom of the system at a rapid rate. We did quite a lot of work there. We do apply the research to other organizations around what leadership development structures and content are working versus which ones aren’t potentially working on the future of motivation at the moment with people organization.

We do motivation theories as employed by the organization’s work or not. It is a bunch of experiments and interventions to try and find out whether they are valid or invalid. It’s fragmented because we’ve got lots of different fingers in different pies but it’s all around that behavioral future of the organization. The training is in researching it, but more applied organizational levels in the university where I used to do all that work.

Thank you for sharing that. I hope you get the time to engage in some activities you would like to do other than work like hobbies and other forms of vocations.

I try to play tennis, go to the gym as much as possible, and hike. Hong Kong is one of the great hiking paradises of the world so I hike a lot.

I appreciate your insights and I look forward to future collaborations with you. Thank you for taking this call.

Thank you for inviting me. It’s been quite fun.

Thank you for reading.


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About Richard Claydon

TTLS 19 | Toxic LeadershipRichard is the Chief Cognitive Officer of EQ Lab, an extended intelligence network focused on leadership and organisational behaviour. His research on high performance in toxic environments has been described as “outstanding in daring and imagination” and “a touchstone for future work in management and organization”. He also teaches the future of leadership module for Macquarie Business School’s Global MBA program.

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