LinkedIn emplea cookies para mejorar la funcionalidad y el rendimiento de nuestro sitio web, así como para ofrecer publicidad relevante. Si continúas navegando por ese sitio web, aceptas el uso de cookies. Consulta nuestras Condiciones de uso y nuestra Política de privacidad para más información.
LinkedIn emplea cookies para mejorar la funcionalidad y el rendimiento de nuestro sitio web, así como para ofrecer publicidad relevante. Si continúas navegando por ese sitio web, aceptas el uso de cookies. Consulta nuestra Política de privacidad y nuestras Condiciones de uso para más información.
Destructive Leadership: Are you the
sheep, the yes-person, the alienated, the
pragmatic or a star follower?
By Sanam Reza
Theodore Roosevelt Jr., an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and
historian who served as the 26th President of the United States once said, “People ask the
difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives”. Hart Consultancy
(Business Psychologists) defines leadership as “the ability to build and/or maintain a high
performing team” and so they identify destructive leadership in the most general terms as “the
behavior that undermines or destroys the effectiveness of a team”.
Hart Consultancy identifies three levels in the organizational hierarchy where destructive leaders
may exist. “First line supervisors destroy their teams almost exclusively through their behavior.
There is a reasonably well defined taxonomy of bad managerial behavior captured by our dark
side measure of personality (Hogan & Hogan, 2009); these behaviors include: bullying,
harassing, exploiting, lying, betraying, manipulating-in short, denying subordinates their basic
humanity. These behaviors alienate the subordinates, who in response, engage in a wide range
of passive aggressive behaviors that undermine the performance of the team. They also retaliate
actively with law suits and, at times, direct violence”.
Destructive leaders at the second or middle level have the same scope and in addition, they can
make bad tactical decisions that lead to destruction of the entire team; which is basically
through exercising bad judgment. “The scope of the damage created by bad tactical decisions is
relatively limited; examples would include: the coach of a football team calling for an obviously
wrong defensive formation; a fourth grade teacher focusing on music and ignoring math; a mid-
level manager routinely overspending the budget”.
Senior leaders have much greater discretion to act destructively (Kaiser & Hogan, 2006). They
can avail themselves of the full range of behavioral options like the first-line and mid-managers
but, “it is at the level of strategic decision making that senior managers can be most destructive,
and in ways that vastly exceed the capacity of lower level managers to be destructive. Strategic
decisions fall into two categories: decisions about staffing and decisions about direction”. Hart
Consultancy believes that examples of disastrous strategic decisions are almost endless:
“Napoleon and Hitler decided to invade Russia in the winter, at the cost of millions of lives and
the ends of their empires. Leo Apotheker, immediately after becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard,
decided to take HP out of computers and into the software business, appointing a mate from
SAP with no background in computers to run the computer business. Or consider George Bush‟s
decision to invade Iraq and put Donald Rumsfeld in charge. On the other hand, in terms of
organizational effectiveness, if a CEO makes good strategic decisions, then the consequences of
his/her brutalizing the staff are minimized. An example would be the case of Steve Jobs at
But, these leaders are not always to be blamed entirely. No one person is ever solely responsible
for actions that involve so many people. It is the people, the employees or any other party
around these leaders that we bring under the microscope. „How to spot a destructive leader‟ by
Andrew and Nada Kakabadse (2003) supports similar ideas to Krasikova, Green & LeBreton
(2013) about the manifestations of destructive leadership. They suggested that destructive
behaviour does not entirely originate from leaders but, also from their supporters.
Lack of self-awareness in both the follower and the leader has a strong hand in letting a
destructive leader walk along such a path. The supporters do not reflect on themselves to
identify whether they, as a follower themselves are contributing to this destructive cyclic
behaviour. In addition, the paper also suggested that the environment and culture of any work
place could further facilitate unattractive characteristics in a leader. Another way followers can
also contribute to a leader‟s destructive ways is when they themselves, consciously or
unconsciously, are incompetent, in frustration; a leader may turn to destructive methods to
reach a desired goal, where they have failed to accomplish goals through non-destructive
There are situations where your team as a whole is not active enough and no amount of positive
leadership pushes them towards achieving the goal. This may be interpreted as destructive
leadership to some. Companies with board of directors actually do interfere, when someone‟s
leadership is destructive, bringing in losses instead of profit.
Further study shows destructive leadership possibly leads to dictatorship. According to the six
leadership styles of Goleman, he revealed one of six leadership styles is the coercive leader. The
study is broadly reliable with the summary that not all charismatic leaders are destructive, but
most destructive leaders are charismatic. He concludes, the destructive style can be effective in
some situations such as, in a company turnaround, a takeover attempt, or during a particular
emergency. This style can also help to control a problem of teamwork.
