The susceptible circle: A taxonomy of followers associated with destructive leadership

a b s t r a c t

While leadership scholars increasingly acknowledge the influence of followers in the leadership
process, less attention has been paid to their role in the destructive leadership process.
Specifically, the current debate lacks a broad-based understanding of different susceptible
follower types that synthesizes related research across academic domains. Expanding on Padilla,
Hogan, and Kaiser’s (2007) toxic triangle model of destructive leadership, we integrate research
and theory across various academic literatures to derive a cohesive taxonomy of vulnerable
followers that we call the susceptible circle. We describe the core characteristics of each follower
type, drawing on Barbuto’s (2000) theory of follower compliance to highlight the psychological
processes that motivate each follower to comply with destructive leaders. We then conclude by
discussing theoretical and practical implications, as well as avenues for future research.

Many organizations succeed, but many also fail. Some fail rather spectacularly. As recent high profile cases in the energy and
financial sectors highlight, destructive leadership is often at the heart of many organizations’ immense economic and social losses.
These losses tend to spread far beyond the boundaries of those affected organizations (Tepper, Duffy, Henle, & Lambert, 2006).
However, success and failure are seldom due to a single factor or individual (Meindl & Ehrlich, 1987; Meindl, Ehrlich & Dukerich,
1985). The leadership literature increasingly recognizes leadership as a complex process among leaders, followers, and contexts
(Osborn, Hunt & Jauch, 2002; Shamir & Howell, 1999). The convergence of these three elements contributes to observed
organizational outcomes, both positively and negatively.
This paper focuses on destructive leadership and the susceptible followers who contribute to the toxic outcomes it creates. We
seek to accomplish three principal goals. First,we expand on Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser’s (2007) toxic trianglemodel by synthesizing
research across academic domains and deriving a taxonomy of vulnerable followers: the susceptible circle. Second, we propose
several follower sub-types within the general categories of susceptible followership. We describe the core characteristics of these
followers, drawing on Barbuto’s (2000) theory of follower compliance in order to highlight the dominant psychological processes
underlying each type of follower’s compliance with destructive leaders. Third, we conclude by discussing implications of the
susceptible circle, as well as an agenda for future research.

To organize our discussion, we first provide an overview of destructive leadership research and discuss Padilla et al.’s (2007)
toxic triangle model to define destructive leadership and highlight the role of susceptible followers in the process. Next, we discuss
Barbuto’s (2000) theory of follower compliance as a theoretical foundation for our classification of each follower. Finally, before
turning to our discussion of the susceptible circle, we make several notes regarding the focus and scope of our proposed taxonomy.

