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Lev Nahar
Lev Nahar

Posted on • Updated on

How do you handle a toxic team lead? (mental health discussion)

I know - this is not a pretty topic to talk about, but it is a part of some of some of our lives, unfortunately.

I am writing this post from a place of need more than anything else. A very good friend of mine (it is not me, I promise, haha) has been working in a medium-sized startup (post purchase) for the past year, as a full-stack developer.

I can vouch that he is and was a dedicated and hard worker. Delivering tasks on time (or faster), a great team-player and a wonderful employee all together - from day one.

He is loved by his other team members and has a great interpersonal experience with everybody in the office except his direct manager (team-lead).

Every week, they have a one-on-one session between them that is mandatory. In my friend's experience it is an hour long session where the team-lead mentions how suboptimal he is as an employee, and constantly listing what he should change in his behavior. When I ask him why does he endure this on a weekly basis, his answer is that the team lead is insane, but he loves the job and other people are amazing.

No matter how hard he is working, or how many tickets he delivers, the team-lead will constantly be looking for things that he is doing wrong. The team-lead is that sort of person that will destroy your self-esteem to feel superior (I am assuming, I don't really know).

The nitpicky, micro-managing behavior is something all members of the team can say they endure daily - and no body on the team actually enjoys their daily jobs ever since that team-lead came along (team-lead started a bit over a year ago, other team members have been there for over 5 years).

It has come to a point after a year at the job, where my friend dreads every single day, and is crying on a weekly basis after their one-on-one sessions. His mental health is deteriorating, and I don't want to see him suffer anymore.

From my personal experience, the only solution to a toxic manager is quitting. I personally left 2 development jobs because of toxic managers (not as bad as this one). But my friend would like to exhaust all options - because he really loves his workplace, is good at what he does and doesn't want to blow anything up just yet.

From your experience, is there a way to fix this situation without quitting? Have you ever experienced something similar? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Top comments (22)

jgdevelopments profile image
Julian Gaston • Edited

He could clarify his concerns to somebody above him like a PM or someone along those lines. He could be direct with his team lead. Ask him why he consistently grills him despite his best efforts. A one on one meeting is both ways in my experience.

The employee expresses concerns and the employer addresses and expresses concerns. He should be expressing his concerns with the lead and see if they can come to have a healthier dialogue. If not, then ask other resources if there is another place within the company that he could laterally move. If that is not feasible then this could be an opportunity to file a formal complaint. If he and everyone in the office files a complaint it will be fairly difficult to ignore.

Last but not least he could quit and find another job. In this market finding another job can be fairly risky so I hope he does his due diligence to ensure that he has enough to fall back on financially and that he has exhausted all other options within the company.

I hope everything works out for him. Good Luck!

lnahrf profile image
Lev Nahar

Great advice Julian, thank you!
He does feel reluctant to go over his manager, for multiple reasons. But I do agree with you and will pass your comment on to him. Thanks again.

vredchenko profile image
Val Redchenko

Going above one's manager is regular industry practice, it's called a skip meeting. Of course if your friend feels the confidence he can directly and public challenge the TL over his behavior. Just be ready to quit if it all goes south

canro91 profile image
Cesar Aguirre

Recently I saw a similar situation around me and it taught me to have "uncomfortable conversations" like this as early as possible before the situation "escalates"...

slobodan4nista profile image

Just enjoy the show 🍿 If you are micromanaged, play it, aks for evry single thing all the time. Be methodical, when your ticket is returned for no good reason put it on the end working queue. Make porposition that you need a structure, so the manager have to make rules and follow them, when they don't follow (they wont), ask them if they are changed. If rules are made about who and what, designers and testers are developers friends. When something promissing comes up, just jump the ship 🚢

geni94 profile image

the amounts of "just"'s showcase that you either take nothing seriously, or you simply didn't take this post seriously.

