The Great Resignation and Toxic Leaders

Ray Williams
21 min readApr 28, 2022
Image: Pinterest

There appears to be a growing incidence of the cancer of toxic leadership and organizations and this is pronounced during chaotic times. The result has been a loss of trust by employees and the general public in leaders, and often the organizations they lead.

By drawing attention to this problem, it is my hope that boards, leaders and employees, with support from the general public can take concerted action to address the problem.

This is a long article, but I wanted to cover the topic thoroughly with extended reference to research.

Mert KILIÇ Ayşe GÜNSEL in their article in the European Journal of Social Sciences argue “Studies on leadership have been focused on the positive aspects of leadership, and tried to reach certain conclusions based on the positive effects of leadership in organizations. However, the dark side of leadership has been ignored. Those negative leadership styles in general, toxic leadership, in particular, may have been extremely negative effects on organizations, which have the potential to overshadow the effects of positive leadership. Toxic leadership can create a decrease in workplace performance, productivity and output, as well as its remarkable negative impact on employees.”

Edelman’s Trust Barometer (2021) indicates a “growing trust worldwide. In fact, none of the societal leaders we track — government leaders, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders — are trusted to do what is right, with drops in trust scores for all.” The survey finds “CEO’s credibility is at all-time lows. This is evident in the significant drop in trust in the wo largest economies: the U.S. and China. The U.S. (40%) and Chinese (30%) governments are deeply distrusted by respondents from the 26 other markets surveyed. And most notable is the drop in trust among their own citizens, with the U.S. already in the bottom quartile for trust, experiencing an additional five point drop since its presidential election in November 2020.”

INSEAD business school Professors Gianpiero Petriglieri and Jennifer Petriglieri, authors of “Can Business Schools Humanize Leadership?” have coined the term “leadership industrial complex,” which they say promotes a view of leadership that is depersonalized and sanitized: “Over one decade of corporate scandals, financial meltdowns and growing inequality has consolidated a disconnect with business and political leaders, as it is in the protests in the streets and squares around the globe.” Leaders now are no longer seen as being role models or stewards of the common good, but rather as predatory plutocrats who profit disproportionately at the expense of the majority of the population. G. Petriglieri and J. Petriglieri argue that we have experienced a “dehumanization of leadership in which leadership is reduced from a cultural enterprise to a strict intellectual or commercial one, and in which leadership distances aspiring leaders from their followers and institutions, resulting in a disconnect their inner and outer worlds.”

Toxic executives’ behavior is especially difficult to constrain because of the political power they wield and how they can make or break people’s careers. Research suggests that highly ambitious managers are more prepared to violate ethical codes of conduct, exploit others and adopt coercive policies in order to further their interests.

Power corrupts and senior executive positions offer the opportunity to take liberties and raid the resources of the organization for their own use. A leader’s toxic potentiality can be triggered by the power of the senior institutional positions they hold. Self-interest, greed, narcissistic excess and delusions of grandeur can come to overwhelm those who come to feel they are omnipotent in their ability to deploy organizational resource for self-aggrandizement and come to consider they are invulnerable to challenge because of their positions of institutional power and privilege.

The lure of toxicity is advanced by excessively generous severance packages, “golden handshakes” and related benefits. Such benefits do little to curb executive malpractice and much to encourage greed and self-serving behavior when such opportunities arise.

Moreover, the importance of the subject lies also in the fact that organizations are usually incapable of detecting the toxic leaders before the entire organization become dysfunctional, especially due to the fact that catastrophic high-status individuals will tend to select and promote low-status individuals. For instance, obsessed leaders will promote employees who share their obsessions, while histrionic leaders will recruit and promote dependent, submissive individuals so they could be the sole decision-makers. In certain cases, leaders with personality disorders exhibit “extreme levels” of malfunctional behaviors, seriously damaging the course of the entire organization and requiring the intervention of an outside specialist.

What is Toxic Leadership?

Toxic Leadership has been defined in the research paper Toxic Leadership a Contextual Framework by Jean Lipman-Blumen as: “A process in which leaders, by dint of their destructive behavior (sic) and/or dysfunctional personal characteristics inflict serious and enduring harm on their followers, their organizations and non-followers, alike.”

