Consequences of destructive leadership

Narcissistic leaders are generally ruthless and obsessed with themselves.

Destructive leadership behaviour is any behaviour that is detrimental to the success of an organisation or team. This can include micromanaging, bullying, and creating an environment of fear.

The consequences of this behaviour can be far-reaching and include decreased morale, decreased productivity, increased turnover, and a lack of trust in the leader. One interesting study showed the prevalence of destructive leadership behaviour between 33% to 60%. These statistics show that destructive behaviour is common in many organisations.

The causes of destructive leadership behaviour often emanate from the personality of the individual leaders.

Individuals with personality traits such as narcissism tend to exhibit destructive leadership behaviour as they lead their teams. Sometimes, these personality defects can be as dire as psychopathic traits.

Let us look at one category of destructive behaviour emanating from narcissistic leaders. These leaders are often overly critical of their team members and take credit for their successes. For example, a narcissistic leader may give their team members impossible deadlines and blame them for not meeting them. They may also be unwilling to listen to feedback or take responsibility for their mistakes.

Narcissistic leaders are generally ruthless and obsessed with themselves. They will ruthlessly crush anyone who challenges their authority. They like people who blindly praise them. They set unrealistic deadlines to find more reasons to be cruel to people.

Unfortunately, narcissistic leaders are often promoted to senior leadership roles as most people mistake their confidence for competence. When elevated to the CEO level, they become untouchable and create an aura of invincibility around their role. They amass personal favours to enhance their image, even if it is not in the organisation's best interest. They make most decisions to enhance their profile at the organisation's expense.

One other category of destructive leaders emanating personality is referred to as a psychopath.

Psychopathic leaders have no empathy, they disregard the feelings of others, and have a tendency to manipulate and exploit people. They may also be callous, selfish, and impulsive. At a very high level, for example, the CEO level, some psychopathic leaders are prone to taking risks and engaging in criminal behaviour.

One notable trait of psychopathic leaders is that they lack remorse or guilt for their actions and may be unable to form meaningful relationships with others. They rejoice when they are harassing subordinates. They may also be prone to lying and manipulating people to get what they want.

Interestingly these psychopathic leaders often use their charm and charisma to manipulate those around them. Try to reflect on leaders you know, and you may realise what I am saying. Where they feel the subordinates may have the courage to confront them, they may resort to intimidation tactics such as threats or violence to control their team members.

Psychopathic leaders can have a devastating effect on an organisation or team. Their lack of empathy can lead to a hostile work environment, decreased morale, decreased productivity, increased turnover, and a lack of trust in the leader. Organizations need to recognize the signs of psychopathic leadership behaviour so that they can take steps to address it before it becomes too damaging.

Destructive leadership behaviours impact employees in various ways. Research findings consistently show that leaders who exhibit destructive leadership behaviours lead to staff turnover and a toxic work environment. Other research has shown that destructive leadership behaviour increases the rate of counterproductive behaviour in an organisation.

Destructive leaders make people hate their jobs. They like people around them to feel them by showing they have the power to control and direct things. The model of operation is centred on humiliating subordinates. They often set subordinates against each other by peddling lies about these subordinates. Remember the ultimate goal for such leaders is to look important ahead of everyone else. Anyone perceived as challenging their power is ruthlessly managed out of the organization.

The tragedy is that Boards rarely check for such destructive traits when hiring. Most Boards only realise their mistakes once such people have started work and destroying the organization.

Boards must know that destructive leaders who may appear to be progressing towards achieving the organization's goals do not take long to show their true colours. Remember, once employees start feeling such leaders' negative impact, they feel undervalued and worthless. They are made to feel they are worthless. At some stage, employees feel it's better to exit the organisation. The cost of destructive leadership is huge. The costs are not only in the form of replacement costs, but the organisation may lose the knowledge that such departing employees will take away with them.

While most bosses think employees leave for more money, research shows that only 12 percent do. Most people (79%) leave because they don't feel respected or appreciated, and 58% say they don't have a good relationship with their boss. According to a survey of 10,000 job seekers, 42% left their jobs due to bad managers.

So what can be done to curb the negative impact of destructive leaders? The best approach is for Boards to be vigilant when hiring senior leaders.

They must subject all candidates for leadership roles to personality assessments so that these traits are flagged at entry. Boards must hire knowing the type of leader they are hiring.

  • Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. Phone +263 24 248 1 946-48/ 2290 0276, cell number +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: [email protected] or visit


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