  1. Leader-centric approaches to destructive leadership
    Despite the fact that leaders need followers to reach group goals, much of the previous writing on leadership is leader-centric,
    highlighting themain leader traits, behaviors, and perceived effectiveness as evaluated by subordinates or supervisors (Kaiser,Hogan,
    & Craig, 2008). Followers have typically been viewed as recipients, or mediators, of the leader’s influence, and as the agents for
    achievement of the leader’s vision and objectives. Relatively few studies have considered group outcomes or performance in
    determining the effectiveness of the leadership process. A careful survey of published studies shows that only about 15% have
    examined the relationship between leaders and organizational outcomes (Kaiser et al., 2008). Yet, even studies that consider leaders
    and outcomes often bypass the role of followers as well.
    Similarly, destructive leadership has frequently been defined mainly in terms of leader traits and behaviors (Bardes & Piccolo,
    2010; Einarsen, Aasland, & Skogstad, 2007; Ferris, Zinko, Brouer, Buckley, & Harvey, 2007; Padilla, 2012; Schilling, 2009;
    Thoroughgood, Hunter, & Sawyer, 2011). This perspective is quite useful given negative, or destructive, leader behaviors are clearly
    relevant in any leadership context. However, it appears to be more about destructive leaders (traits, behaviors) than about a holistic
    view of destructive leadership (leader characteristics and behaviors, group processes, and group outcomes). It assumes that “bad”
    leader behavior is sufficient to cause organizational destructions, and that such behaviors will inevitably result in destructive
    outcomes for individuals or the group, as opposed to, for example, the derailment or firing of the destructive leader or even to actual
    gains for the organization. For example, Einarsen et al. (2007) defined destructive leadership as the “repeated behavior by a leader,
    supervisor, or manager that violates the legitimate interest of the organisation by undermining and/or sabotaging the organisation’s
    goals, tasks, resources, and effectiveness and/or the motivation, well-being, or job satisfaction of subordinates” (p. 208). From this
    perspective, destructive leadership refers to something that leaders do.
    Defining destructive leadership in terms of leader behaviors assumes that certain behaviors are inherently destructive (Padilla,
    2012; Padilla et al., 2007). However, the ways in which these “bad” leader behaviors are defined and perceived, as well as their
    associated effects, may differ considerably across different social, cultural, and occupational contexts. For instance, leader “abuse”
    might mean something very different in a military context versus an educational setting. Moreover, while most people would not
    freely wish to work with an aggressive, egomaniacal, or excessively demanding leader, these traits might be highly functional in
    situations requiring speed and decisiveness. In fact, many “bad” leader behaviors are associated with positive effects (e.g., increased
    motivation and performance), at least in the short term(Hogan & Kaiser, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007; Shaw, Erickson, & Harvey, 2011).
    As such, it is difficult to connect “bad” leader behaviors clearly with destruction (Padilla, 2012; Padilla et al., 2007; Thoroughgood,
    Tate, Sawyer, & Jacobs, 2012). Instead, Padilla et al. (2007) argued that it is the ultimate negative consequences to the group which
    prompt the “destructive” label. From this standpoint, Hitler, for example, was a destructive leader because he led Germany and its
    citizens into a ruined state of external domination, not because hewas a racist or egoist who yelled at followers (Padilla et al., 2007).
    This is not in any form intended to minimize the impact of abhorrent leader behaviors, including abuse, coercion, and
    vindictiveness, on followers; these negative actions are associated with harmful effects, as evidenced in a number of prior studies
    (e.g., Harvey, Stoner, Hochwarter, & Kacmar, 2007; Restubog, Scott & Zagenczyk, 2011; Schat, Desmarais & Kelloway, 2006;
    Tepper, 2000; Tepper, Duffy, Hoobler, & Ensley, 2004; Tepper, Moss, Lockhart, & Carr, 2007). However, leader-centric approaches
    do not describe why persistently destructive leader behaviors, including abusive actions directed at followers (e.g., hostility,
    coercion, and intimidation) and behaviors detrimental to the organization (e.g., corruption, stealing, and sabotage), are permitted
    by followers, by a board of directors’ controls, or by other internal and external checks and balances of the organization. This begs
    the question why some groups and organizations retain these “bad” leaders and some do not. Leader-centric perspectives do not
    provide a basis for understanding why such leaders might be hired in the first place or why individuals who display these
    systematic and repeated behaviors remain in leadership positions long enough to undermine the organization’s goals, tasks, and
    Additionally, it is not obvious what fraction of followers have to be affected by abusive leaders before organizational
    “destruction” ensues. Not all followers react in the same way to given behaviors of leaders (Aquino & Lamertz, 2004; Avolio, 2007;
    Kark & Van-Dijk, 2007; Tepper, 2000), such as abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000, 2007), petty tyranny (Ashforth, 1994), or
    supervisor undermining (Duffy et al., 2002). Some people significantly underreport abusive behavior by their bosses, while others
    greatly exaggerate leader abusiveness and hostility (Aquino & Lamertz, 2004; Tepper et al., 2006). And because the effects of
    “bad” leader behaviors on followers are typically documented through self-report surveys of followers, some of which are very
    unique (e.g., members of a paramilitary organization, Tepper et al., 2006), it is not clear whether issues related to followers’ selfesteem
    or psychological well-being, for example, preceded or followed these “bad” leader behaviors (Dott & Dott, 2001; Rihmer,
    Pestality, Pihlgren, & Rutz, 1998; Tepper, 2000). And finally, in a variant of “let’s blame the victim,” dysfunctional and disengaged
    followers or followers possessing negative affectivity (Elias, 1986; Tepper et al., 2006) could precipitate leaders to become
    dysfunctional themselves, causing leaders to be more likely to engage in “bad” behaviors toward such followers in response. In
    sum, it is difficult to link objectionable leader behaviors clearly or directly with ultimate destructive outcomes for the group.
    Moreover, leader-centrism does not address the role of followers or environmental conditions in explaining why destructive
    leadership happens or why it persists.
  1. Toward a definition of destructive leadership
    The foregoing discussion underscores the need to be clear about the termdestructive leadership. Scholars appear to be increasingly
    cognizant of the need for more comprehensive approaches that recognize not only relevant leader traits and consequent behaviors,
    but also followers and the environmental contexts within which leaders and followers interact (Avolio, 2007; Avolio et al., 2009;
    Osborn et al., 2002; Padilla et al., 2007; Porter & McLaughlin, 2006). As Avolio (2007, p. 27) has asked, “Should [leadership theories}
    have started with a more integrative focus that included a broader array of potential contingencies?” Therefore, perhaps a more
    fruitful characterization of destructive leadership is to follow Padilla et al. (2007), who argued that destructive leadership reflects a
    complex process involving three key elements: destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments (or, the toxic
    triangle). The test of destructive leadership, according to this perspective, is a matter of long-term group performance; that is, how
    well did the organization do in achieving its goals? The essence of destructive leadership then is a matter of outcomes; destructive
    leadership entails long-term, negative organizational outcomes, with certain processes beingmore likely to lead to these destructive
    outcomes than others. Thus, if leaders, in conjunction with followers and contexts, ultimately bring misfortune and harm to their
    constituents, including internal and external stakeholders, aswell as damage the organizations inwhich they reside, then destructive
    leadership has occurred (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007). This is consistent with the dictionary definition of “destructive”
    (causing or tending to cause destruction) (Merriam-Webster, 2012), aswell asO’Connor and colleagues’ (1995) study of organizational
    destruction and Conger’s (1990) reference to disastrous outcomes.
    In terms of a simple sports analogy, destructive leadership ultimately has to do with whether the team, following the rules of the
    game,won or lost (teamoutcome) and not onlywhether they had skillful players or an angry coach (traits, behaviors), orwhether they
    practiced hard or played cleanly and fairly (process). By shifting the analysis toward group outcomes and the contributing influence of
    followers and contexts and away from a singular focus on leader behaviors and traits, a more comprehensive understanding of the
    destructive leadership process is possible. Specifically, Padilla et al. (2007) suggested destructive leadership may be described in terms
    of five important features (see Table 1). While these features underscorewhat destructive leadership is, the toxic triangle specifies the
    leader, follower, and environmental factors thatmake it inherently possible. Utilizing this broader perspective, Einarsen et al.’s (2007)
    approach can be viewed as complementary to Padilla et al.’s (2007): Einarsen et al. (2007) examine destructiveness from the vantage
    point of leader behaviors, while Padilla and colleagues (2007) broaden this approach to consider the dynamics between leaders,
    followers, and contexts that contribute to the destructive leadership process. In the present effort, we consider another piece of this
    process; that is, the dynamics between leaders and followers and how susceptible followers respond to the influence of destructive
    leaders — which ultimately leads to organizational destruction.
    The five features of destructive leadership are as follows. First, destructive leadership is seldom entirely or absolutely destructive.
    Leaders, in concert with followers and the environment, contribute to outcomes distributed along a destructive–constructive
    continuum,with outcomes related to destructive leadership primarily falling at the negative end of this spectrum. For example, some
    of theworst political and business leaders, such as Hitler,Mao,Mussolini, Bernie Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, created some positive
    outcomes for their constituents (Kellerman, 2004; Padilla et al., 2007). At the same time, some of the most highly effective leaders,
    such as Steve Jobs, Bobby Knight and Lyndon Johnson, were recognized for being highly demanding, aggressive, even egomaniacal,
    perfectionists (Deutschman, 2001; Feinstein, 1989; Logue & Patton, 1982; Young & Simon, 2005). Although destructive leadership
    ultimately results in organizational destruction (e.g., Enron, Nazi Germany), there are other cases in which “bad” leaders are fired (or
    derail) without long-term consequences for the group’s performance. For example, a recent case of derailment is former New York
    Governor, Eliot Spitzer, who resigned from office amidst revelations of improper conduct. New York’s Lieutenant Governor, David
    Paterson,was promptly installed as governor and government functions and public services continuedwithout pause after some brief
    media attention.
    Second, destructive leadership entails control, coercion and manipulation, rather than persuasion and commitment (Howell &
    Avolio, 1992; Sankowsky, 1995). In our view, these behaviors, which are the focus ofmost discussions of destructive leadership (e.g.,
    Einarsen, 2000; Einarsen et al., 2007), reflect a critical aspect of this complex social–organizational process, but nonetheless they are
    only a piece of the puzzle. Third, destructive leadership is inherently selfish in nature; it stresses the leader’s own goals and objectives
    over the needs of constituents and the broader social organization (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Conger, 1990; Howell, 1988; Howell &
    Avolio, 1992; McClelland, 1970, 1975; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Fourth, the effects of destructive leadership are evident in
    organizational outcomes that undermine the quality of life for constituents, both internal and external to the organization, and detract
    from their main goals and purposes (Einarsen et al., 2007; Hogan & Kaiser, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007). Finally, destructive
    organizational outcomes depend on susceptible followers and conducive environments (Kellerman, 2004; Lipman-Blumen, 2005;
    Mulvey & Padilla, 2010; Padilla, 2012; Padilla et al., 2007). Destructive leaders, like leaders in general, do not operate in a vacuum.
    Followers must consent to, or be unable to resist, a destructive leader, while the environment provides the ground for the seeds of
    Table 1
    Five features of destructive leadership.
  2. Destructive leadership is seldom absolutely or entirely destructive: there are both good and bad results in most leadership situations.
  3. The process of destructive leadership involves dominance, coercion, and manipulation rather than influence, persuasion, and commitment.
  4. The process of destructive leadership has a selfish orientation; it is focused more on the leader’s needs than the needs of the larger social group.
  5. The effects of destructive leadership are outcomes that compromise the quality of life for constituents and detract from the organization’s main purposes.
  6. Destructive organizational outcomes are not exclusively the result of destructive leaders, but are also products of susceptible followers and conducive

destructive leadership to grow. Bearing in mind these features, we now seek to highlight another vital piece of the destructive
leadership process by examining the role of followers in this process.