According to Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser, there are six characteristics of the toxic leader.These characteristics are tolerated in environments that are conducive to these behaviours. These environments recruit susceptible followers who either collude (pro-active) or conform (reactive) to this environment, this is otherwise known as the “Toxic Triangle”.

These organisations tend to have a high employee turnover. Toxic leaders will dismiss this saying “those people couldn’t handle our high performing culture.”

You can spot these companies by researching them on Glassdoor and finding out what people are saying about the organization. If the majority of reviews are negative, you might want to think twice about joining them.

Toxic leaders must not be confused with leaders who make mistakes. We all make mistakes and get things wrong from time to time. The difference is whether we treat it as a learning opportunity or keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Ivana Milosevic, Stefan Maric, and Dragan Loncar argue in their article published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, say thatThe consensus among this research is that leaders who engage in these dark leadership behaviors will have a largely negative impact on the organization and its stake-holders .”

The authors argue that in “explicating the toxic leadership process, few show that the primary intent of toxic leaders is to shield their lack of competence and maintain the position of control via upward influence toward superiors, such as ingratiation and selective information sharing, as well as via downward influence attempts toward subordinates, such as limiting interaction and micromanagement of followers. These activities are toxic because they create a state of ambiguity where employees have difficulty evaluating the competence of the toxic leader. As a consequence, these leaders stay in position longer, further increasing the toxicity of the organization via political behavior and bullying.”

In an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Toxic Culture is Driving the Great Resignation,” authors Donald Sull, Charles Sull and Ben Zweig reported “More than 40% of all employees were thinking about leaving their jobs at the beginning of 2021, and as the year went on, workers quit in unprecedented numbers. Between April and September 2021, more than 24 million American employees left their jobs, an all-time record.” The authors looked at a large number of companies across multiple industries andWe also analyzed the free text of more than 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews, using the Natural Employee Language Understanding platform developed by CultureX,. For each Culture 500 company, we measured how frequently employees mentioned 172 topics and how positively they talked about each topic. We then analyzed which topics best predicted a company’s industry-adjusted attrition rate.”

A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover. “Our analysis found that the leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior,” the authors state.

A toxic corporate culture is the single best predictor of which companies suffered from high attrition in the first six months of the Great Resignation. The failure to appreciate high performers, through formal and informal recognition, is another element of culture that predicts attrition. A failure to recognize performance is likely to drive out a company’s most productive employees. This is not to argue that compensation and burnout don’t influence attrition — of course they do. The important point is that other aspects of culture appear to matter even more.

In a related article, in MIT Sloan Management Review, Donald Sull, Charles Sull, William Cipolli, and Caio Brighenti the researcher reported what thousands of employees said about toxic leaders by analyzing the language they used. Five attributes — disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive — have by far the largest negative impact on how employees rate their company’s culture in Glassdoor reviews. Each bar represents the marginal impact a negative mention of a topic had on an employee’s rating of their organization’s culture.

The authors also described the organizational costs of toxic leaders:

  • A toxic corporate culture was 10 times more predictive of attrition than compensation during the first six months of the Great Resignation.
  • Twenty percent of employees have left a job because of its culture.
  • Replacing an employee can cost companies up to twice the employee’s annual salary.
  • A toxic culture is the strongest predictor of a negative Glassdoor review. Seventy-three percent of U.S. job seekers apply to a company only if its corporate culture aligns with their personal values.

The authors conclude the following: “Unfortunately, cultural toxicity is widespread. On average, 10% of American employees in large companies mentioned one or more elements of a toxic culture in their Glassdoor reviews in the five years between 2016 to 2020. This translates into more than 6,000 miserable workers for the average large American company. There is a wide spread around that average: Culture 500 companies ranged from 2% to 22% of employees discussing toxicity in their Glassdoor reviews. When 1 out of every 4 employees mentions toxicity, it’s fair to say that the corporate culture as a whole is toxic.”

Zhanna Lyubykh, Jennifer Bozeman, Nick Turner, and Sandy Hershcovis published a study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior where they argue “Abusive bosses often blame a worker’s lack of effort or care for poor performance when it’s their own biases that may be the problem.” They add “Abusive bosses often blame a worker’s lack of effort or care for poor performance when it’s their own biases that may be the problem.” The consequences and costs of abusive supervision are significant. For example, the authors argue “it can worsen employees’ psychological health and may be costing U.S. employers up to US$24 billion a year in lost productivity. Suggesting abusive management behaviors are justified or that a worker may deserve the treatment is problematic because it puts the onus for correcting these harmful actions on the targets of abuse rather than the perpetrators.”

