Toxic leadership: How to spot it, survive it and thrive

When it comes to leadership, there are various aspects that need to be discussed. Not just what makes the leader good but also the negative aspects as well.

There are a lot of times when the leaders have their dark sides; it’s called the toxic leaders who rarely get discussed despite being present and affecting the organization and workforce.

To understand more about what a toxic leadership style is and its other aspects, here is the style explained in detail.


Toxic Leadership definition

Toxic leaders are those who have the responsibility for an organization and group of people but abuse the relationship they have as leader followers.

  • They violate authority through unfair practices. Also, they are self-obsessed and selfish.

  • Their actions cause damage to the corporate structures, and the leaders get personal satisfaction from their egos.

  • The term toxic leader was coined to describe a version of a dysfunctional style of leadership.  

  • Well, the phrase was dated back to 1972.

  • In 1996, Marcia Lynn Whicker popularized the Toxic leader and it’s become linked with dysfunctional leadership styles.

  • The style can be personally self-destructive and harmful for the cooperative And subvert as well as destroy the organizational structure.

  • In 1994, in The Petty Tyranny in Organization, Blake Ashforth wrote about the potentially destructive stride of leadership in his journal article.

  • He referred to these as Petty Tyrants, which means leaders who do a tyrannical style of management which results in a climate of fear in the working environment.

The Toxic Leadership Style Theory & toxic leadership examples

There are basic key theorists who presented different styles related to the dark side of leadership.

Theory Of Jean Lipman- Blumen

In their book Allure Of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politics – And How WE Can Survive them.

Jean talked about the tendency in contemporary society which seeks the authoritative even if it’s a dominating character.

She highlighted the points behind the Toxic Leadership Style :

  • As she explained in her books, it says people have their own personal psychological needs and emotional weaknesses.

  • She noticed that leadership was not about mismanagement, it is rather related to leaders who focus on their dysfunctional personal characters and destructive behaviors.

  • Talking about why people follow them is something going on with a deeply psychological nature.

  • They need to feel safe and spirited as well as in a social community is what he’s to explain the psychological phenomenon.

Barbara Kellerman Theory

In Bad Leadership. What It Is, How It Happens, Why it Matters, the author suggests why the leaders are in the society with the help of seven different types.

Well, it includes :

Being incompetent

The leaders, as well as some followers, lack the will and skill, or both, to sustain the effectiveness again.

They do not create anything that can be positively changed in the basement.

Being Rigid

The second can be the leaders and followers who are stiff and unyielding even though they might be competent

They are unable or don’t want to adapt to new changes, information, and ideas.

Being Intemperate

Leader who lacks self-control as well as aided and abetted by their followers who are not willing or might don’t have the ability to intervene effectively.

Be callous

The leaders and some followers have an uncaring and unkind nature. Also, document and ignore the needs, wishes, and wants of others, it can be the members, group or organization, or the subordinates.

Being Corrupted

The leaders and some of their followers who are stealing, lying, and cheat

It can be exceeded to such a level that they put their interests ahead of what others needs and public interest

Being Insular

The leaders and the followers who minimize or disregard the health and welfare  who are outside of the organization and group and to whom they are not directly responsible

Being Evil

The leader and their followers who commit the atrocities. They use [aom as the instrument of power.

This can be physical harm or psychological or even both.

Theory of Terry Price

Terry wrote about toxic leadership in his book Understanding Ethical failures in Leaders he argues about the vital account of moral failures that happen in leaders.

Also, it does not get a complete account of their phenomenon.

Terry explains that in some systems the reason why leaders misbehave ethically was due to their willingness to go against the knowledge that they are wrong.

Professor price offers an alternative analysis about those who excuse themselves, he said that cognitive account for ethical failure in leaders cab gives better analysis and also conundrums the topic of leadership.

Certain behavior and reused morality but the mistakes, if it’s relevant, apply to them whether others are protected by the requirements.

He says that leaders make themselves expectations which rise the causes behind toxic leadership.