  1. Susceptible followers in the leadership literature
    Although leadership scholars increasingly acknowledge the role of followers (e.g., Baker, 2007; Crossman & Crossman, 2011;
    Dixon & Westbrook, 2003; Hollander, 1992; Lord & Brown, 2004), few have considered their influence in destructive leadership.
    Chaleff’s (1995) work on “courageous followership,” which underscores the destructiveness of followers who fail to resist their
    leaders’ abuse of power, is one exception. More recently, Bratton, Grint, and Nelson (2004) emphasized the harmful effects of
    followers’ “destructive consent”; Hogg (2004) noted the dangers of unquestioning conformity in organizations; and Collinson (2006)
    pointed to the damaging outcomes stemming from followers’ conformist identities. Uhl-Bien and Carsten (2007) suggested that the
    hierarchical nature of organizations creates dilemmas to followers’ reactions to managerial misconduct. They argued that early
    socialization into hierarchical thinking, which stresses obedience to authority, promotes silence and passivity in the face of unethical
    leader behavior.
    Indeed, Carsten, Uhl-Bien, West, Patera, and McGregor (2010) found that certain people construct their follower roles around
    passivity, deference, and obedience, rather than constructive questioning and challenging of leaders. They suggested that those who
    feel their follower role is best served by remaining silent and loyal may abstain fromdefying abusive, dangerous, and unethical leader
    behaviors. Moreover, Bardes and Piccolo (2010) noted that certain followers’ passive dispositions make a leader’s destructive
    behaviorsmore prevalent and readily accepted. For example, Einarsen, Raknes, andMatthiesen (1994) found that victims of bullying
    atwork believed their own reticence and lack of conflictmanagement skills, aswell as their lowlevels of self-esteemand self-efficacy,
    contributed to the problem. Prior research on abusive supervision andworkplace victimization similarly points to various submissive
    aspects of victims, including introversion, low self-esteem, dependence, and a lack of assertiveness (Aquino & Bradfield, 2000;
    Bowling & Beehr, 2006; Coyne, Craig & Chong, 2004; Harvey & Keashly, 2003; Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2001).
    Yet, an increasing number of writers point to the importance of “exemplary,” “courageous,” and “star” followers to organizational
    success (e.g., Chaleff, 2003; Kelley, 2004; Potter, Rosenbach, & Pittman, 2001; Riggio, Chaleff, & Lipman-Blumen, 2008; Uhl-Bien &
    Pillai, 2007). Kelley (2008) noted that followers are the principal defenders against destructive leaders and toxic organizations. In our
    view, cultivating more proactive, autonomous, and ethically responsible followers and preventing destructive leadership requires an
    understanding of the vulnerabilities of certain people to destructive leaders in the first place.
  2. Different types of susceptibility
    In distinguishing between different susceptible followers, Howell and Shamir (2005), building on work by Weierter (1997),
    differentiated among followerswho lack a cohesive self-concept necessary to assess a leader’s means of influence and those sharing a
    leader’s values. Kellerman (2004) distinguished between bystanders, who fail to question bad leaders, and acolytes, who participate
    in the destruction. Thody (2003) further delineated among several uncritical and conforming followers (including passives,
    observers, and sheep) andMachiavellians (who ruthlessly exercise power and employ deceptionwithout concern for others). Padilla
    et al. (2007) classified susceptible followers into two categories: conformers, who obey destructive leaders out of fear, and colluders,
    who engage in the destruction for personal gain.
    In examining this “darker” side of followership, there is a need to further distinguish among different susceptible individuals, each
    of whompossesses different personality characteristics, behavioral patterns, andmotivations for following destructive leaders. Yet, a
    broad review of related, yet largely disconnected lines of research spanning the academic disciplines of social psychology, political
    psychology, criminology, cult psychology, and organizational behavior suggests the need for a more unified theoretical framework
    with which to classify different follower types. We seek to provide such a framework in the present paper.
  3. Barbuto’s theory of follower compliance
    Barbuto’s (2000) cross-disciplinary theory offers a useful framework for understanding each type of follower’s compliance with
    destructive leaders. Like French and Raven’s (1959) theory of social power, Barbuto’s theory maintains that power and influence are
    relative; the effects of a leader’s behaviors on compliance depend on followers’ perceptions of them. It suggests that “influence triggers,”
    which are defined from the target’s (or follower’s) viewpoint as the instantaneous reactions to a leader’s influence attempt, reflect the
    essence (or reason) for compliance. Triggers stem from a leader’s intentional or unintentional inducements and represent the follower’s
    perceptions of the intervention (Barbuto, 2000; House, Shane, & Herold, 1996). As such, while influence behaviors describe the types of
    interventions used by leaders, influence triggers explain the types of reactions that followers have to such interventions (Barbuto, 2000).
    To further clarify, influence triggers represent input variables for follower compliance. Every time a leader seeks to influence a
    given follower, some type of trigger will occur for the follower — which may or may not mirror the leader’s intent (Barbuto, 2000).
    Fromthis perspective, leaders do not use influence triggers to induce changes in follower behavior, but rather use behaviors that are,
    in turn, interpreted by followers and lead to influence triggers. For instance, some followers might interpret a leader’s influence
    attempt as a threat, thus tapping a manipulative trigger (which refers to an inclination to comply due to a belief that noncompliance
    will lead to negative consequences). In contrast, others may view the leader’s orders as a chance to gain acceptance from the leader,
    thus tapping a leader identification trigger (which reflects an inclination to comply due to one’s identification with the leader and
    desire for their approval).

Barbuto (2000) suggested that the probability of a specific trigger leading to follower compliance depends on three intervening
variables: the leader’s perceived bases of power, the follower’s sources of motivation, and the follower’s resistance level (see Fig. 1).
When a trigger is tapped, probable compliance increases to the extent that (a) the leader holds a compatible base of power (i.e., a form
of power that aligns with the specific influence trigger(s) experienced by the follower); (b) the follower has a congruent source of
motivation (i.e., a form of motivation that the influence trigger taps into); and (c) the follower’s resistance (i.e., the degree to which
the follower iswilling to performthe leader’s task directives) is low. For example,when amanipulative trigger is activated, a follower
is more likely to comply if they believe that the leader iswilling and able to punish them(i.e. the leader has coercive power); they are
highly sensitive to punishment (i.e., the follower is instrumentallymotivated); or their resistance to the influence attempt is low. “The
leader is threatening me, I know he can and will punish me if I don’t comply; I want to avoid punishment at all costs; and I’m not
highly opposed to carrying out his orders. Therefore, I will comply.”
Barbuto’s framework includes three sets of influence triggers: power-derived (originating from a leader’s perceived bases of
power), relations-derived triggers (stemming from followers’ relationships with others), and values-based triggers (resulting from
followers’ shared values). It also integrates French and Raven’s (1959) bases of power – reward, coercive, referent, legitimate, and
expert – usingHinkin and Schriesheim’s (1989) revised operational definitions. Barbuto and Scholl’s (1998) taxonomy of motivation is
used to describe followers’ sources of motivation. It consists of five types of motivation: instrumental (rooted in pursuing extrinsic,
tangible outcomes), self-concept external (based on seeking self-affirmation and acceptance fromkey external referents), self-concept
internal (based on performing behaviors that reinforce internal standards of traits, competencies, and values), intrinsic process (based
in the sheer fun of performing a task), and goal internalization (grounded in pursuing goals consistent with one’s values).
Different susceptible followers have different influence triggers that reflect their vulnerability to destructive leaders. When
activated, the likelihood of such triggers leading to each follower’s compliance increases to the extent that the leader holds a
compatible form of power; the influence trigger taps into salient aspects of their motivations; and their resistance is low. We
further suggest that these triggers are a product, in part, of certain individual factors. In our discussion, we highlight each follower
type’s primary influence triggers, their sources of motivation, and the forms of power likely to be effective with each. We then
integrate research on susceptible followers and discuss the predisposing factors related to each.

