Saturday, July 22, 2017

Destructive Leadership


Transformational leaders appeal to the moral values of their followers, seek to elevate their ethical awareness, and motivate and involve them in the mission of the organization. Followers will trust, admire, give loyalty to, and respect these types of  leaders. The opposite of this visionary and ethics-based leadership is a self-serving unethical leadership that leads to the destruction of organizations and the people associated with them. Have you ever witnessed this type of destructive leadership?

(Now that I have begun a PhD program in organizational leadership, I will use my monthly blog to discuss leadership theories and offer practical application in ways that will help the Church accomplish the Mission.)

In his classic article “The Dark Side of Leadership,” Conger (1990) identified a number of reasons why some visionary leaders fail and fail miserably, highlighting negative leaders who place their personal needs as paramount, chase their visions while miscalculating circumstantial realities, and use their communication skills to deny flaws in their vision and manage their image. 

In their book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Lipman-Blumen (2005) described destructive and toxic leaders as those who exhibit highly dysfunctional personality characteristics. But they also placed blame upon followers who seek out such leaders in the midst of challenging and often fearful circumstances. Often, both destructive leaders and those who follow them rationalize their views and mutually support one another and end up advancing a system of destructive leadership.

Recently, Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser (2007) provided a useful description of destructive leadership theory in terms of a toxic triangle made up of threes dimensions, the “confluence of destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments” (p. 176). 
  • Destructive Leaders exhibit the characteristics of “charisma, personalized need for power, narcissism, negative life history, and an ideology of hate” (p. 182). 
  • Susceptible Followers come in two groups, conformers and colluders, “conformers comply with destructive leaders out of fear, whereas colluders actively participate in a destructive leader’s agenda” (p. 183). Conformers make themselves vulnerable because of their “unmet basic needs, negative core self-evaluations, and immaturity” (p. 180). Colluders actively support destructive leaders because of the opportunity to enact their “similar ambitions, worldview, and values” (p. 180). 
  • Conducive Environments for destructive leadership include four factors: “instability, perceived threat, cultural values, and absence of checks and balances and institutionalization” (p. 185).
Have you ever observed destructive leadership theory at work in an organization? What could be done to help those involved dismantle the toxic triangle of destructive leadership, susceptible followership, and conducive environmental factors? What might be the role of prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and the use of wisdom for instituting change?



Conger, J. (1990). The dark side of leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 19(2), 44-55.

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians—and how we can survive them. New York: Oxford University. 

Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2007). The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(3), 176-194.