Toxic Leadership Key Drivers

Well, there are various traits that show whether the leadership style is toxic or not. it includes points like :

Leaders are oppositional behaviors that undermine their subordinates.

  • They are overly competitive

  • Leaders tend to blame others for the masses even if theirs.

  • Leaders promoted to the position because of  their political power

  • The leaders are being narcissistic

  • They abuse the disciplinary system.

  • They have the egoistic attitude

  • They lack the self-confidence

  • The leaders have poor self-control.

  • they are bullying their subordinates; it can be physical and psychological, or both.

However, apart from the traits, there are different reasons behind causing toxic leadership in the workplace.

To understand that, here are the important points to know


The Leaders Are Getting Rewarded

Well, it’s important to know that people don’t set out to be a topic, however, their intention to get the results can be the reason that leads to toxic ways.

When they are getting the result from the adopted style, they start to depend on it, and it leads to the locked style

The leaders become conditioned to behave that way, also as the result, they get promotions.

So when they rise up, they don’t change the formula which made them the success

They have toxic behavior in their default response.

When they get to the senior level, they have short-term performance improvement which gets rewarded as it helps in boosting the shares of the company.

Since they are on higher levels, no one dares to challenge their bad behavior.

The Leaders Let Ego Take Over

When the leaders fail to understand the reason and instead of collaborating with others in order to build strength, they start relying on what they know.

They believe that they have all the answers and they are enough to make the best decisions.

Instead of valuing as well as including the opinion of their team members, they want them to be obedient and follow them.

Also, they shot down anyone who dares to counterview or ask anything.

The Leaders Have An Imalane Of Traits

The leaders who are trusted demonstrate compassion, integrity, and competence in their actions.

But when the elders have no balance, or they are way too focused on competence. And its integrity and compassion get neglected.

Essentially When the leaders lack the foundation of three traits, this will make their behavior toxic.

The Leaders Have Skill Deficit

Leaders who stem from lacking fundamental management skills, it can be the inability to delegate effectively and manage upwards.

If the leaders have no clear idea about what should be done and why it’s needed or have no delegate. Their team will not be able to deliver what is actually rescued.

This can make the leader’s behavior aggressive, spiteful, and controlling.

However, the root cause will be their own ability of not find what was the problem and lack of delegation.

Also if they don’t understand how to prioritize efficiency, they will demand everything on an urgent basis.

The Leaders Have The Quick Mind

People who are in leadership roles tend to think faster. If someone explains, the leaders have to move ahead to find what will be the solution.

But instead of explaining the thought process, they tend to give the answers.

it makes them rudely and abruptly while their team members are trying to follow them.

This creates the image that the leaders are not listening or interested in understanding the opinions of their team members.

This makes the people feel disengaged, whereas the leaders had actually.

They processed the information much quicker and failed to take the feelings of the team members into account.

The Leaders Are Getting What They Received

The toxic leader could treat others unconsciously and consciously in the same way that they received.

They might be treated the same way when they were in the early days of their career.

When the organization values the transamidation leaders as heroes, clarification, awarding leaders as what can achieve the results.

If the individual experiences such a thing, it will influence their own mind, and they will try to replicate it when they are in the same position.

As they believe it, this is what brings the result and value to the organization.

The Leaders Have Imposter Syndrome

Well, some leaders have the fear that others might discover that they are not as good as others believe.

This insanity as well as limiting beliefs can drive their toxic behavior.

They overcompensate the lack of talent by exerting authority and belittling others.

This work as their shield and protect them from critics,


Types Of Toxic Leaders

While the others have to follow the leaders who have a toxic leadership style is exhausting and traumatic.

In order to understand better, Manfred Kets de Vries,  one of the leading thinkers on management and a professor at INSEAD.

He is constantly suggested that there are eight different dysfunction prototypes that are found in the origination.

Well, it’s also hybrids as a repertoire of toxic leaderships which covers the broad spectrum.

Here are the prototypes that you need to understand about toxic leadership.

Toxic Leadership

The Narcissistic Leaders

Well, it’s a grandiose self-image that leads to narcissistic leaders.