  1. Preliminary observations
    Five points regarding the proposed taxonomy are necessary. First, while we assume that the follower types are distinct for the
    purpose of exposition, there is probable overlap among them. Individuals do not always fit neatly into one of the susceptible follower
    categories. Instead, theymay reflectmultiple types. As such, followersmay experience different influence triggers at any one time. In
    turn,multiple forms of power held by destructive leadersmay be effective in facilitating their compliance, and different triggers may
    also tap into different sources of motivation in each unique case. Second, our taxonomy focuses on the individual factors that shape
    each follower’s initial susceptibility to destructive leaders. However, it should be recognized that the self-concepts of these follower
    types and their motivations for following destructive leaders may change over time as they carry out unethical orders and adhere to
    the deviant values and practices of their respective organizations (Hogg & Reid, 2001; Hundeide, 2003; Staub, 1985).
    Third, we make no assumptions about the stability of these individual factors over time; although some are stable, others may be
    more ephemeral. Fourth, we do not speculate on the relative importance of these factors in shaping each follower type’s compliance
    with destructive leaders. Indeed, some may bemore or less important than others, however,we leave this issue up to future research
    to determine. Finally,while the role of context iswell recognized by leadership scholars, this paper does not focus on, but rather holds
    constant, aspects of the organizational and societal context that contribute to follower susceptibilities. Padilla et al.’s (2007) toxic
    triangle model indicates that any number of contextual factors, such as desperate economic situations, threats fromexternal entities,
    absence of checks and balances, or a collectivistic society, will predispose certain people to following destructive leaders. Thus, we
    restrict our focus to illuminating the susceptible followers’ portion of this toxic triangle of destructive leadership.
  2. The susceptible circle
    No matter how clever or devious, leaders alone cannot achieve toxic results. Destructive leaders are capable of carrying out their
    toxic agendas with the assistance of susceptible followers and conducive environments (Kellerman, 2004; Lipman-Blumen, 2005;
    Padilla et al., 2007). Indeed, a leader’s authority must be recognized by followers, willingly or otherwise (Barnard, 1938; DeRue &

Ashford, 2010). Once in power, the ability of destructive leaders to organize plans,mobilize resources, rally support, and execute their
visions hinges on followers carrying out their orders. Since Milgram’s (1963) dramatic findings on obedience, aswell as classicworks
by Fromm (1941) and Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950), scholars have suggested a natural tendency for
certain people to followdestructive orders (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981; Berkowitz & Lundy, 1957; Blass, 1991; Buss, 1961; Elms &Milgram,
1966; Haas, 1966; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Kelman & Hamilton, 1989; Steiner, 1980; Suedfeld, 2000; Weierter, 1997, 1998).
There are always individual differences in compliance, regardless of the context (Blass, 1991). For example, Kelman and
Hamilton stated that, “With regard to actual behavior in such [authority] situations, we know from the experiences of Nazi
Germany, of My Lai [Vietnam], of Milgram’s laboratory, and of many other instances of obedience to unjust and destructive
authority that, no matter how powerful the situation may be, individuals differ in how they react to it” (p. 261). Indeed, Berkowitz
(1999) warned that failing to acknowledge individual differences in obedience limits the generalizability of research findings to
real-world atrocities such as the Holocaust. Given different people will inevitably react differently to the same destructive leader,
this suggests a taxonomy of different susceptible followers would be useful.
Two points are relevant here. First, there is a distinction between destructive follower behaviors performed in response to
authority and those initiated by the follower(s) (Beu & Buckley, 2004; Kelman & Hamilton, 1989). Congruent with Padilla et al.
(2007), our review indicates two categories of susceptible followers: conformers and colluders. While conformers are prone to
obedience, and thus do not engage in destructive behavior alone, colluders actively contribute to the leader’s mission. Second,
prior research largely focuses on the conformer side, as evidenced in studies of authoritarianism and obedience (e.g., Altemeyer,
1981, 1988; Blass, 1995), cult followership (e.g., Galanter, 1982; Galanter & Buckley, 1978; Ullman, 1979), and conformity, whistle
blowing, and bystander behavior (e.g., Miceli & Near, 1984, 1988; Monroe, 2008). Yet, to date, we are unaware of any attempts to
synthesize these literatures to derive a more cohesive understanding of susceptible followership. Drawing on such work, we thus
propose three conformer sub-types: lost souls, authoritarians, and bystanders. We also suggest two colluder sub-types: acolytes
and opportunists. Our model of the susceptible circle is depicted in Fig. 2. Included in the figure are the follower types’ dominant

influence triggers, motivational sources, the bases of power likely to be most effective with each, and their core characteristics.
Each of the follower types is elaborated on below.

