Some leaders are good at managing up, which obscures the awful ways they’re treating their reports, writes Marlene Chism. She offers three areas for executives to monitor, both for the well-being of their organizations and to avoid legal liability.



If you have managers or supervisors below you, it’s important to bring awareness to how your managers are leading. I’ve worked with many senior leaders blindsided by toxic behavior that eventually led to litigation, simply because they thought their managers were doing a great job.

Here’s what happens: The midlevel manager manages up very well, gets along with the upper echelon, getting things done in a polished professional manner. Yet in their own departments, they show up differently. They have control issues. They micromanage their supervisors. They contribute to gossip, throwing others under the bus in front of colleagues, or they allow and participate in profanity.

In short, you are seeing their best, but they set a bad example for their front-line supervisors and managers. Sometimes a consultant can shine light on why internal issues don’t get adequately resolved. If you’re not ready to work with a consultant, you can start meeting informally with employees at various levels to hear about their experience.

Listen for red flags that highlight three areas of concern: Psychological safety, autonomy, and growth.

Psychological safety

When I worked in manufacturing, workplace safety was a priority. Earplugs protected us from hearing loss, and goggles protected our eyes when cleaning equipment. We practiced lock-out-tag-out if we had to fix a jam, and we had yearly OSHA meetings.

But we never talked about the importance of psychological safety. Psychological safety is more than about trust. Psychological safety is the freedom to express yourself and to learn without feeling the threat of judgment, harsh criticism or threats to your identity and value as a person. As a top-level leader, you need to be able to quickly identify threats to psychological safety.