Surveys show that about 1 in 7 U.S. workers feel that their manager engages in hostile behaviors toward them.

Richard Gunderman, a professor of Medicine at IUPUI published a study in which he argues the following:

  • “Toxic bosses drain people of their passion, leaving nothing in their wake but a widespread sense of despair. Employees come to resemble mice who have been subjected to random electrical shocks, lapsing into a state that psychologists call learned helplessness. As another former employee of a toxic boss put it, “It wasn’t long before the whole organization took on a soulless feel.”
  • “Within weeks of the toxic boss’s arrival, the mercury in the organization’s ‘distrustometer’ begins rising precipitously. People begin eying one another with suspicion.”
  • “Power becomes consolidated in the hands of a few people who report directly to the toxic boss. People who question this process are moved aside or completely out of the organization. In many cases, the toxic boss achieves these ends not by direct confrontation, but like a subtle poisoner, delivering the lethal dose in tiny amounts that build up over time.”
  • “Toxic bosses quickly seize control of the pathways along which knowledge is shared. Organization charts and reporting hierarchies are rearranged so that everything flows through one central hub, with few if any alternatives.”
  • “With a toxic boss, employees may have a hard time remembering why they came to work for the organization in the first place. The true mission of the organization is obscured. The toxic boss shifts everyone’s attention to crasser metrics, such as financial profit and cost cutting competitive rankings, and the organization’s mission is treated as a mere tool for boosting results.”

Erica Mildner at the University of British Columbia suggests toxic bosses should be the next to face #MeToo-type reprisals. She argues “ In Canada, the emphasis on workers’ right to a safe and healthy workplace in the wake of former governor general Julie Payette’s resignation provided a rare opportunity to expand the definition of workplace harassment and hold toxic bosses to account — just as serial sexual abusers have been outed and held responsible during the #MeToo movement.”

The Government of Canada’s Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution provides strict standards to determine when toxic behaviour amounts to legal harassment. A “poisoned workplace environment” featuring hostile and offensive behaviours only qualifies as harassment if directed at one individual or is tied to a legal basis for discrimination, including race, gender and religion. Toxic workplace behaviour must be categorized as its own form of harassment, Mildner says: “Fortunately, since Payette’s resignation, the definition of workplace harassment for Canadian federal employees has been amended to include humiliation and psychological trauma in the workplace. Federal employers must also submit annual reports detailing harassment allegations.”

By framing toxic workplace behaviours as an occupational safety issue, one that could amount to harassment, it recognizes the psychological trauma that these environments inflict. If you were required to work in a literal toxic workplace, filled with noxious gases, you would expect a gas mask. Workers who face daily dehumanizing and hostile treatment deserve similar guarantees of protection Mildner says.

Mildner says “Regardless, the impact on workers remains the same: fear, humiliation and sometimes trauma. Whether someone works for an abusive supervisor at a fast-food restaurant or in the hallowed halls of Parliament, that supervisor is still responsible for their behaviour. Abuse is still abuse, and no one deserves to feel unsafe and frightened at work.”

Theo Veldsman, an Organizational Psychologist has researched and written extensively about toxic leaders and organizations. In one of his articles, “How Toxic Leaders Destroy People as Well as Organizations,” He says “There is a growing incidence of toxic leadership in organisations across the world. This is clear from anecdotal evidence as well as research which suggests that one out of every five leaders is toxic. My own research shows that closer to three out of every ten leaders are toxic. This cancer of toxicity threatens the well-being of both individuals and organisations. It also affects the performance of a society and country. That’s why there is a pressing need for leaders to understand the nature, dynamics and evolution of toxic leadership and organizations.”

In the case of individuals toxic leadership refers to ongoing, deliberate, intentional actions — the “arrow” — by a leader to undermine the sense of dignity, self-worth and efficacy of an individual — the “poison”. This results in exploitative, destructive, devaluing and demeaning work experiences. These destructive actions may be physical, psychosocial or even spiritual when they diminish a person’s meaning and purpose.