slobodan4nista profile image

Of course I take this post seriously, the situation of this friend we are talking about is not by any means easy. I did not meant to offend anyone, but modern days, what to say.
On the other hand, if the friend we are talking about want to make situation better and keep the job friend should employ some tactics that work on micromanagers that are listed in my previous comment.
Unfortunately this story is pretty common, so one must grow scale, because many of the best fruits of life lies behind such or different struggles. If you take yourself as a pawn and play the game rather then victim being played, life experience with same events would be much more pleasant.

valeriahhdez profile image
Valeria writes docs • Edited

My two cents:

Do whatever he tells you (your friend) to do and be meticulous about keeping track of all the requests/tickets he assigns you, when he assigned them, and when you finished them. Also, ask him about priorities, be sure you are working on whatever he tells you comes first. Write everything down on a meeting notes document and send it to him with "editor permissions" so that there is no doubt you both agreed on what had to be done every week.
During the meeting, review the document with him point by point and write down together the results of the previous week. Review with him all the priorities you agreed upon with him, and all the tickets he assigned you, dates and deliveries. Be consistent about reviewing and updating the meeting notes document during the meetings. If you show him all the evidence you need to prove him wrong and he still doesn't change his attitude, I would scale the issue. You must exhaust every possible solution and record any evidence (I would even screenshot any messages) before scaling. You need to prove whatever claims you're accusing him of to those who are strangers to the situation.
Sometimes this strategy works and makes managers change their attitude. But if it doesn't, you will have everything you need recorded to prove your allegations when you scale the situation. Having hard evidence of your performance also helps build confidence in yourself. So when the time comes and you have to scale up the issue you can confidently to yourself and others "I did everything I could". Have the evidence on your side and is likely other people will also be on your side.

Good luck to your friend!

lnahrf profile image
Lev Nahar

Thank you for the detailed comment!
Since writing this post, my friend and his manager had a very loud argument about the situation and both left the meeting frustrated and somewhat angry.
My friend ended up sending the manager a message to reconcile with him, not because he did anything wrong, but because he did not want to fight about it.

Ever since, the manager has calmed down a bit, but still retains his old micro-managing ways. I will send my friend your comment, thank you!

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel ( • Edited

Hello Leve, this is an important topic to write about.

PS: you can use the hashtag #meantalhealth

The correct way to handle a toxic team lead is to :

  • inform the team lead that a specific kind of behaviors is toxic to you
  • inform him that he has thos specific behaviors in those specific situations
  • ask him if he can no do that please ?
  • stay if the team lead wasn't aware and start making some changes to make things better
  • else you leave

I understand the reasons your friend state, everyone has those thoughts.
In fact, his current good colleagues will still like him after he leaves, and they will still cross path after he leaves. They may in fact decide that leaving is the right thing to do for them too.

TLDR : Please tell your friend to leave as soon as possible, the risk for his helath is real. And, by a huge margin, the benefits of staying are not worth the risk.

ivanzanev profile image
Ivan Zanev

I have experienced something similar - staying for longer than I should. I wasn't crying on a weekly basis since I am a male, but I was getting late to work and frankly it was starting to get difficult to go there. It's as if there are more and more obstacles to do work. The hardest part for me is that I was stubborn to myself. Everyday I was going and internally I was saying to myself: "If I quit, I am weak. Yeah, it's easy to quit. But I am not about quitting easy. And also maybe things will change for the better. And maybe I can convince them to change. Plus it's one more day and I'm getting paid, aren't I?" But I got grumpier and after my parting with the company I needed some time to get my confidence back. And nobody pays for this time.

meeroslava profile image

I don't think quiting a work place is a weakness. Workplaces should fight for good workers, hence they should provide a place that is keeping you motivated and postpone your interest to quit. If they fail to do that, that's on them.

taliastorymaker profile image

Thanks for sharing, but being male doesn't necessarily mean that you don't cry that much. I think you may be coming across as insensitive.

