Academia is an odd ecosystem for leaders and issues around leadership as well as similar issues around toxic individuals altogether. One of the major contributors not only to toxic leadership but also to the promotion of people who adopt patterns of toxic leadership is the recruitment of faculty into leadership positions they are in no way prepared for (from a development perspective) or meant for (from an affect perspective) – or sometimes even want. I’m not suggesting that there are more toxic people in academia than other industries. But I do think that academic culture in general and academia’s institutional structures specifically protect and sometimes even promote toxic behaviors. When this is paired with an internally focused leadership culture – in which gateway leadership opportunities are sometimes chosen because “no one else would do it” … or in spite of the fact that “I’d rather be teaching or doing my research” … or the kinds of bias that lead to burn out of under-represented faculty – the negative knock-on effects are inevitable. For instance, many leadership positions in academia simply do not scale – it is absolutely not the same thing to be a chair of a department or the director of a program and to be a Dean or Vice-Provost. But these gateway positions are often the places out of which the next level of leadership comes … in organizations where it is next to impossible to remove under-performers. Anyone in higher education who has paid any kind of attention knows of colleagues who got caught in this ecosystem and then couldn’t get out (“I don’t have a research agenda after all this administrative work”) or knows of toxic leaders who just can’t be made to leave. It’s critically important to understand that the kinds of behaviors Hinshaw outlines in the post linked below are not just the behaviors of toxic people, they are the behaviors of good people who are overwhelmed by and under-prepared for leadership roles. Recognizing toxic leadership and confronting it is definitely one solution, just as we need to recognize and confront racism and sexism. But how much of that toxic behavior (just like racist and sexist behaviors) could we start to transform in otherwise decent people caught in this upward cycle of leadership? Can we identify, train, and promote people who are not only “capable” but also capable leaders? I’m not one of those people who like to bring business models into education … but the current focus on social & emotional intelligence as keys to business leadership success seems essential for higher education leadership, too. If you’re going to make someone chair because it’s “their turn”, without giving them leadership training (and I’m not talking about a weekend retreat here, I’m talking about conflict resolution training, dialogue facilitation, racial bias training, etc.), be prepared for the consequences. But if you want to address those consequences through conflict resolution, or get ahead of the curve with mindful leadership coaching for prospective leaders at your institution, let’s talk.