A capacity for doubt and self-reflection among leaders in an organization is not an over-indulgent exercise that distracts from a company’s bottom line. Individually, the top workers in a business may out-perform their colleagues in productivity and leadership, but with personal ambition often comes a competitive disregard for the well-being of other employees. Star workers who find themselves in leadership positions may not even be aware of this toxic insensitivity; after all, their ambitions have been rewarded and reinforced with promotions, pay raises, and greater responsibilities.

A 2015 Harvard Business School working paper, however, indicates that a recklessly self-interested employee can ultimately cost an organization far more than what he or she accomplishes in the short run for the company. Authors Dylan Minor and Michael Housman calculate the disruption at $12,500 in turnover costs, while the individual superior performance of an exceptional employee may only add $5,300 to the bottom line. The appearance of personal productivity is undermined by the adverse effect upon the organization as a whole. It is worth quoting from Minor and Housman’s research more fully:

Overconfident, self-centered, productive, and rule-following employees were more likely to be toxic workers. One standard deviation in skills confidence meant an approximately 15% greater chance of being fired for toxic behavior, while employees who were found to be more self-regarding (and less concerned about others’ needs) had a 22% greater likelihood. For workers who said that rules must always be followed, there was a 25% greater chance he or she would be terminated for actually breaking the rules. They also found that people exposed to other toxic workers on their teams had a 46% increased likelihood of similarly being fired for misconduct.[1]

The takeaway of this study would seem to demand that organizations avoid workers of this type entirely, to focus exclusively on screening techniques during hiring as a solution to this problem. But are all high-performing employees incorrigibly toxic? Of course not. Insensitive tendencies are often the result of a lack of self-awareness and a habitual resistance toward understanding the effects of one’s behavior upon others. This does not mean exhibitors of toxic behavior are necessarily incapable of undergoing this level of self-examination.

At TGC, we treat executive coaching, in part, as an opportunity to reflect on the effects of personal behavior upon the employees who depend so much on the genuine kindness of their managers and leaders for morale. “Genuine kindness” does not prescribe excessive attention to other employees’ concerns to the point of diminished productivity. Rather, it is a tool toward fully understanding the effects of any leadership style upon the team members and greater culture of an organization. It is a concept designed by TGC to create authentic lines of communication—stripped of ulterior motives and counterproductive obfuscation—between leaders and team members.


[1] Torres, Nicole. “It’s Better to Avoid a Toxic Employee than Hire a Superstar.”

Harvard Business Review, 9 Dec. 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/12/its-better-to-avoid-a-toxic-employee-than-hire-a-superstar. Accessed 25 Aug. 2017.