A recent study by Vicki Webster and colleagues published Stress and Health in into the impact of systemic toxic behaviours exhibited by managers found that even one or two toxic behaviours, such as manipulating and intimidating, was enough to cause significant harm to employees’ mental and physical health. Negative consequences for well-being reported by participants in the study included: Anxiety, depression, burnout, cynicism, helplessness, social isolation, loss of confidence, feeling undervalued; anger, disappointment, distress, fear, frustration, mistrust, resentment, humiliation, insomnia, hair loss, weight loss/gain, headaches, stomach upsets, viruses and colds.

In an eye-opening article by Roy Lubit in Ivey Business Journal “The Tyranny of Toxic Managers: An Emotional Intelligence Approach To Dealing With Difficult Personalities,” says “Toxic managers divert people’s energy from the real work of the organization, destroy morale, impair retention, and interfere with cooperation and information sharing. Their behaviour, like a rock thrown into a pond, can cause ripples distorting the organization’s culture and affecting people far beyond the point of impact.”

In a new article in Harvard Business Review by Deepa Purushothaman and Lisen Stromberg they argue: “Research has shown that toxic cultures are extremely costly for companies, and toxic culture was the single biggest predictor of attrition during the first six months of the Great Resignation.

“Toxic rock stars,” or bullies who evade consequences because they deliver results, can ruin the workplace experience for most employees, but they’re particularly harmful to women of color. In the midst of the fight for talent, at a time when the link between diversity and better business outcomes is finally being understood and when external stakeholders are demanding accountability on diversity metrics, company leaders must look carefully at the wide-ranging impacts of tolerating and rewarding high-performing bullies at the expense of culture, particularly as they impact women of color.”

Other researchers have examined whether the structure of organizations actually facilitates the prevalence of toxic leaders. Chris Jackson, Benjamin Walker and Elliroma Gardiner published their research “A Focus on Goals Rather Than Behavior is Creating Workplace Monsters,” in The Leadership Quarterly argue “Rather than putting the time and effort into promoting self-control, many organizations continue to favour focusing on goals, irrespective of how they are achieved. The general obsession by some organizations with outputs, reports, and metrics, signals to employees that performance is paramount, whatever the cost.”

The authors say “this has led to some spectacular failures in organizations. For example in the ride-sharing business Uber, poor leadership modelled and encouraged poor self-control within the business. Volkswagen’s 2015 emission scandal offers another sobering example of what can happen when there is insufficient scrutiny on how performance targets are met. Our research highlights that destructive leaders lack self-control especially when anxious and the difficulty of tasks is high. Constructive leaders, on the other hand, have much more self-control and are much less easily overwhelmed.”

The authors describe how the usual way businesses gauge employee performance is epitomised by Norton and Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard. The Balanced Score Card sets a range of balanced objectives that employees and teams need to meet and which cascade up through the organisation so that they are easily monitored.

The reliance on these tools like this can fail to identify, and even encourage poor self-control. It can create an environment of low accountability which paves the way for individuals with low self-control to reach senior leadership positions. Research shows a focus on performance also reduces the learning and development of staff, whereas a focus on effort and good process puts an organisation on a far better footing.

In my book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, I said the following: “According to the Harvard Business Review, 2 out of 5 new CEOs fail in their first 18 months on the job. It appears that the major reason for the failure has nothing to do with competence, or knowledge, or experience, but rather with hubris and ego. According to the National Leadership Index report, 75% of organizations reported a deficit of leadership skills. Forty-two per cent of managers rate their own line-manager as ineffective; 70% of Americans still believe they have a crisis of leadership.

What’s more 70% agree that unless leadership improves, the U.S. will decline as a nation.” And this: “Why do employees quit their jobs, and have problems with engagement? Leigh Branham, author of 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, analyzed over 20,000 anonymous surveys asking employees why they left their last job. Although most managers believe pay is the primary reason people quit, Branham discovered that the number one reason actually is “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders and that loss of trust is often correlated to abusive bosses.”

Sydney Finkelstein, author of Why Smart Executives Fail, researched several spectacular failures during a six-year period. He concluded that these CEOs had similar deadly habits. Here are some connected to a toxic leadership style:

  • They exhibit a lack of respect for others.
  • They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely supportive.

David Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, in their book, Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb To The Top And How To Manage Them, present 11 cogent reasons why CEOs fail, most of which have to do with hubris, ego and a lack of emotional intelligence.