  1. Conformers: lost souls
    Perhaps the most widely cited susceptible follower, the lost soul reflects a particularly needy type of conformer, plagued by
    negative self-evaluations and an ill-defined and malleable self-concept (Padilla et al., 2007; Weierter, 1997). Lost souls are
    attracted to charismatic leaders who they believe can provide them clarity, direction, and increased self-esteem; offer them a
    sense of community and belonging; and instill in them a clear sense of self (Fromm, 1941; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Wright &
    Wright, 1982). Indeed, charismatic leaders would appear to be especially attractive to lost souls. While definitions of charismatic
    leadership differ somewhat across modern theories, charismatic leaders are generally marked by their sensitivity to follower
    needs, emphasis on the collective identity, articulation of an emotionally evocative, imagery-laden vision, communication of high
    performance standards and confidence in followers’ ability to attain them, willingness to take personal risks and engage in
    unconventional behavior, and high self-confidence (Conger & Kanungo, 1987; House, 1977; Shamir et al., 1993; Yukl, 1999). In
    such cases, lost souls tend to attribute extraordinary qualities (charisma) to the leader (Conger & Kanungo, 1987; Weber, 1947)
    and develop a personal identification with him or her, a definition of self based on the charismatic relationship, and a strong
    desire to emulate and garner approval from the leader (Howell & Shamir, 2005).
    However, their strong affection, devotion, and idealization of the leader result in dependence and vulnerability to
    manipulation (Deutsch, 1980; Howell & Shamir, 2005). Lost souls are inclined to obey unethical orders given their loyalty to the
    leader and desire for his or her approval (Bass, 1985; Conger & Kanungo, 1987), suggesting leader identification triggers are central
    to their susceptibility to destructive leaders (Barbuto, 2000). These triggers reflect an inclination to comply based on one’s intense
    attraction, devotion, and identification with the leader and a belief that compliance will gain his or her acceptance (Barbuto, 2000;
    Shamir, 1991). In turn, lost souls’ underlying motivations are primarily based in a desire for self-affirmation from others,
    especially leaders (Barbuto & Scholl, 1998; Katz & Kahn, 1978). Followers with this form of motivation, known as external selfconcept
    motivation (Barbuto & Scholl, 1998), adopt their self images from role expectations of leaders and behave in ways that
    satisfy such individuals to first gain acceptance, then increased status and self-esteem (Barbuto & Scholl, 1998; Howell & Shamir,
    When destructive leaders tap leader identification triggers in lost souls, the greater the degree to which lost souls are externally
    self-conceptmotivated, the greater the chances of such triggers leading to their compliance (Barbuto, 2000). Compliance is evenmore
    likely if lost souls view the leader as holding referent power (Barbuto, 2000), or the ability to administer feelings of personal
    acceptance or approval to followers (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989). If lost souls’ resistance is low, compliance is even more likely.
    Because referent power reflects charismatic influences when defined in terms of emulation of and desire for the leader’s approval
    (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989), it is not surprising that lost souls are highly susceptible to leaderswith perceived charisma (Freemesser
    & Kaplan, 1976; Galanter, 1980, 1982; Whitsett, 1992).
    Proposition 1. As lost souls’ (a) external self-concept motivation increases, (b) their resistance to the influence attempt decreases, and
    (c) the leader’s referent power increases, the likelihood that leader identification triggers will lead to their compliance with destructive
    leaders also increases.
    The vulnerability of lost souls stems, in part, from (a) unmet basic needs, (b) personal life distress, (c) low self-concept clarity,
    and (c) negative core self-evaluations. These individual factors increase the likelihood of destructive leaders tapping leader
    identification triggers in this type of susceptible follower.
    8.1. Unmet basic needs
    Drawing on Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, Burns (1978) suggested that followers’ basic needs must be met before their
    higher aspirations can be activated. The same holds for destructive leadership. Research on cult followership, for example,
    indicates that even some of the most destructive leaders (e.g., Jim Jones, David Koresh) tend to be quite adept at providing for
    follower needs, including, for instance, those related to safety, certainty, group membership, love, affection, and a sense of
    purpose and meaning (Curtis & Curtis, 1993; Halperin, 1982; Johnson, 1979; Rambo, 1982; Welliver, 1984). Humans learn to
    depend on authority figures to provide for these needs (Kohut, 1976). Kellerman (2004) suggested that we carry this dependency
    into the workplace when we rely on leaders to give direction and structure to our daily lives. Indeed, charismatic leaders are
    attractive during times of uncertainty and instability with their promises to restore order (Bass, 1985; Conger & Kanungo, 1987;
    Padilla et al., 2007).
    For lost souls, these unmet needs are so ingrained that they are particularly susceptible to certain leaders, especially those with
    charismatic appeal. Recentwork on needs, specifically with respect to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1980, 1991), suggests
    that the fulfillment of certain psychological needs is critical for healthy psychological development and wellbeing. When left
    unfulfilled, individuals will tend to pursue goals, domains, and relationships, sometimes with leaders, who permit or support their
    need satisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Kohut (1976) similarly suggested that for those whose basic needs are deprived early in life
    there may exist a strong proclivity to seek out leaders who are able to satisfy them. Fromm (1941) further observed that certain

people manifest a vulnerability to authority figures who they think can offer protection, answers, love and companionship. Lost souls
tend to identify with such leaders and perceive themas potential love objects, nurturers, and rolemodels (Deutsch, 1980; Lindholm,
When destructive leaders are able to fulfill lost souls’ unmet needs, such followers often develop strong emotional bonds to the
leader, an idealized conception of him or her, and a desire to emulate and garner approval from them (Howell & Shamir, 2005). Yet,
lost souls’ personal identification with leaders creates the potential for blind obedience (Becker, 1973; Howell & Shamir, 2005;
Hummel, 1975; Lipman-Blumen, 2005). Such was the case for followers of Charles Manson, who despite coming from privileged
backgrounds, were marked by feelings of emptiness and alienation from mainstream society (Padilla et al., 2007; Popper, 2001). By
offering a sense of community and a group with which to belong, as well as acting as a source of unconditional love and acceptance,
destructive leaders are able to attract lost souls who will sacrifice their autonomy and obey unethical orders to please their leaders
(Padilla et al., 2007).
8.2. Personal life distress
Related to unmet needs, the lost soul’s vulnerability is also associated with personal transition and feelings of emotional turmoil
(Galanter, 1980; Galanter & Buckley, 1978; Galanter, Rabkin, Rabkin, & Deutsch, 1979; Ungerleider & Wellishch, 1979). While lost
souls are marked by chronic suffering, acute events may trigger their susceptibility, including flunking out of college, copingwith the
death of a loved one, or losing a job (Wright & Wright, 1982). Distress appears to strengthen underlying needs for authority,
companionship, and meaning in their lives (Wright &Wright, 1982). During these times of great need and confusion, lost souls seek
out simple solutions and immediate fulfillment of their needs (Cushman, 1984), leading to a susceptibility for identifying with
destructive leaders (Galanter et al., 1979). While research on cult followership suggests that feelings of distress reflect clear patterns
in lost souls, such turmoil may instead moderate the effects of needs on lost souls’ vulnerability to destructive leaders.
8.3. Self-concept clarity
Self-concept clarity refers to the extent to which one’s self-concept is clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and
temporally stable (Campbell, 1990). Research suggests that those lacking a coherent sense of self are more vulnerable to charismatic
religious and political leaders (Cushman, 1986; Galanter, 1982; Whitsett, 1992). Without a mature, well-integrated, and socially
valued self-concept to guide their behavior, lost souls lack the internal values necessary to evaluate the leader’smessage andmeans of
influence (Howell & Shamir, 2005). As a result, they tend to develop personalized relationships with charismatic leaders that are
characterized by the adoption of a self-concept based on the charismatic relationship (Howell & Shamir, 2005). Weierter (1997)
argued that these followers derive increased self-esteemfromemulating the beliefs and values that are confidently expressed by the
leader. Internalization of the leader’s ideology coincideswith the development of strong feelings of affection and loyalty to the leader,
and a desire for their approval via pursuit of their task directives (Barbuto, 2000).
Moreover, Howell and Shamir (2005) noted that people with low self-concept clarity tend to be especially needy followers who
are confused and disoriented prior to joining the charismatic relationship. Such individuals need self-direction and are likely to seek
out charismatic leaders, identify with them, and gain a greater sense of purpose and direction, as well as increased confidence and
self-esteem, from this identification. While low self-concept clarity is applicable to any immature adult, it applies especially well to
the young (Padilla et al., 2007; Popper, 2001), the primary group associated with lost souls (Cushman, 1984; Galanter, 1980, 1982).
Because lost souls tend to identifywith cultural heroes and internalize their values (Padilla et al., 2007), they are at heightened risk for
obeying destructive leaders and engaging in unethical behaviors as followers (Hoffer, 1951; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Kets de Vries,
1989). The Manson Family, the Hitler Youth, Castro’s Pioneros, and Mao’s Red Guard all illustrate the destructive potential of
impressionable followerswho internalize a destructive leader’smessage. Thus, over time, lost souls can turn fromblind conformers to
active colluders (Kets de Vries, 1989; Padilla et al., 2007;Weierter, 1997).
8.4. Negative core self-evaluations
Core self-evaluations refer to the “basic conclusions or bottom-line evaluations that individuals hold about themselves” (Judge &
Bono, 2001, p. 81), and reflect a higher-order personality factor composed of self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and
neuroticism (Judge & Bono, 2001). These evaluations shape people’s processing of self-relevant information and responses to
environmental demands (Judge, Locke, &Durham, 1997). They are also linked to the susceptibility of certain individuals to destructive
leaders (e.g., Luthans, Peterson, & Ibrayeva, 1998; Padilla et al., 2007).
Self-esteem concerns the overall value people place on themselves (Harter, 1990). It is related to, but distinct from, self-concept
clarity in that individuals with lowself-esteem are not typicallymarked by a well-defined negative viewof themselves, but rather by
high uncertainty, instability, and inconsistency in their self-concept (Campbell et al., 1996;Howell & Shamir, 2005). Research suggests
that lost souls tend to viewthemselves asworthless and empty (Fromm, 1941; Shaw, 2003) and are associatedwith low levels of selfesteem
(e.g., Freemesser & Kaplan, 1976; Galanter, 1982; Howell & Shamir, 2005). They long to be someone more desirable,
prompting their propensity for identifyingwith charismatic leaders (Hoffer, 1951; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007; Shamir
et al., 1993). Lost souls question their place in theworld and are predisposed to manipulation by charismatic leaders, in part, because
they believe such treatment is deserved (Clements &Washburn, 1999; Deutsch, 1980; Padilla et al., 2007;Weierter, 1997).

