Skip to content

The Psychology Of Toxic Leaders

The Psychology Of Toxic Leaders

There is no fixed definition for “toxic leadership”. In his conceptual framework, Jean Lipman defines toxic leadership as “ a process in which leaders, by dint of their destructive behavior and/or dysfunctional personal characteristics, inflict serious and enduring harm on their followers, their organizations and non-followers alike”.  It is clear if a leader has a bunch of traits or temperaments capable of triggering toxic emotions or thoughts in the subordinates, we can call him as “toxic leader”.

In her article on toxic leadership, Shonna Waters, a famous organizational psychologist, and certified leadership coach list eight characteristics of toxic leadership.

  1. Frequent lying or inconsistent expectations
  2.  Doesn’t listen to feedback
  3.  Arrogance
  4. Places importance on hierarchy
  5. Discriminates against employees
  6. Lacks confidence
  7.  Incompetent at their job
  8.  Self-interested

In addition to this, studies that took place across the world recognize some traits in toxic leaders such as oppositional behavior, power politics, over-competitive attitude to employees, perfectionist attitude, abuse of the disciplinary system, glib attitude, lack of self-confidence, poor self-control, or restraint, etc.

Why they are toxic?

Toxic leadership, what causes it?. It’s quite difficult to answer. However, if you delve deep into the personality traits of toxic leaders, for sure, you can see some “mismatch” between the “desire” and the “ability” –ie desire to become a leader and the ability for it. The leader might have, somehow, grabbed the chair but ended up spewing toxicity.

Often, toxicity appears as the side effect of a leader’s desperate attempt to camouflage his inadequacy. Toxic leaders stubbornly desire to sit at the top. But they will not have the requisite intellectual acumen or the social skills the position demands. Their perceptions and perspectives about “leadership” will be not only narrow but rigid too, leaving little space for learning.

When a person covets a leadership position, usually, there will be a dominant motivating factor behind it. Salary hike, status, wish to implement one’s knowledge, wisdom, or expertise for a social cause, strong wish to make a collective change in the organization …. list goes on. But the motivating force of a toxic leader will be very much rooted in his personality problems.

A feeling of worthlessness, unresolved psychological conflicts, sense of being persecuted, vengeance suppressed deep in mind, relationship issues in the domestic front, feeling of being abandoned…all these may fire up an intense desire in individuals to dominate and prove their worth in the world outside. In other words, an intense desire to “lead” might be a desperate attempt to resolve some psychological issues festering within.

The first and foremost feeling a toxic leader is likely to have immediately after occupying the position is a sense of “emptiness”. He comes to know that his “insatiable desire to dominate” is the only thing that differentiates him from his subordinates. Any frustration stemming from such a feeling of inadequacy is always dangerous.

How it affects the group

Often, narcissist or histrionic personalities, when they occupy leadership positions, the organization comes to a standstill. Employees start juggling with issues that were not there before. Very often, issues will be related to trust. The entire organization’s trust quotient will drop. Employee engagement will slow down as their energy gets dissipated instead of being channelized for innovation and growth of the organization.

The collective mind of employees gets detached from occupational objectives or the mission and vision of the organization. This is the immediate effect of toxic leadership. The brain of each employee thriving under toxic leadership will be charged with emotions rather than reasoned judgments. They compulsively engage in devising ways to retaliate or to flee, or remain immune from toxicity.

Toxicity needs conflicts and confrontations

Toxic leaders love problems than their solutions. They always make sure that the situation is tense either at the individual or collective level. They always need some unresolved issue to deal with. It helps to cover up their inadequacy. They spill their toxicity while dealing with cooked-up or whacky problems.

They accuse individuals, spread the wrong messages, and hurt emotions. By doing so toxic leader wants to give the impression that it is not his personal inadequacy as a leader but the inadequacy inherent in the situation which is preventing him from creating a good working atmosphere.

Toxicity needs manure

There will be something or somebody around helping a toxic leader to remain in his/her toxicity. It might be a higher authority that has some vested interest in the organization. Such authority prefers a divide and rule policy to a democratic working atmosphere. Or it might be some irreplaceable but outdated, dysfunctional organizational policies. For example, if in an organization leaders are selected according to the sole criterion of seniority of members, there is no option but to suffer in silence whatever personal traits leaders are carrying with them. The same is the case with nepotism

However, no toxic leadership can thrive without at least one hand to support and give assurance to them that their ways are flawless. A toxic leader is a personality grounded in “insecurity”. And he cannot stand and thrive on his own.