New research helps explain why grandiose narcissists often emerge as leaders despite the negative aspects of their personality. This research adds to a growing body of recent research that examines the “dark side” of leadership, rather than the traditional “good leadership” traits and characteristics.

The study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, by Charles O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University Graduate School of Business indicates that narcissists often have the “means, motive, and opportunity” to attain leadership positions.

According to the authors, research over the past decade has shown that grandiose narcissists are often successful at attaining leadership positions in organizations. However, there is no evidence that narcissists lead higher performing firms, and while they see themselves as more competent leaders, there is no evidence for this, either. In fact, research shows that narcissistic leaders have numerous negative effects on the entities they lead. This raises a question: Why are narcissists so successful in attaining leadership positions?

O’Reilly and Pfeffer suggest that the defining characteristics of grandiose narcissism (grandiosity, self-confidence, entitlement, and a willingness to exploit others for one’s own self-interest) may make them more effective organizational politicians than those who are lower in narcissism. They reported the results of three studies that show: (1) those higher in narcissism are more likely than those who are lower to see organizations in political terms (opportunity), (2) they are more willing to engage in organizational politics (motive), and (3) they are more skilled political actors (means).

“I study leadership and, especially in Silicon Valley, have been exposed to a set of narcissistic CEOs who are often destructive — even as the press holds them up as great leaders, like Donald Trump and Steve Jobs,” said O’Reilly. “Given that there is overwhelming evidence of their destructive qualities, why do they rise to positions of prominence? My friend and coauthor, Jeff Pfeffer, has long been interested in power and has long argued that power in organizations comes from a willingness to violate norms in the pursuit of influence. We decided to test some of these ideas.”

Their study of 699 individuals found that those higher in narcissism were more likely to see organizations as political, were more willing to engage in political action, and were more skilled at doing so.

The authors reported that narcissistic individuals tended to agree with statements such as “People in this organization attempt to build themselves up by tearing others down”, “Engaging in politics is an attractive means to achieve my personal objectives”, and “I am particularly good at sensing the motivations and hidden agendas of others” more than their less narcissistic counterparts.

In addition, more narcissistic participants also tended to hold higher positions in within their business organization.

The findings provide evidence that “people who rise to positions of power and influence often have high levels of narcissism and succeed at least in part because they are more willing to engage in organizational politics,” O’Reilly said.

However, it is still unclear why people continue to tolerate and follow narcissistic leaders “even after they have been shown to be self-interested, manipulative, and abusive,” Reilly said. “Narcissists who occupy positions of responsibility in organizations can be dangerous. We need to stop idolizing them and start screening for them,” Reilly explained.

In my book , Toxic Bosses. I said: “Persons who display either narcissistic personality disorder or the narcissistic personality type are preoccupied with maintaining excessively positive self-concepts. They become overly concerned with obtaining positive, aggrandizing feedback from others and react with extreme positive or negative emotions when they succeed or fail to receive confirmation that others hold them in high regard. Narcissists want positive feedback about themselves, and they actively manipulate others to solicit or coerce admiration from them. Accordingly, narcissism is thought to reflect a form of chronic interpersonal self-esteem regulation.”

I cite the research of Charles O’Reilly where he surveyed nearly 900 business school alumni from Stanford, Santa Clara University, and UC Berkeley who worked at 56 large, publicly traded high-tech firms based in the United States. Alumni completed surveys to evaluate their CEO’s personality type and organizational cultures. Controlling for factors like firm size and length of the CEO’s tenure, the researchers found that more narcissistic CEOs were less likely to lead firms with collaborative cultures and an emphasis on integrity.

What’s To Be Done About It

Michael Walton, published a study in Management Insight suggests The purpose of this research-based article is to highlight the pervasive virus-like presence of counter-productive and toxic behavior in the workplace and the damage such behavior does to business organizations. Its widespread presence suggests that such patterns of behavior should be anticipated and planned for if we are to guard against toxic leadership taking over business life.”

To counter the continuing high rate of executive failures Walton suggests a more forensic approach be adopted in the appointment of executives. It advocates Corporate Boards together with top and senior management consider the use of psychometric profiling — combined with regular monitoring of an executive’s ‘behaviour-in-context’ following their appointment- to guard against the emergence of toxic leadership behaviours.”

