Toxic leader
A toxic leader refers to a person who has responsibility over a group of people or an organization, and who abuses the leader-follower relationship by leaving the group or organization in a worse-off condition than when s/he first found them. The phrase was coined by Marcia Whicker in 1996 and is linked with a number of dysfunctional leadership styles.

Basic traits of toxic leadership

The basic traits of a toxic leader are generally considered to be either/or insular, intemperate, glib, operationally rigid, callous, inept, discriminatory, corrupt or aggressive by scholars such as Barbara Kellerman
Barbara Kellerman (academic)
Barbara Kellerman is a professor of public leadership, currently at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Previously, she was a professor at Fordham, Tufts, Fairleigh Dickinson, George Washington, Uppsala, and Dartmouth universities...

. These may occur as either:
  • Oppositional behaviour.
  • Plays corporate power politics.
  • An overcompetitive attitude to other employees.
  • Perfectionistic
    Perfectionism (psychology)
    Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable...

  • Abuse of the disciplinary system (such as to remove a workplace rival).
  • A condescending/glib attitude.

  • Poor self-control and or restraint.
  • Physical and/or psychological Bullying.
  • Procedural inflexibility.
  • Discriminatory attitudes (sexism
    Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is the application of the belief or attitude that there are characteristics implicit to one's gender that indirectly affect one's abilities in unrelated areas...

    , etc).
  • Causes workplace division instead of harmony.
  • Use "divide and rule
    Divide and rule
    In politics and sociology, divide and rule is a combination of political, military and economic strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into chunks that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy...

    " tactics on their employees.

Aggressive narcissism

This syndrome is also the 'Factor 1' in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist
Hare Psychopathy Checklist
In contemporary research and clinical practice, Robert D. Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopathy...

, which includes the following traits:

  • Glibness/superficial charm
    Superficial charm
    Superficial charm is "the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile."The phrase often appears in lists of attributes of psychopathic personalities, such as in Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity and Robert Hare's Hare Psychopathy Checklist.Associated expressions are...

  • Grandiose
    Grandiosity is chiefly associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but also commonly features in manic or hypomanic episodes of bipolar disorder....

     sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
    Psychological manipulation
    Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

  • Lack of remorse
    Remorse is an emotional expression of personal regret felt by a person after he or she has committed an act which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent. Remorse is closely allied to guilt and self-directed resentment...

     or guilt
    Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that...

  • Callous/lack of empathy
    Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

  • Shallow emotional affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Other traits

Many are also authoritarian and/or control freak
Control freak
In psychology-related slang, control freak is a derogatory term for a person who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done — "a control freak. Scared to let us have differences"...

s to varying degrees, who tend use both micromanagement
In business management, micromanagement is a management style where a manager closely observes or controls the work of her or his subordinates or employees...

, over management and management by fear
Management by fear
Management by fear is a management strategy for controlling people by using threats in a direct and indirect way that relies on the person’s built-in fear....

 to keep a grip of their authority in the organizational group. Micromanagers usually dislike a subordinate making decisions without consulting them, regardless of the level of authority or factual correctness. A toxic leader can be both hypocritical and hypercritical of others, seeking the illusion of corporate and moral virtue to hide their own workplace vices. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a form of lying.

They can also be both frightening and psychologically stressful to work with.

The U.S. Army defines toxic leaders as commanders who put their own needs first, micro-manage subordinates, behave in a mean-spirited manner or display poor decision making. A study for the Center for Army Leadership found that toxic leaders work to promote themselves at the expense of their subordinates, and usually do so without considering long-term ramifications to their subordinates, their unit, and the Army profession.

The 'tools' of a toxic leader

  • Workload: The 'Setting up to fail
    Setting up to fail
    Setting up to fail is a psychological manipulation performed on a target in which the target is given a task which is designed to fail as it has an unrealistic objective - "the setting of impossible objectives... set up to fail". The target will become stressed trying to achieve the impossible,...

    ' procedure is in particular a well established workplace bullying
    Workplace bullying
    Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behaviour against a co-worker or subordinate. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation...

     tactic that a toxic leader can use against his rivals and subordinates.

  • Corporate control Systems: They could use the processes in place to monitor what is going on. Disciplinary systems could be abused to aid their power culture.

  • Organizational Structures: They could abuse the hierarchies, personal relationships and the way that work flows through the business.

  • Corporate power Structures: The toxic leader controls who, if any one makes the decisions and how widely spread power is.

