Jimmy Fallon’s Leadership Lesson


Published September 12, 2023

The recent Rolling Stone article outlining the alleged toxic environment at ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ perfectly illustrates the impact of leadership on building and sustaining a positive culture and the consequences of bully bosses on employee morale, according to one workplace authority.

“This is a high-profile case, but it happens at workplaces of every size, in every industry across the country. An authority figure with inconsistent leadership, unable to regulate in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, uses belittling and aggressive language to motivate employees. This behavior builds over time into the entire culture of a workplace,” said Andrew Challenger, workplace and labor expert and Senior Vice President of outplacement and executive leadership coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“When employees work in fear, innovation ceases and the main focus of workers’ jobs becomes trying to avoid the boss’s wrath. This causes a downturn in employee morale, loss of talent, and the potential for hostile litigation, all of which most certainly impact the finished product, as well as the bottom line,” he added.

Leadership, more than money, is a top motivator for workers and contributes directly to employee engagement and morale. This bullying primarily comes from the top. The 2021 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 65% of bullies at work are bosses. Even the new remote and hybrid workplace is doing little to stop it, with 43% of workers getting bullied via remote meetings and email.

“People-leading does not always come naturally, and it is, in fact, a skill that needs to be practiced and honed. A bad day once in a while, with effective communication, can be excused by employees, but not when it happens all the time without addressing the problem,” said Challenger.

“A genuine apology to the team for bad behavior that makes it clear the boss knows what they did wrong and how it impacted their teams, goes a long way. But if it becomes habit, the leadership team needs to address a persistent underlying issue.

“Particularly when the behavior is coming from the very top, other leaders, as a group, have to step in to protect individual contributors as well as inform the offender, and take steps to correct the behavior. This is difficult to do and takes considerable planning.

“One result of ignoring this behavior is talent drain, which appeared to happen in this case with the turnover of showrunners. It will happen at every level, as workers flee the environment,” said Challenger.

Types of Bad Bosses

  • The Conqueror – This type of boss is physically imposing, micro manages, belittles, and hoards knowledge to keep control.
  • Performers – These leaders typically have low self-esteem, and therefore target others to feel empowered.
  • Manipulators – Manipulators work out of self-interest. They threaten and are vindictive, take credit for others’ work, and lack accountability.

How can an organization remedy bad leadership?

Formal anti-bullying policies must be developed and enforced. These policies must have processes that allow for reporting, confronting, and eradicating workplace bullies, including and especially those at the top.

Views on Leadership

Despite this latest example of ineffective leadership, according to Challenger’s most recent HR Trends and Issues survey, a biannual online survey on retention, employee priorities, and leadership, views on leadership are actually more positive now than in our Spring survey by a large margin.

In September, 86% of 150 HR executives and employers say their employees have a positive view on leadership, up from 65% in the Spring and 59% in Fall 2022. This is likely due to workplaces offering the flexibility employees are prioritizing. Of those who say employees do not have a positive view on leadership, most point to a lack of communication during a time of significant change.

“Communication is absolutely key to leading successfully. The ability to outline goals, delegate, address challenges, have and convey empathy, and apologize and correct mistakes is a large part of what makes a good, effective leader,” said Challenger.

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Contact Colleen Madden Blumenfeld for more data or to set up an interview with SVP Andy Challenger.

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