During your security career, it is highly likely at some point that you will come across someone in a leadership role whose personality and style characteristics create an environment that is toxic and stressful. If you are in the unfortunate position of working for that individual while you are seeking new career opportunities, it may be time to reflect on any early warning indicators you may have missed.

Managerial behavior like this typically builds and becomes more extreme over time. Evaluating indicators during the interview process is critical to avoid placing yourself in a challenging circumstance.

The styles outlined below are ones you should attempt to identify before you decide to work for an individual or for an organization that seems to tolerate or foster such behavior. Look for the following warning signs:

  • Micro-managing and showing indications of being insecure in their role or with the ownership of the function.
  • Laissez-faire style that deliberately avoids providing direction, guidance or governance. Anything goes, so there is no accountability. This is an indicator of conflict avoidance personality, which also means it is unlikely you will get support when needed.
  • Autocratic and controlling behavior with a lack of trust or respect in the team. Sometimes these individuals have anger management issues that result in them screaming at people when they themselves feel emotionally threatened.
  • Power hungry behavior and someone who charges ahead just because an idea pops into his or her head.
  • Self-reliant in all decisions and conclusions.
  • Manages upward and takes personal credit for ideas and accomplishments of the team members.
  • A dictator who demeans members of the team and doles out excessive discipline of individuals who do not do exactly what is asked or who do not provide public compliments of the leader.
  • Operates a mushroom farm, holding on to information and not providing timely communication and feedback.
  • Does not appear to have the confidence and support of his or her direct leadership or the organization’s executive team.
  • Seems to lack any business acumen and has difficulty in understanding how to navigate smoothly, effectively and quietly through the organization’s political landscape.
  • Dishonest, secretive, sociopathic and/or narcissistic tendencies.

Some of these may seem extreme. However, the longer you are in the workforce, either public or private sector, you will encounter individuals who exhibit some of these characteristics. In some circumstances, the organization may turn a blind eye to this or not wish to deal with it due to what appears to be short-term business success.  In extreme cases, it is possible executives have their own ethical issues and foster an environment of constant turmoil that benefits them directly.

As you navigate your security career options either internally or when seeking a new role, do not get seduced by a title or the size and reputation of a potential employer. As in managing security programs, many issues and problems are a result of behavioral issues. You do not want to end up working in an untenable circumstance. Remember, interviewing is a two-way evaluation process between the candidate and the company and an opportunity for you to screen for possible issues.