Bad leadership is also not an uncommon phenomenon in leadership literature. In contrast to most research, which addresses how we can become better leaders, toxic leadership focuses on how leaders can exert a pernicious influence on employees. And certainly today, stories of abuse of authority by leaders circulate quickly, both inside and outside the organisation. The dark side of leadership therefore certainly deserves our professional attention nowadays.
Given the current nature of the issue, there is little research, nor a clear definition, of the concept of toxic leadership. Especially since leadership studies mainly use a positive approach while the negative effects of leadership are not a marginal phenomenon. The consultancy firm Life Meets Work, for example, points out that 56% of employees have to deal with a leader whose behaviour results in an unpleasant work environment. This same source suggests that 73% of employees reported having worked under a toxic boss at some point in their lives and had a traumatic work experience as a result. And that's a damn shame, because further research indicates that toxic leadership is responsible for 48% reduced commitment and a 38% drop in quality.
But what exactly is toxic leadership? Jean Lipman-Blumen defines it as 'A process in which leaders, by dint of their destructive behaviour and/or dysfunctional personal characteristics inflict serious and enduring harm on their followers, their organisations, and non-followers, alike'.
Tackling toxic leadership may not seem easy based on the above, but it is not impossible. Different interventions are possible, but for this article we will stick to three main approaches.
First of all, we would do well to challenge ourselves, and leaders, to take a critical look at themselves.
Additionally, on an organisational level, a wider dissemination of the why, what, who and how of toxic leadership is needed. Knowledge does not solve everything, but making more difficult themes discussable starts with a basic understanding of them. The organisation also does well to make toxic behaviour explicit and publicly label it as inadmissible. Joe Biden's statement 'I will fire you on the spot', as a warning to the consequences of disrespectful behaviour, is a good illustration of this.
And finally, we can encourage people to develop positive and constructive relationships. To put it in the words of Timothy Ferris, a management guru: 'You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganised friends. If someone isn't making you stronger, they're making you weaker.’
And now, if you will excuse me, I urgently need to go and find an entertaining video…