You know the ones I mean. Unable to accept, it is over. Can’t move on. Want to have a say even though it really is no longer anything to do with them. Trying to spoil it for the new person.
You know the kind of person I am referring to.
You might be thinking this is a little off topic getting into relationship advice?
Well, toxic ex syndrome is more prevalent in business than we would like to admit. In fact, some of us might even have unwittingly become ‘that person’.
What is Toxic Ex Syndrome?
Toxic Ex Syndrome can happen either when we leave a business or when we get promoted out of a role.
You only need to look at the new appointment of a CEO to twitter, replacing Elon Musk to see how the potential for this kind of “toxic ex” might show up in business.
In many cases, we build really strong relationships with our teams and when we choose to move on – whether it is our choice or not – we are likely to maintain some of those relationships with our team members on a more social level.
We will have all had that conversation “how is your new boss?”
Of course, we want them to be a good person because we don’t want our old team to have a horrible new boss, but we secretly hope that they are not that good! We can’t help ourselves to compare and yes, with relish we might celebrate their flaws and rejoice at the stories of their struggles to get a reputation to match your own.
It’s only human.
How do I know I am turning TOXIC?
Yet this can quickly turn towards becoming the toxic ex, undermining the new person’s status and performance and making it harder for them to build their own team and position themselves as the new head.
The more celebrated you were the harder it becomes for that new person to make their mark. And the more dangerous any interference from you becomes – no matter how positive the intent.
It can be even more dangerous when we are still in the same business and we have been promoted out of a role – especially if that role now reports to us and the person who fills your old position is one of your direct reports.
Of course, they are not as good as you at doing the job right now – you have years to perfect your skills and abilities and they are just starting out on that journey.
How easy is it for us to unwittingly undermine their confidence with comments about how great we were at doing their job and how simple everything is. Especially when they are finding the step up challenging and uncomfortable as they find their feet.
None of this might be intended and yet, it can have really challenging repurcussions for you, the new post holder and the business.
How do we avoid becoming the toxic ex:
- Limit reference to your big achievements – be humble and celebrate the team’s role in your past wins (rather than claiming them yourself)
- Reference the struggles you had in that role – especially in the early days, and share how you looked to overcome them.
- Do not get drawn into tittle tattle and gossip from your old direct reports, especially when the topic is the new manager. Challenge your old team to reflect on their own part in any challenges that might exist in the new relationship
- Remember this quote “Leadership success is measured by the success of your successor” – Myles Munroe
Our role as leaders is to build new leaders who can take what we have created and improve it. Celebrate and rejoice that your business has found someone new, be happy for them and do everything you can to help the new person succeed.