Self-efficacy refers to beliefs about one’s capability of performingwell (Bandura, 1982). Lost souls’ lack of self-efficacy is evident in
their need for leaders to take care of them and convey simple solutions to problems they cannot solve on their own (Shaw, 2003).
Dawson (2006) noted that the lowself-efficacy of followers of newreligiousmovements manifests in a need for vicarious control over
their environment through an intense emotional identificationwith a powerful charismatic leader. Locus of control refers to the belief
that one controls their own fate versus the belief that outcomes result fromexternal factors (Rotter, 1966). Followerswith an external
locus of control are easier to manipulate and are attracted to individuals who appear to be powerful and willing to care for them
(Padilla et al., 2007; Runyon, 1973).
Finally, neuroticism is related to anxiety, which manifests in a fear of novel situations and feelings of dependence and timidity
(Costa & McCrae, 1988). Research suggests that followers of charismatic religious leaders tend to be neurotic individuals (Walsh,
Russell, & Wells, 1995), plagued by depression, sadness, and emotional instability prior to their recruitment (Clark, 1979; Etemad,
1978; Galanter, 1982; Levine & Salter, 1976). Further, despite some conflicting findings (e.g., Felfe & Schyns, 2006), Schyns and
Sanders (2007) found a positive relationship between neuroticism and perceptions of transformational leadership, suggesting that
“weak” followers are more likely to perceive charisma in leaders (Klein & House, 1995; Yukl, 1999). These lost souls derive a sense of
relief from the charismatic relationship (Galanter, 1980; Galanter et al., 1979), but at the same time are rendered vulnerable to
charismatic leaders wishing to exploit them.
Proposition 2. Individuals with higher scores on the lost soul follower type, including (a) high levels of unmet needs, (b) high levels of
personal life distress, (c) low self-concept clarity, and (d) low core self-evaluations, are more likely to experience leader identification
triggers in the presence of destructive leaders than those with lower scores on the lost soul follower type.

  1. Conformers: authoritarians
    In contrast to lost souls, authoritarians possess rigid, hierarchical attitudes that prescribe leaders’ legitimate right to exert
    power over them and their inclination to accept such influence unconditionally (Altemeyer, 1998; Blass, 1999). Research on
    authoritarian followers is traced to Adorno et al. (1950), who delineated a personality type marked by fascist tendencies.
    Altemeyer’s (1981) current reinterpretation, known as right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), suggests that certain individuals hold
    strong internal values that stress obedience to legitimate authorities and conformity to in-group norms. Unlike the lost soul,
    whose personal identification with leaders shapes their compliance, the authoritarian feels an obligation to obey based on the
    leader’s status and position, which reflects the legitimacy of his or her power (Raven, 1993).
    Authoritarians are inclined to obey destructive orders due to role expectancies (Bandura, 1986; Pfeffer & Salancik, 1975) and
    their acceptance of existing social structures (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989), suggesting that role legitimacy triggers are central to
    their susceptibility to destructive leaders (Barbuto, 2000). These triggers reflect an inclination to comply based on the belief that
    job requirements, position power, organizational culture, and normative roles in the organization are congruent with the leader’s
    requests (Barbuto, 2000). As such, authoritarians do not obey because they seek approval or fear retribution, but simply because
    the leader holds a higher rank in the organization. If a destructive leader taps a role legitimacy trigger in an authoritarian, the
    greater the degree with which this follower views the leader’s requests as consistent with their role responsibilities, rank, and
    position (that is, the extent to which the leader holds legitimate power) (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989), as well as the degree to
    which their resistance is low, the greater the likelihood of role legitimacy triggers leading to their compliance. Thus, a destructive
    leader’s legitimate power can be a powerful influence on the authoritarian’s engagement in crimes of obedience.
    Proposition 3. As authoritarians’ (a) resistance to the influence attempt decreases, and (b) the leader’s legitimate power increases, the
    likelihood that role legitimacy triggers will lead to their compliance with destructive leaders also increases.
    The authoritarian’s susceptibility resides primarily in (a) a deeply ingrained authoritarian ideology, (b) a cognitively rigid
    disposition, and (c) a propensity towards just-world thinking. These characteristics enhance the likelihood of destructive leaders
    activating role legitimacy triggers in authoritarian followers.
    9.1. Authoritarianism
    Authoritarianism refers to three interrelated attitudinal clusters: authoritarian submission, conventionalism and authoritarian
    aggression (Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1998). It encompasses uncritical deferment to authority based on a leader’s legitimate power,
    position, and status in society (submission); strict adherence to in-group norms, rules, and social conventions (conventionalism);
    and to a general intolerance and punitiveness toward perceived out-group members and dissidents (aggression). Authoritarian
    followers who support unethical leaders bent on maximizing their power can create a toxic union, which has the potential to
    “carry a dictator to power in a democracy” (Altemeyer, 1999, p. 158).
    Song Hing, Bobocel, Zanna, and McBride (2007) found that authoritarian followers were more likely to obey and support an
    unethical confederate leader, and that these dyads made more unethical decisions. Authoritarians are also more likely to display
    unconditional respect for and trust in legitimate authorities, engage in hostility towards others in the name of authority, volunteer in
    the persecution of out-groups, and are less likely to assign blame to those who punish norm violators (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981; Blass,
    1995; Elms & Milgram, 1966; Haas, 1966; Motyl et al., 2010; Raden, 1980; Wright & Harvey, 1965). Authoritarians may become