Here means there is no place where narcissism acted out dramatically as they do when they are on the organizational stage.

Well, the prevalence of narcos as compared to the overall population Is only 1 %, but studies say that in CEOs, It goes to more than 5%.

  • They have a hunger for power, recognition, prestige, and greed which never ends.

  • They have the drives that make their narcissist get the top positions

  • They need the stage where they can shine and what they dream of becoming the center of the universe.

  • However, when the narcissistic leader does it over, and it gets combined with the power, it leads to harmful consequences.

  • Since they have little empathy and lots of egotism.

  • Also, the behavior Is dangerous because, for them, they become even more important than the organization.

  • The egos and lack of empathy were the failures to acknowledge the boundaries.

  • Such leadership became a real threat to collaboration which is a high-performing and vital element for any organization.

  • The personality doesn’t snore, but they use the power to defend their own position.

Traits Of Narcissistic Leaders Include:

  • Having a grandiose sense which leads to self-importance and arrogance.

  • Preoccupation with the fantasist cause where they want unlimited success, brilliance, and power.

  • Having the belief that there is no one special than them.

  • Requiring the administration on an excessive level.

  • Sensing of entitlement which has unreasonable expectations of having favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectation.

  • Someone who is interpersonally exploitative leads to taking advantage of others to achieve their needs and results.

  • Envying others or believing envious.

The Controlling Leader

Leaders are those who are never satisfied no matter what people do. They are masters of micromanagement and have a control freak personality.

  • They guide everyone with the rules, regulations, order, and planning.   

  • They have an obsession with muss, and they are extremely committed to the work.

  • However, the commitment makes them infiel and rigid. Also, they consciously fear to make the mistakes/

  • The controlling leaders are a threat when it comes to agile organizations and the well-being of the employees.

  • However, they can be respectful to superiors but uncompromising as well as demanding when it comes to their subordinates.

  • Working with such leaders can be a minefield as you never know when the employees have to pay the high emotional cost of the infraction. But invoice standards.

Traits Of The Controlling Leaders

  • Rigid, lack spontaneously, and inflexibility.

  • Stubborn

  • Workaholic

  • Excessive judgment and moralistic

  • Self-denigrating

  • Self punitive

  • Joyless, grim, intense, frustrated, and irritable

  • Uncomfortable with emotions

  • Easily lost in too much detailing

  • Reversed inhibited and tense

  • Conventional, formal, and serious

The Depressive Leader

This leader has always criticized others. According to the Harvard Business Review, many top executives, when they are in middle age, suffer from depression-like problems.

There are a lot of leaders like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mohandas Gandhi who showed signs of mental instability and were even considered to be suicidal.

  • The leaders sometimes feel an emergency. sometimes they are down, but they are not quite well

  • They overestimate the difficulties and underestimate their capabilities, which makes the coworkers skeptical and cynical.

  • Being judgemental, they put pressure on others.

  • Also, the colleagues have to expect a heavy workload. But I also feel annoyed and criticized for the complaining behavior.

Traits Of Depressives Leaders

  • Sense of feeling hopeless, worthless, and hopelessness.

  • Having physical symptoms like weight loss, lack of sexual interest, poor appetite, and sleep problems

  • General apathy

  • Feeling the loss of energy and chronic fatigue

  • Inability to focus and concentrate

  • Feeling guilt, wretchedness, and remorse.

  • Recurring thoughts of suicide and death

The Abrasive Leaders

Such leaders have the immense desire to be powerful. They are fearless, and they have an abrasive executive which can make them successful in the short term.

But sooner or later, the company they are leading may end up getting into problems.

  • Also, people have to be ready for the outburst of rage, as the leaders are included to act in aggressive ways.
  • They have parallels between the business arena and the harsh Darwinian environment.
  • They have the mindset which says the weak is not someone who deserves sympathy.
  • In the end, they don’t allow others and their feeling to get in the way if they want the results.
  • For the leaders, being successful comes first, to ask their colleagues and skill ways they use the good of the company.

Traits Of Abrasive Leaders

  • Strong, narrow-minded, and obstinate along with unbending rules.