THE WAY OUT?

  • Employees can demand for a “redressal mechanism” in the organization. This mechanism will function as a conduit for resolving resentments.
  • Learn to speak aloud whenever confronted with injustice from your leader.
  • Learn to be assertive. Master the art of mixing assertiveness and respect in right proportion while communicating to the leader.
  • Be positive in your intentions. Then the words and deeds that you choose to be assertive will not violate boundaries.
  • Enquire about your colleagues’ stance about the leader before crafting your own actions.
  • Seek the help of higher authorities.
  • Have well awareness about legal protection for workplace harassment.

Dr. Jeny Rapheal

Leave a Reply

Up Next

7 Tips to Chase Your Dreams and Win Life

Tips to Chase Dreams and Win Life

I’m sure that everyone has dreams in their life. We want to become an astronaut, firefighter, or celebrity—but many of us view it as nearly impossible.

We let self-doubt and fear of failure become an obstacle, convincing ourselves that we’re not good enough—that we don’t have what it takes to be a winner.

But it’s not impossible to successfully reach our dreams. Of course, we need a planned strategy in place and a mindset that concentrates on making progress day by day. Here are 8 tips to help you pursue your distant dreams and live life to the fullest.

1. Start Your Day With Positivity

Starting your day on the right foot can be a game-changer. Plenty of people have difficulty finding the motivation to get out of bed, let alon

Up Next

Let Go: Is This Really Needed?

Let Go Is This Really Needed

How many times has your inner voice guided you to "let go" of something? Countless times...Right? Don't worry! We all are in the same boat. :)

Before going further, let me quickly introduce you to your inner devils. We all have them inside us. Believe it or not, these are desperate guests who visit you as a surprise by cropping up out of nowhere just to make sure that your mood remains blah the whole day or for at least the next few days.

Okay, Drum Roll Please!!! ;D

Your ugly past...Your childhood traumas...Your devastating memories...Your consistent rejections, failures...Your teenage tragedies...Your worst experiences...Your shattering incidences...Your out of control ev

Up Next

No More Toxicity! How To Stay Away From Toxic People?

No More Toxicity

Are you fed up being around toxic people the way I was? Then you are on the right path with this curation. Sometimes we choose to be around toxic people knowingly or unknowingly. Sometimes the situations and circumstances choose us to be around toxic people where we feel helpless by thinking that there is no other option than being prey to toxicity.

"There are people who bring you down by just BEING THEM." - Malebo Sephodi

Have you ever thought about how toxic people's behavior, views, and opinions impact us emotionally and mentally in an adverse way?

We feel stressed...irritated...tensed...frustrated...agitated. Ultimately, this toxicity hampers the quality of life. Toxic views, opinions, and be

Up Next

Prevent Post Pandemic Stress and Substance Use: When To Get Help

Prevent Post Pandemic Stress and Substance Use

While not everyone is addiction-prone, based on individual predispositions and availability, some people tend to be more vulnerable than others. Post pandemic stress has become a real problem for millions of people. Individuals are still struggling with substance use, and drug overdoses continue to rise. 

The lingering effects are still there. Pandemic anxiety and stress go on for substantial numbers of people. These individuals lost relatives and loved ones, lost jobs, are immunocompromised, and livelihoods continue to be adversely impacted. The risk for addiction is high for many people. However, it can be prevented, and you can know when to ask for help.

Easing Post Pandemic Stress

Chronic stress could lead to something called learned helplessness. This is a situation when you feel unable

Up Next

6 Signs You’re Emotionally Exhausted And What to Do About It

Emotionally Exhausted

Are you exhausted, but not in the physical sense? Are you finding yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed out more often than not? If so, then you may be experiencing signs of emotional exhaustion. This is a very real condition that can have serious consequences if left untreated.

In this blog post, we will discuss six signs that you're emotionally exhausted and some tips on dealing with it. Let's get started:

6 Signs You're Emotionally Exhausted

1. You're Constantly Running on Empty

If you're constantly running on empty, it's a sign that you're emotionally exhausted. You may find yourself unable to keep up with the demands of your job, family, and social life. You may feel like you're always giving and never receiving. T