Ethical and Toxic Leadership

The Narcissistic Leader

“The incomplete self”

• frequently encountered in top management


“Their uninhibited behaviour, self-righteousness, arrogance, inattention to organisational structure and processes, and inability to accept a real interchange of ideas impair organisational functioning.”

(Kets de Vries, 2003)

“I have been managed by some appalling managers, really appalling managers…Some of my internal rules about what I will not do came out of things that were done to me.”

Comment made by a respondent to some recent research that explored the key triggers in effective leadership development (Bentley and Turnbull, 2005: 46).

‘Toxic’ Leadership

“Toxic Leaders first charm, but then manipulate, mistreat, weaken, and ultimately devastate their followers.”

Jean Lipman-Blumen, 2005

Bad Leadership

Incompetencethe leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action. With regard to at least one important leadership challenge, they do not create positive change.

Rigiditythe leaders and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.

Intemperancethe leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable to intervene effectively.

Callousnessthe leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind. Ignored or discounted are the needs, wants, and wishes of most members of the group or organization, especially subordinates.

Corruptnessthe leader and at least some followers lie, cheat, or steal. To a degree that exceeds the norm, they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.

Insularity the leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of “the other”; that is, those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.

Evilnessthe leader and at least some followers commit atrocities. They use pain as an instrument of power. The harm done to men, women, and children is severe rather than slight. The harm can be physical, psychological, or both.

(Kellerman, 2004)

Toxic Leadership and Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)

(Edwards, Ward, Jepson and Wood, 2010)

• highlights the fuzzy nature of ‘good and ‘bad’ and the notion

• current toxic or bad leadership theory is too static and linear

• the lines between what could be conceived as good or bad leadership would be better represented as blurred, permeable or perhaps even non-existent.

• whether someone is seen as ‘toxic’ or ‘bad’ or ‘virtuous’ and ‘good’ is dependent on third party conjecture – transcendental judgement (Ford 2010)

• the use of the word leadership within organisations be viewed as ultimately ‘toxic’?

Ethical Leadership

Leadership Processes

•Attempted leadership – is an act by which an individual intends to influence a group for the purpose of solving a mutual problem.

•Successful leadership – is an attempted leadership act that has been followed; that is, an individual has influenced the group toward solving a mutual problem.

•Effective leadership – has not only influenced the direction of the group but also contributed to the group’s solution to the problem.

John K. Hemphill (1958)

Reflective Questions

• What ethical dilemmas are presented in the film?

• How might they relate these to organisations and management? Use examples from your experience.

• Why should we be interested in ‘good’, ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ leadership?

• Why do we need leadership to have a higher purpose?

Ethical Leadership

“We link ethics to leadership partly because, like ethics, it has been increasingly a topic of concern for both practising managers and academic researchers.”

(Knights and O’Leary, 2006)

Ethical Leadership

“If leaders fail to understand that leadership is about interpretation, there is a greater tendency for them to fall back on the conventional individualistic approaches to leadership, which is likely to make ethical leadership problematic because leaders become pre-occupied with their own image as leaders rather than with their ethical responsibility.”

(Knights and O’Leary, 2006)

Ethical Leadership: A Brief Review of the Literature

• Link to Altruism (Avolio and Locke, 2002; Kanungo and Mendonca, 1996)

• Unethical leadership is preoccupation with self (Knights and O’Leary, 2005)

• Toxic Leadership (Lipmen-Blumen, 2005), Bad Leadership (Kellerman, 2004), Corporate Psychopaths (Boddy et al., 2010)

• Authentic Leadership (Avolio et al., 2004; Luthans and Avolio, 2003)

• Ethical Decision-making (Ciulla, 2004; Bass and Steidlmeier, 1999) – the degree to which leadership styles or influence tactics are ethical or unethical

• Categories of Ethical Leadership (Ciulla, 2005):

1.The ethics of leaders themselves (Intentions)

2.The ethics of how a leader leads (relational)

3.The ethics of what a leader does (the ends)

The Importance of Understanding Community for Ethical Leadership (1)

“Add ethics and stir mentality.” (Gold, 2005)

“… a pre-occupation with the self – that is, an overwhelming yet often self-defeating concern to have one’s self-image confirmed by others. This pre-occupation with the self is reflected and reinforced by traditional ethical discourses including those specific to business as well as most modern approaches to leadership.” (Knights and O’Leary, 2006: 128)

“… leadership theories tend to reflect and reproduce the autonomous subject of Enlightenment thinking since leadership is invariably seen to be the property of individuals not that of social groups or institutions.” (Knights and O’Leary, 2006: 129)

Perceptions of Ethical Leadership (Brown and Mitchell, 2010)

• High pressure contexts are related to unethical behaviour (Robertson and Rymon, 2001)

• Servant Leadership (Greenleaf, 1977; van Dierendonck and Patterson, 2010)

The Importance of Understanding Community for Ethical Leadership (2)

Wider community influences our virtues (Takala, 1998)

“…ethics is not only choosing what to do as individuals, but also and essentially discovering who we are in relation to others – in short our membership of organisations, communities and societies.” (Knights and O’Leary, 2006: 133, referring to the work of MacIntyre, 1991)

“Local communities [as opposed to political or cultural community] are important vehicles for the recovery and expression of moral recognition and the building of personal identities… (Delanty, 2003: 71)

Responsible Leadership

Maak and Pless (2006) suggest a multi-stakeholder perspective on responsible leadership that takes theory away from the leader-follower in the organisation.

• Responsible leadership should be seen as a social-relational and ethical phenomenon that is an interaction between multiple followers inside and outside the organisation and is the art of building and maintaining relationships with these stakeholders

• Maak and Pless (2006) suggest responsible leaders should undertake certain roles to ‘weave’ their network of inclusion such as being a steward, citizen, visionary, servant, coach, architect, change agent, storyteller and meaning enabler.

Caring Leadership

Part of the job of a leader is to take care of others, taking responsibility for them particularly in times of crisis (Ciulla, 2009)

Gabriel (2015) goes on to describe the ‘Caring Leader’ from the follower perspective – followers expect leaders to be competent but also moral and that leaders tend to be judged more harshly on morality than others.

• Gabriel argues that this is owing to the way leaders are judged through fantasy and myth as well as early life experiences.

• Tomkins and Simpson (2015) ground caring leadership in notions of ‘leaping-in’ and ‘leaping ahead’

• ‘leaping-in’ is a dominating type of care that is concerned with the present and the immediate

• ‘leaping-ahead’ is future orientated and is a more complex term that involves anticipation, autonomy and advocacy 


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