  • Being authoritarian, prejudiced, and intolerant.

  • Setting a way too high a standard for others.

  • Rigidly self-disciplined

  • Fascinated by showing aggressive behavior.

  • Energetic, highly competitive, and power-oriented.

  • Quickly take offense.

  • Fears the dominance of anyone else.

  • Do the humiliation or demeaning of others

  • It can be cruel, domineering, and harsh.

The Paranoid Leader

Leadership has the disease of kings. Andry Grove, a long-time chief executive and chairman of Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, answered Watson if paranoia is necessary for the mindset of leaders.

What he had ist, not the paranoia that paralyzes or is irrational for anyone or anything.

The paranoid might urge to be in control when it takes control.

Such leaders not just often stay preoccupied with details and isolated, but they see the hidden meaning as well as a secret coalition on everyone and everywhere.

Traits Of Paranoid Leaders

  • Being hypersensitive.

  • Having strongly opinionated with unbending as well as obstinate.

  • Narrow-minded thoughts and way of thinking.

  • Being self-righteous

  • Quarrelsome and quick to get angry

  • Hard to find relax and stay almost tense every time
  • Lack the sense of humor

  • Can’t forgive the insults, slights, and injuries

  • Likely to make the mountains out of the molehills

The Negativistic Leader

Well, it’s also known as the Passive-aggressive Jo-jo; such leaders are someone who can’t say no.

  • They agree on things, but they fail persistently.

  • Also, such leaders are prone to procrastination.

  • Such behaviors make them difficult for their colleagues and also make them poor leaders.

  • They have their own inadequate performance which acts as an inability to bring out the best in others and encourage them to be better.

Traits Of Negativistic Leaders

  • Being stubborn

  • Having passive nature

  • Provocative

  • Inefficient

  • Covertly aggressive

  • Covertly complaint and cordial

  • Ambivalent about most things.

  • Confused emotionally

  • Pessimistic

  • Unsure about own desires

  • Fearful of commitments

  • Hard to make the decisions

The Hypomanic Charismatic Leader

Leaders who have high spirits and charisma inspire and motivate.

The quality is impactful, but it can be dangerous too.

  • When the leaders have hypomanic behavior, they create a leader and follower collusion, which is known as folie a deux which is a shared kind of madness.

  • Being hypomania or elation sure makes the leader special. Managers have energized, empowered, and moved teams up.

  • However, such a leader can easily slip into the behavior of a manic person.

  • Since the leaders have exciting behavior, people want to work, but delusion leaders can make demands which can be destructive to their colleagues.

  • To keep the job, the colleagues have to stretch a little to a lot and stay close to the power.

  • If the situation becomes dog eat dog, some of the people might do anything in order to stay.

  • Behavior can inspire people either to be good or evil.

Traits Of Hypomaniacs Leaders

  • Ability to charm the audience and living everyone spellbound

  • Ability to help transient the normal way of how things get done

  • Can draw followers to collusive  relationships

  • Have meaning in behavior that can be self-destructive

  • Prone to manic states, which can be mild

  • Addicts to high

  • May have judgment which can be poor if they have an elevated mood

The Neurotic Imposter Leaders

The sadomasochistic workaholic leaders have doubts regarding their achievements and take them as something that happens accidentally or undeserved.

They feel afraid constantly of being a leader who is not enough and good as other things.

Such leaders have a sadomasochistic pattern; the vicious cycle of looking personalist can look like setting these high goals that are impossible to achieve.

Later, when self-criticism happens, they show incompetency and order to work more.

Traits of Neurotic Imposter Leaders

  • Workaholic

  • Being content dread of not living as their expectations are too high

  • Poor when it comes to people’s development

  • Addicted to calling the consultants

  • Perfectionist and have high goals

  • Feel that every day at work should be considered a test.

The Toxic Habits That Will Make You a Bad Leader

Toxic leaders are mostly not the ones who actually want to be toxic. Sometimes they don’t even know that the style they are following is toxic to others.