submissive followers and even perpetrators of destructive acts under leaders, including genocide, torture, and suicide bombing
(Altemeyer, 1996, 1999; Blass, 1993; Dambrun & Vatiné, 2010; Staub, 1989).
Further, their rigid ideology may be partly a product of a strict, authoritarian upbringing, stressing obedience at the expense of
autonomy (Ellison & Sherkat, 1991; Kohn, 1969). Indeed, German child-rearing practices emphasizing strict discipline and a lack of
expression of love are thought to be a cause for the blind obedience, hostility, and cruelty of authoritarian followers towards Jews,
homosexuals, and other out-groups during WorldWar II (Devereux, 1972; Miller, 1983). Dicks (1972) found that formerNazi SS officers
spoke of poor relationships with authoritarian fathers who genuinely believed in and practiced corporal punishment. This strong focus
on respect for authority is alsowitnessed in societiesmarked by genocide, such as Turkey, Cambodia, and Rawanda (Staub, 2003). Thus,
authoritarians’ blind obedience can change to active collusion in unethical leader-directed plots and initiatives (Staub, 1989).
9.2. Cognitive rigidity
Jaensch’s (1938) work on the “ideal” Nazi personality sparked research in the 1950s and 1960s on the cognitive underpinnings
of authoritarianism. It has been suggested that people who unconditionally accept legitimate authorities are characterized by a
rigid, intolerance of ambiguity and a preference for a simple, well defined and unambiguous world (Chirumbolo, 2002; Frenkel-
Brunswik, 1949; Rokeach, 1948; Rump, 1985). These individuals might be less motivated to process information and tolerate
uncertainty, and inherently more likely to submit to and support legitimate authorities and social institutions which serve
epistemic needs for stability, clarity, and order (Jugert, Cohrs, & Duckitt, 2009).
Recent work on rigidity suggests that authoritarianism is linked to a high need for closure (Chirumbolo, 2002; Jost, Glaser,
Kruglanski, & Sulloway, 2003; Jugert et al., 2009; Van Hiel, Pandelaere, & Duriez, 2004), which refers to a preference for order and
structure and a desire for firm answers and knowledge rather than confusion and ambiguity (Webster & Kruglanski, 1994). People
with a high need for closure display urgency and permanence tendency; the former refers to a proclivity for “seizing” quickly on
information to obtain closure, the latter to a tendency for “freezing” on past knowledge to protect future knowledge (Kruglanski &
Webster, 1996). Together, they lead to reduced information seeking and processing and, in turn, greater resistance to change and
strict adherence to preexisting social structures (Kruglanski, 1996). With respect to leadership, it is not surprising that such
individuals often adopt authoritarian ideologies, stressing compliancewith strong leaderswho embody stability, order, and discipline
(Chirumbolo, 2002).
9.3. Just-world thinking
Just-world thinkers tend to view the world as a just and fair place, marked by a fit between people’s behavior and things that
happen to them (Lerner, 1980).When people suffer, fail, or encounter hardship, they rationalize such events in terms of the victim’s
conduct or character, as opposed to extrinsic factors outside one’s control (Lerner &Miller, 1978). Belief in a just world (BJW) allows
people to interactwith their environments as if they were stable and orderly and deflect anxiety and fear that theymay fall victimto
random events of circumstance (Lerner & Miller, 1978). In fact, BJW is associated with people’s cognitive rationalization of
inexplicable acts of violence and injustice through devaluation of those victims involved (Kleinke &Meyer, 1990; Lerner & Simmons,
1966; Smith, Keating, Hester, &Mitchell, 1976). BJWis also related to authoritarianism(Butler &Moran, 2007; Rubin & Peplau, 1973;
Zuckerman, Gerbasi, & Marion, 1977), perhaps because both constructs are based on the idea that strong and powerful people are
good and weak and powerless people are bad (Rubin & Peplau, 1975).
Further, believers are more trusting of others, especially leaders, relative to their perhaps more “realistic” and “cynical” low “just
world belief” counterparts (Bègue, 2002; Lerner, 1980). Studies suggest that just world thinking is related to interpersonal trust
(Bègue, 2002; Furnham, 1995; Zuckerman & Gerbasi, 1977), and namely greater trust in governmental institutions and political
leaders (Peplau& Tyler, 1975; Zuckerman & Gerbasi, 1977). As a result, these attitudes may be a cause of the blind trust and obedience
displayed by authoritarians to destructive leaders (Altemeyer, 1999). Moreover, BJWmay further allowauthoritarians to excuse their
participation in unethical acts perpetrated at the behest of such leaders (Staub, 1990; Suedfeld, 2000). Staub (1989) suggested BJW
allows perpetrators to believe the “suffering of victims must have been deserved,” leading to devaluation of the target and the
“creation of a new morality that justifies what they are doing” (p. 41). This facilitates displacement of moral responsibility, which
allows followers to morally disengage from their crimes of obedience (Bandura, 1999; Staub, 2003).
Proposition 4. Individuals with higher scores on the authoritarian follower type, including (a) high levels of authoritarian attitudes,
(b) high levels of cognitive rigidity, and (c) high levels of just-world thinking, are more likely to experience role legitimacy triggers in the
presence of destructive leaders than those with lower scores on the authoritarian follower type.

  1. Conformers: bystanders
    As opposed to lost souls and authoritarians, bystanders are passive and motivated primarily by fear (Bardes & Piccolo, 2010;
    Padilla et al., 2007). Perhaps the most common type of susceptible follower, bystanders seek to minimize the costs (e.g., loss of
    position, property, status, or life) of failing to conform by submitting to the leader and allowing destructive leadership to occur
    (Kellerman, 2004; Padilla et al., 2007). Thus, the bystander’s fear-based motivations are inherently instrumental in nature; they
    exchange conformity and compliance for safe haven frompotential punishments (Barbuto, 2000). In contrast to the other conformers,

