5 Destructive Behaviours of Toxic Leaders

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All you need to do is a quick Google search on “Positive Leadership” and “Toxic Leadership” to see what most people are interested in learning more about…

Positive Leadership

Positive Leadership


Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership


With 264,000,000 Positive Leadership searches versus 29,200,000 Toxic Leadership searches its apparent that we want to focus on the positive aspects of leadership.  As do the researchers, authors, executive coaches and a myriad of other professional.   After all, don’t we all want to emulate positive leaders?

Of course we do BUT…

It is just as important to understand what Toxic Leaders do so you and others in your organization know what to look for.  There is a dark side of human nature and the better we can spot a Toxic Leader, the better decisions individuals and the organization as a whole can make.

In essence – those bad leaders can teach us a great deal about good leadership

Professor Jean Lipman-Blumen who is the cofounder of the Connective Leadership Institute has identified in her research a total of 16 Destructive Behaviour of Toxic Leaders.

In my experience with workplace conflict, I have narrowed down Dr. Lipman-Blumen’s list to 5 that I hear as common issues when mediating or conflict management coaching.

5 Top Destructive Behaviours of Toxic Leaders:

  1. They will manipulate their followers deepest fears and needs and play on their emotions to get what they need
  2. They will use threats to stifle constructive criticism
  3. They will cling to power and obstruct and/or refuse to nurture other leaders
  4. They will maliciously set constituents against one another
  5. They will ignore or promote incompetence, cronyism and corruption

It’s important to know that Toxic Leaders are “chameleon-like” in their behavioural approach. chameleon-800

They don’t always act in a toxic manner.  They pick and choose who they will be toxic towards and when.  It could be in private or it could be in a subversive public display.

In other words, it can be very difficult to spot a toxic leader.

Why do we follow toxic leaders?

These leaders can wield  a lot of power.  They have strategically moved up the leadership ranks and can do a lot of damage to individuals.  As followers, we may want to turn a blind eye to the words and actions of a toxic leader because we don’t know who to turn to or what to do.

It is our job, our livelihood, our family and our own reputations that are at stake when dealing with a toxic leader.

Below are 3 actions that can be taken to deal with a toxic leader:

  1. Before making any move-do your homework: You will want to find out as much as you can about this person. Put your investigator hat on and try and see what their past performance was like.  What other organizations did they work for?  Can you interview people from their previous organization to get a sense and feel of who you are dealing with? How did other people deal with this individual?
  2. Give the person the benefit of the doubt: Have a leadership intervention. Make sure you enlist other high ranking leaders in this intervention.  Safety is always in numbers.  This is where workplace mediation can be extremely helpful when a neutral third party facilitate’s this discussion.
  3. Undermine or Overthrow a Toxic Leader on the First Try: I have been involved in a situation where we had to take this approach.  It requires planning, discretion and fast action to mitigate negative repercussions. It’s not an easy option however when the organization is on the brink of destruction – this may be your only option.

Here is a link to Professor Jean Lipman-Blumen’s list of 16 Destructive Behaviour of Toxic Leaders. 

Final Word…

Our job as a Leader or “Leader-in-the-making” are to learn about the ethical dangers of being in a leadership role and to help us prevent abuses in ourselves and of others.

Positive Leadership requires a high communication and conflict management skill level as well as the ability to allow followers to lead in order that they develop their leadership skills.

For those leaders who want to work on effective communication and conflict management, here is an additional resource from my website that provides strategies and tips to create workplace harmony.


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