Here are some of the habits that make any leader and their style toxic in the first place.

The Toxic Habits That Will Make You a Bad Leader

Rejecting the Feedbacks

The leaders have to understand the importance of feedback even though it’s good or bad.

The subordinates can help by giving constructive criticism and good leaders take those freaks to implement it.

When the leadership is toxic, the leaders ignore the feedback and miss out on the opportunities which can make positive changes.

Asking For Feedback to Ignore

Here the leaders ask the feedback from the subordinates, giving the impression that the feedback will be valued, just to ignore it in the end.

When subordinates see that the advice was not considered or just flat-out ignored, it hits their morale.

This can become habitual, which makes the employees feel angry.

Forcing Communication On Everyone

Communication is important, and it should be natural.

Having a leader who forces subordinates to copy them every single email, should be included in the conversation, etc, might be dangerous.

Also, the trait shows micromanaging and signals that the subordinates are not having trust, which makes others believe that they are being watched.

The toxic leader demands to have all communication go through them when ist directed to upper management.

Delegating The Jobs Of Theirs On Others

The toxic behavior of putting all of your work on others and forcing others to be responsible for the jobs that you should be doing.

The leaders free their time to pursue activities that are not work-related and pick other tasks.

Employees become the saddle where they have to work, which grows their stress.

Retirement can be strat as the employees start thinking about what the leaders actually do.

Make the Team Revolve Around Themselves

The team members have to adapt to work in relation to the person, and that’s why managing up exists.

The leaders force the subordinates to revolve their time around them and what works.

Employees can face the irritation of keeping their schedules according to the leaders and managing them every time.

They can lose their self-efficiency and lack productivity.

At worst, they have to come to the last minute in order to meet the goals of the leaders.

Both situations cause burnout in employees, which makes the organization face the results.

Forcing The Walk The Walk

The next habit that can be counted is forcing the walk even though the leaders might have a good talk.

The employees might try to move forward while they wait for the leaders who promised to play their part to move.

But in the end, they have to walk alone and do the work alone.

This causes the words of leaders to be worth nothing and the employees to start doing their own thing.

This leads to prioritizing the goals which are not right and giving up on what’s important for the company.

Having No Empathy

Some people are not capable of empathizing. However, some just don’t want It.

It can be any reason when the leaders don’t want to empathize with clients, colleagues, subordinates, or any else.

This becomes one of the most harmful habits that makes the leader toxic.

They become handicapped by their own inability to understand what can motivate their employees truly.

This leads to toxic managers creating the work environment which serves them, not the organization, client, or team.

Taking The Loyalty For Granted

Once the employee passes the onboarding stage, the leader’s costume wreaks havoc by adopting the viewpoint that can expand, replace and automatically be loyal to the members.

This leads to careless work and overstretched employees who face burnout and stress.

The members who are loyal to the organized or entrenched organization can bear the burnt labor as the managers believe they will stand by no matter what.

However, when health and opportunities get ignored by the employees, they start to leave the company.

Neglecting The New Hires

The new hires will take whatever the organization throws while they prove their worth is what the toxic leaders believe.

The leaders simply don’t put the time to onboard the employees. Instead, they force the subordinates to train the new hires.

The lack of support creates a stressful period for the people who are involved in this, which decreases morale, causes more turnover, and new employees start to get delusional.

Focusing On Their Success

Despite being responsible, toxic leaders care about what they need and the success of their own.

At some point, they exploit the success of their subordinates to make their own image, climbing their success of theirs.

When leaders don’t recognize the skills of others, they feel less motivated to do the work.

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs)

Why is having a toxic leader bad?

Toxic leadership the organization as well as employees to negative outcomes. It can be workplace deviance, lower employee self-esteem,  psychological stress, lower job satisfaction, and bullying. 

What can be the most toxic trait of a leader?

According to a Harvard Business Review, absenteeism is the most toxic trait that leaders could have. 

What is toxic leadership in the workplace? 

Such leaders have poor self-control, they often act on impulse leading to harmful decisions for the organization and employees in order to have the benefits on their own. 

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