„Rethinking Followership‟ by Robert E. Kelley; suggests there are five kinds of followers; the
sheep, the yes-people, the alienated, the pragmatics, and the star followers. Kelley insists in this
that followers are more in a position to identify and fight destructive leadership. Rather than
taking orders, someone with a courageous conscience and self awareness can help a destructive
leader to use more positive methods.
„The Sheep‟ are passive and require external motivation from the leader. These individuals lack
commitment and require constant supervision from the leader. „The Yes-People‟ are committed
to the leader and the goal (or task) of the organization (or group/team). These conformist
individuals do not question the decisions or actions of the leader. They will defend adamantly
their leader when faced with opposition from others. „The Pragmatics‟ are not trail-blazers; they
will not stand behind controversial or unique ideas until the majority of the group has expressed
their support. These individuals often remain in the background of the group. „The Alienated‟ are
negative and often attempt to stall or bring the group down by constantly questioning the
decisions and actions of the leader. These individuals often view themselves as the rightful
leader of the organization and are critical of the leader and fellow group members. Lastly, „The
Star Followers‟ are the exemplary individuals who are positive, active, and independent thinkers.
Star followers will not blindly accept the decisions or actions of a leader until they have
evaluated them completely. Furthermore, these types of followers can succeed without the
presence of a leader.
John Calvin Maxwell, an American author, speaker, and pastor who has written many books,
primarily focusing on leadership describes a leader as “the one who knows the way, goes the
way, and shows the way”. Sometimes, great leaders may go off track due to two identified
reasons; insecurity or arrogance. Whatever the reason, a star follower is someone who actually
cares and is dedicated to the goal of the company. These star followers can actually help the
leaders realize why they hold such a position and show the alternatives to their desired
decisions. The star followers are the future leaders or as Multiple Attributions says “You don‟t
need a title to be a leader”, they are leaders in disguise.
Destructive leadership is not a mental condition and they are not someone to be afraid of.
Destructive leaders are merely someone whose judgment may have been clouded recently and
it is the responsibility of the people surrounding him or her to help these great leaders
remember their position. The American statesman and the sixth President of the United States,
John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and
become more, you are a leader.” These leaders need the reminder of how they reached that
position; it is because of their good judgment, their dedication to grow the company and its
employees, and their long-term visions they are the leader. Followers, or in this case employees
in the lower hierarchy; seem to act as bystanders when a leader is being destructive.
Barbara Kellerman in „Organizational Structure: What Every Leader Needs to Know About
Followers‟, Harvard Business Review, discusses about these usual bystanders, somewhat like „The
Pragmatic‟, and blaming attitude of followers. She says, “These free riders deliberately stand
aside and disengage, both from their leaders and from their groups or organizations. They may
go along passively when it is in their self-interest to do so, but they are not internally motivated
to engage in an active way. Their withdrawal also amounts to tacit support for whoever and
whatever constitutes the status quo. Bystanders can drag down the rest of the group or
organization. They are perfectly aware of what is going on around them; they just choose not to
take the time, the trouble, or, to be fair, sometimes the risk to get involved. A notorious example
from the public sector is people who refuse to intervene when a crime is being committed;
commonly referred to as the Genovese syndrome or the bystander effect. There are bystanders
everywhere and, they tend to go unnoticed, especially in large organizations, because they
consciously choose to fly under the radar. In the workplace, silent but productive bystander
followers can be useful to managers who just want people to do as they are told but, they will
inevitably disappoint those bosses who want people to actually care about the organization‟s
mission. There are ways to bring bystanders along, however. The key is to determine the root
causes of their alienation and offer appropriate intrinsic or extrinsic rewards that may increase
their levels of engagement, and, ultimately, their productivity.”
According to Fast Company, the five ways to be a good follower are; awareness, diplomacy,
courage, collaboration, and critical thinking. Leaders need to be connected to their identity and
their old self, so that they can always rely on those instincts that they have used before.
Followers need to be more self aware and not blame their leaders all the time. Self awareness
exercises should be compulsory on a regular basis by the companies. Steve Jobs once said,
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” therefore, companies should be on
the look-out for those star followers to use them productively and consider their ideas, to help
them grow to be the next leader.
[Check out the video by Tedx Des Moines on „Why do good leaders go bad” by Jann Freed at:
Rotarian Sanam Reza is a business graduate of International Trade from Victoria University, Melbourne,
and holds a Master of Business and Commerce degree from University of Western Sydney, Sydney.