lnahrf profile image
Lev Nahar

It is true - we cry too. It is just the societal norm that we should not, or do not (but we do).

ivanzanev profile image
Ivan Zanev

Actually, what I thought is that it is you that is thinking of quitting and your friend is asking, so the roles were reversed in my mind. I guess I am conditioned by the "norm" to perceive it in such a way that the woman cries on a weekly basis and the man is trying to help her. I also remembered a moment in the past in which a team lead told us about that a ex-employee was crying in the bathroom and all that and she wasn't strong enough to continue with the project. Things like that :)

dmkash profile image
Dana Kashubeck

Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment -- is it possible that this Team Lead is brand-new to a leadership role? Perhaps this person genuinely thinks that they are helping by trying to point out places to improve. Obviously, it is absolutely not coming off that way at all. But maybe they really just don't know how to be a lead or how to conduct a 1:1. It might not be intentional at all to make your friend feel bad. Sometimes people who are new to leadership believe that it is their job to constantly try to "help" their reports improve.

I think your friend should definitely take advantage of that 1:1 time to have a conversation with the Team Lead about how all of this constant critique is affecting him. Any leader worth their salt will want to know that they are having that effect on someone and will want to change it. Chances are that the Team Lead will really feel bad about how this has all been going and want to change.

Regardless of how the conversation goes, your friend should get the Team Lead to agree to some sort of documentation about what truly needs improvement. Feedback is always great and I agree with another commenter that 1:1's should be two-way streets. But feedback needs to be actionable and measurable. Documenting very specific goals will allow your friend to show concrete progress on them, or that they weren't in need of improvement from the start! It also allows the Team Lead a chance to be very specific about what they are looking for so that there is no miscommunication.

If they can't come to some sort of agreement, then they should both be documenting these conversations and the outcomes. If your friend isn't comfortable going over the Team Lead's head, then they should at least have a visit with HR -- this is the sort of thing that they are there for.

It would be sad for your friend to lose a job that they really enjoy, especially with the job market being what it is right now. They should absolutely not suffer in silence, though. First try to work it out with the Team Lead and, if that proves unsuccessful, then your friend should really go the next level up or to HR. I wish him the best of luck and I hope you'll post an update!

leginee profile image

Hard to say from the distance what exact situation is. I would use the one on one with the PM.
I would state that I feel micro managed and ask why he does this.
I would whish that he is putting more trust in my work and appreciate that I am working hard to reach the goals.
I would try to figure out the reason why he does it.
Maybe it is only the usual that the estimates and planing are bullocks. With moving targets and so on.
It is kinda difficult since he need to understand his pain points, which are not the ones he expresses.

That are my ideas what I would try. My escalation would be to write protocols and ask for confirmations. Make tracks in the snow. Power centric people hate documentation. It removes their action.
Also I would try to ally with the team. Share information. Look at the principles of Scrum. They write a lot about the values that are necessary that development works. Even if scrum is not used.

ranjancse profile image
Ranjan Dailata • Edited

Here's how it goes. We cannot control or change the other person's behavior, But on the other hand, we can keep in charge and take a full control on our behavior.

As we all, understand, the micromanagement is going to kill the team. However, yet times the other person might not be aware. Hence, be respectful and mention it to the manager or the concerned person so he/she can change the behavior.

There's a simple rule that we need to follow - Do the assigned job and duties at its best without anticipating any reward. Please don't worry about the end results, just keep putting the effort and product the results and move on :)

christianpaez profile image
Christian Paez

Talk to his manager or switch jobs

ajaysnair1122 profile image
Ajay S Nair

I had a similar situation. What I did was I tried to ignore him. It is not possible fully as the guy is our team lead. So, I take what I want and will ignore the rest.

geni94 profile image

Just go higher on the chain. If there is no one else to go to, then yeah, maybe it's best to move on. Toxicity from the top-down is usually the root of all evil.

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