  • Symbols of personal authority : These may include the right to parking spaces and executive washrooms or access to supplies and uniforms.

  • Workplace Rituals and Routines: Management meetings, board reports, disciplinary hearing, performance assays and so on may become more habitual than necessary.

Inevitably the victim’s workplace performance
A performance, in performing arts, generally comprises an event in which a performer or group of performers behave in a particular way for another group of people, the audience. Choral music and ballet are examples. Usually the performers participate in rehearsals beforehand. Afterwards audience...

, self-esteem
Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame: some would distinguish how 'the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the...

 and self-confidence
The socio-psychological concept of self-confidence relates to self-assuredness in one's personal judgment, ability, power, etc., sometimes manifested excessively.Being confident in yourself is infectious if you present yourself well, others will want to follow in your foot steps towards...

  will decline as employee(s)’ stress
Stress (biology)
Stress is a term in psychology and biology, borrowed from physics and engineering and first used in the biological context in the 1930s, which has in more recent decades become commonly used in popular parlance...

 inclines. Heavy running costs and a high staff turnover/overtime rate are often also associated with employee related results of a toxic leader.

Jean Lipman-Blumen

Jean Lipman-Blumen's book, "The Allure of Toxic Leaders : Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians--and How We Can Survive Them ", Professor Jean Lipman-Blumen explained that there was and still is a tendency among contemporary society to seek authoritative, even dominating characteristics among our corporate and political leaders because of the public's own personal psychosocial needs and emotional weaknesses.

Ms Lipman-Blumen noticed "toxic leadership" was not about run-of-the-mill mismanagement. Rather, it referred to leaders, who, by virtue of their "dysfunctional personal characteristics" and "destructive behaviours" "inflict reasonably serious and enduring harm" not only on their own followers and organizations, but on others outside of there immediate circle of victims and subordinates, as well. A noted rule of thumb
Rule of thumb
A rule of thumb is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination...

 suggests that toxic leaders leave their followers and others who come within their sphere of influence worse off than they found them either on a personal and/or corporate basis.

Ms Lipman-Blumens' core focus was on investigating why people will continue to follow and remain loyal to toxic leaders. She also explored why followers often vigorously resist change and challenges to leaders who have clearly violated the leader/follower relationship and abused their power as leaders to the direct detriment of the people they are leading. Lipman-Blumen suggests there is something of a deeply psychological nature going on. She argues the need to feel safe, specialness and in a social community all help explain this psycological phenomenon.

Barbara Kellerman

In "Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters," Barbara Kellerman (2004) suggests that toxicity in leadership (or simply, "bad leadership") may be analysed into seven different types:
  • Incompetent - the leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action. With regard to at least one important leadership challenge, they do not create positive change.
  • Rigid - the leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.
  • Intemperate - the leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable to effectively intervene.
  • Callous - the leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind. Ignored and discounted are the needs, wants, and wishes of most members of the group or organization, especially subordinates.
  • Corrupt - the leader and at least some followers lie, cheat, or steal. To a degree that exceeds the norm, they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.
  • Insular - the leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.
  • Evil - the leader and at least some followers commit atrocities. They use pain as an instrument of power. The harm can be physical, psychological or both.

Terry Price

In "Understanding Ethical Failures in Leaders," Price argues that the volitional account of moral failures in leaders do not provide a complete account of this phenomenon. Some have suggested that the reason leaders misbehave ethically is because they willingly go against what they know to be wrong. Professor Terry L. Price however, offers an alternative analysis of leaders who excuse themselves from normally applicable moral requirements. He argues that a cognitive account for ethical failures in leaders provides a better analysis of the issues involved in all the ethical conundrums under the rubric of "toxic leadership". Leaders can know that a certain kind of behaviour is generally required by morality but still be mistaken as to whether the relevant moral requirement applies to them in a particular situation and whether others are protected by this requirement. Price demonstrates how leaders make exceptions of themselves, explains how the justificatory force of leadership gives rise to such exception-making, and develops normative protocols that leaders should adopt.

Gillian Flynn

The corporate management analyst Gillian Flynn described a toxic manager as the: "manager who bullies, threatens, yells. Whose mood swings determine the climate of the office on any given workday. Who forces employees to whisper in sympathy in cubicles and hallways. The backbiting, belittling boss from hell." In his 2004 study on the topic.

See also

External links

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