Key Takeaways
  • Toxic leaders work for themselves or against the goals of their organizations, resulting in a dysfunctional environment.

  • This article seeks to help management understand how organizational conditions can allow some leaders to become toxic.

  • It describes how workers and managers can defend themselves and their organizations against toxic leaders.

  • Finally, it explains how authentic leaders can build a culture of morale and improved organizational resilience.

A basic assumption about establishing a values-based safety culture is that topmost management is supportive and drives down needed changes. Lovelace (2012) agrees:

Society romanticizes the idea of leadership and its influence on the organization and its members. With minor exception, the majority of researchers who examine leaders, their behaviors and the outcomes they produce focus on the positive, while ignoring the negative and even destructive behaviors and influence of certain leaders.

Yet not all organizations have CEOs or vice presidents who foster a supportive leader-development environment; some are dismissive or even hostile (Winn & Dykes, 2017). But much worse and working under the radar of this romanticized ideal of leader development are toxic leaders who work for themselves or against the goals of their parent organizations, resulting in a poisonous, dysfunctional environment.

When the toxic leader creates a hostile workplace, it results in negative but pervasive consequences that trickle down and create a stressful environment that adversely affects the subordinate's professional and personal life. This covert, destructive behavior is a stressor that costs organizations billions of dollars worldwide in disability claims and lost productivity. It also causes susceptible individuals real stress. According to the stressor-stress-strain model, the connection between toxic leaders and destructive behaviors necessarily begets many negative consequences (Barling, 2007; Bowling & Beehr, 2006).

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