One problem Walton says “is that organizations continue to be viewed and managed as if they are logical-rational institutions. So far as interpersonal behavior is concerned organizations remain fundamentally dynamic, emotion-rich political entities. As such they come complete with all the rivalries and tensions that can be triggered when people work together. The inherent — but invariably suppressed — emotionality of business life combined with the competitive dynamics of career-focused employees generates the potential for exploitative, dysfunctional and anti-social workplace behaviour in the workplace).”

Amy Y. Ou and her colleagues at Arizona State University published a study in Administrative Science Quarterly in which they suggested it would be interesting to look at some of the leadership traits that include self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a focus on the greater good and others’ welfare, as opposed to dwelling on oneself have more positive impact on employees and the organization. Together with three other colleagues in the U.S. and China, the researchers wound up interviewing the CEOs of 63 private Chinese companies. They also gave surveys to 1,000 top- and mid-level managers who worked with the CEOs. The surveys and interviews aimed to determine how a humble leadership style would affect not so much the bottom line as the top and mid-level managers who worked under the CEOs. Did managers feel empowered by CEOs’ humility, did they feel as though they were invited into company decision-making, and did that lead to a higher level of activity and engagement?

The study’s conclusion: The more humble the CEO, the more top- and mid-level managers reported positive reactions. Top-level managers said they felt their jobs were more meaningful, they wanted to participate more in decision-making, they felt more confident about doing their work and they had a greater sense of autonomy. They also were more motivated to collaborate, to make decisions jointly and to share information. Likewise middle managers felt more engaged and committed to their jobs when the top boss was more humble. “There is a negative stereotype that humble people are weak and indecisive,” Angelo Kinicki, one of the co-authors of the report, “That’s just not the case.”

Fred Kiel, head of the executive development firm KRW international, recently studied 84 CEOs and more than 8,000 of their employees over the course of seven years. The results, written up in the Kiel’s recent book Return on Character found that people worked harder and more happily when they felt valued and respected. So-called “character-driven” CEOs who possess four virtues — integrity, compassion, forgiveness, and accountability — lead companies whose returns on assets are five times larger than those of executives who are more self-centered, he found.

One of the most interesting way of looking at the problem of toxic is from an evolutionary perspective. Frans de Waal is author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For A Kinder Society. De Waal is a biologist, professor of psychology and director of the Living Link Center at Emory University. In 2007, Time magazine selected him as one of the world’s most influential people. The distinguished scientist says it is long overdue that we jettisoned our beliefs about human nature — proposed by economists and politicians — that human society is modeled on the perpetual struggle for survival that exists in nature.

De Waal says this is mere projection on our part. Nature is replete with examples of cooperation and empathy. Given all we know about empathy in other animal species, why do we persist in seeing human existence, particularly in business, as a fight for survival, with winners and losers? De Waal calls this the “macho origin myth” which insists that the human species has been waging war on itself as millennia as a reflection of our true nature. What has been ignored is the fact that empathy has been evident during that entire time. De Waal points to a mass of examples of sacrifice, empathy, co-operation and fairness in humans and other animals’ species.

A Personal Perspective

Based on my 30 years plus of being a CEO, and training and coaching leaders in a wide variety of industries I’ve come to believe the following about problem of toxic leaders:

  • There are many emotionally intelligent, compassionate and inspiring leaders in organizations, but they are not the majority. We still have far too many toxic leaders that are causing harm, and the numbers increase during chaotic times.
  • We often pay lip-service to wanting humble, emotionally intelligent leaders in our organizations but more frequently choose the charismatic/narcissistic and sometimes emotionally immature ones or ones driven more by self-interest than service.
  • The current model of free market Capitalism primarily favors and rewards financial results over the well-being of people or the planet.
  • Executive compensation, particularly at the CEO level is feeding the problems of income inequality and short-termism.
  • We don’t incorporate psychometric assessments in the recruitment and promotion of leaders so as to help weed-out the narcissists and sociopaths.
  • We insufficiently focus on good character and virtuous behavior as a prime criteria for leaders selection.
  • There is insufficient accountability in organizations for unethical, toxic and amoral behavior of leaders.

Finally, while it may seem I’m pessimistic about the future of leadership in organizations I’m actually optimistic. First, more and more people are drawing attention to this problem, and second, employees are increasingly not prepared to work for toxic leaders and in toxic organizations.

You can read more about toxic leaders in my book, Toxic Bosses.

Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others