bystanders are often more independent, with their feelings toward destructive leaders ranging from anger and disapproval to
indifference and apathy (Bar-On, 2001; Short, 1999). Sankowsky (1995) suggested that these followersmay hold negative opinions of
such leaders in private, but will often do their bidding and even publicly endorse them to be seen as “good” followers. Given they do
not tend to personally support destructive leaders, but act out of fear, their behavior may range from disengagement to obedience
depending on the degree to which they are coerced into acting (Ehrenreich & Cole, 2005).
Because bystanders are inclined to comply with destructive orders given they believe a failure to obey will result in negative
consequences, manipulative triggers reflect the essence of their susceptibility (Barbuto, 2000). These triggers represent an inclination
to obey based on a fear that resisting destructive leaders or failing to pursue their specified goals and tasks, if requested, will lead to
retribution or some form of punishment (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989; Kelman, 1958). Bystanders interpret the leader’s orders as
threats and believe they can and will invoke punishments, no matter whether they intend to send such a message (Barbuto, 2000).
When destructive leaders tap manipulative triggers in bystanders, the greater the extent with which these followers are
instrumentally motivated, and thus highly sensitive to tangible outcomes, positive (rewards) or negative (punishments), the greater
the chances of these triggers leading to their compliance. These odds are also increased to the extent that bystanders believe the
leader can dispense punishments (i.e., that the leader possesses coercive power) and their resistance is low (Barbuto, 2000). Thus, a
destructive leader’s coercive power reflects a potent source of influence over bystanders.
Proposition 5. As bystanders’ (a) instrumental motivation increases, (b) their resistance to the influence attempt decreases, and (c) the
leader’s coercive power increases, the likelihood that manipulative triggers will lead to their compliance with destructive leaders also
The vulnerability of bystanders primarily rests in their (a) negative core self-evaluations, (b) high self-monitoring, (c) low
extraversion and dominance, and (d) lack of a courageous-prosocial disposition. These factors increase the probability of destructive
leaders tapping manipulative triggers in bystanders.
10.1. Negative core self-evaluations
Like lost souls, bystanders possess negative core self-evaluations. Yet, there are distinctions between them. First, bystanders’ low
self-esteemmanifests in passivity rather than identificationwith destructive leaders. For example,Monroe (2008) found in a sample
of bystanders fromthe Holocaust that they held poor self-images of “peoplewho had no ability to help” (p. 715). Thosewith lowselfesteem
are also less likely to report wrongdoing due to perceived retaliation (MacNab & Worthley, 2008; Miceli & Near, 1992), are
more persuasible, compliant, and conforming (Berkowitz& Lundy, 1957; Graf, 1971;Gudjonsson et al., 2002; Lesser & Abelson, 1959),
and aremore disposed toworkplace victimization (Bowling & Beehr, 2006; Einarsen et al., 1994; Vartia, 1996). It is suggested that low
self-esteem is related to a fear of confrontation that creates a weakness to social pressures, especially from authority figures
(Gudjonsson & Sigurdsson, 2003). Moreover, people with low self-esteem are less able to defend against aggression (Matthiesen &
Einarsen, 2001), cope constructivelywith conflict (Zapf, 1999), or resist those seeking to exploit them(Aquino& Thau, 2009). As such,
while bystanders may be critical of leaders who contradict their values, resisting orders causes them anxiety and challenges their
weak self-esteem.
Second, unlike lost souls, who rely on leaders to take care of them, bystanders’ low self-efficacy and external locus of control are
specific to their inability to challenge destructive leaders and control the type of leadership governing them. They believe that fate, or
luck, determines the leadership processes they have to endure and submit towhatever leader ascends to power (Padilla et al., 2007).
Individuals with an external locus of control tend to conform to the status quo and are less likely to report instances of ethical
misconduct in organizations (Dozier & Miceli, 1985; Near & Miceli, 1996). They are also less likely to participate or help in high-risk
settings (e.g., Bierhoff et al., 1991; Guagnano, 1995; Midlarsky, Fagin-Jones, & Corley, 2005; Midlarsky & Kahana, 1994; Oliner &
Oliner, 1988). Luthans et al. (1998) noted thatmany citizens of the former Soviet Union have internalized a sense of helplessness, as
evidenced in their continued vulnerability to destructive leaders and failure to take control and escape their oppressive past.
While neuroticismmay partly explain lost souls’ initial attraction to strong charismatic leaders, it also influences bystanders’ fear
of a destructive leader’s coercive power. Neuroticism is related to harm avoidance, sensitivity to punishment, and susceptibility to
compliance (De Fruyt et al., 2000; Gudjonsson, 1989; Gudjonsson et al., 2004; Torrubia et al., 2001; Zuckerman & Cloninger, 1996).
Given their anxious and worrying disposition, neurotic people are often inclined to avoid conflict and negative evaluation, are more
fearful of authority, and are likely to be passive bystanders in helping situations (Fei, 2007; Komatsu & Ohbuchi, 2009; Michelini et al.,
1975). Moreover, according to theories of victim precipitation (Elias, 1986), and congruent with research on abusive supervision,
workplace victimization, and bullying (e.g., Aquino & Bradfield, 2000; Aquino, Grover, Bradfield & Allen, 1999; Tepper et al., 2006),
people with high levels of negative affect present themselves as anxious, passive, and fearful, and may be perceived as vulnerable
targets by aggressors, namely leaders (Olweus, 1978). Aquino et al. (1999) noted that such peoplemay unknowingly assume the role
of submissive victim by demonstrating little ability to protect themselves against abuse.
10.2. Self-monitoring
Self-monitoring refers to the degree with which people monitor and adjust their behavior based on how they are perceived by
others (Snyder, 1974). High self-monitors use social cues to guide their behavior in different situations and are eager to display a
positive image to others (Day, 2004). Thus, they exhibit wider behavioral variability across situations and are more likely to accept

differences between their behavior and values (Snyder, 1974). Low self-monitors seek continuity between their values and actions
and are less likely to care aboutwhat others think of them. Some suggest that lowself-monitors are less likely to obey unethical orders
that are incongruent with their values (Blass, 1991; Hinrichs, 2007).
Bystanders seek to avoid undue suspicion fromdestructive leaders and their regimes, and thus tend to be high self-monitors who
viewpassive compliance as necessary to avoid punishment (Bicchieri, 2006; Rarick, Soldow, & Geizer, 1976; Sankowsky, 1995). Such
people tend to be especially influenced by the negative consequences of helping others in certain situations (Karakashian, Walter,
Christopher & Lucas, 2006; Kulik & Taylor, 1981; White & Gerstein, 1987) and are less likely to report ethical violations due to
concerns about retaliation fromothers (Fuller et al., 2007;Miceli & Near, 1992; Premeaux & Bedeian, 2003). Thus, high self-monitors
may be highly sensitive to the costs of resisting destructive leaders and likely to alter their behavior to avoid the costs of not going
along (Kellerman, 2004; Padilla et al., 2007).
10.3. Low extraversion and dominance
Extraverted individuals tend to be assertive, sociable, talkative, active, and gregarious (Barrick &Mount, 1991; Costa, Terracciano,
& McCrae, 2001). Studies indicate that they are less inhibited by pressures to conform and are more likely to take risks in order to
voice their change-oriented ideas and opinions in organizations (Klaas, Olson-Buchanan, & Ward, 2011; LePine & Van Dyne, 1998;
Naus, Van Iterson,& Roe, 2007). Extraversion is also assumed to comprise aspects of interpersonal dominance (Kroeck & Brown, 2004;
Trapnell & Wiggins, 1990), defined as a tendency to try to change and control others (Alden, Wiggins, & Pincus, 1990). Dominant
people persist on issues that are important to them and are more likely to report, and continue to report, ethical misconduct even if
they are not heard or they are retaliated against (Rothschild & Miethe, 1999). Bjørkelo, Einarsen, and Matthiesen (2010) suggested
that such individuals are likely to be more assertive and confident their whistle blowing will be heard.
In contrast, introverts tend to be quiet, reserved, and more inhibited, calculative, and deliberate (Digman, 1997; Eysenck, 1970;
Stagner, 1933). They are less likely to report ethical violations, are more compliant and susceptible to pressures to remain silent
regarding cases of ethical misconduct, and report higher levels of victimization at work (Bjørkelo et al., 2010; Coyne et al., 2004;
Gudjonsson et al., 2004; Gundlach et al., 2003;Miceli & Near, 2005;Miceli et al., 2001). Studies also suggest that introverts are more
sensitive to punishment orwarnings of punishment (Boddy et al., 1986; Gray, 1981; Nichols & Newman, 1986; Patterson et al., 1987;
Torrubia & Tobeña, 1984; Torrubia et al., 2001). As such, they may be more likely to weigh the consequences of resisting destructive
leaders, instead of electing to passively acquiesce.
10.4. Lack of a courageous-prosocial disposition
In describing rescuers during the Holocaust, Shepela and colleagues (1999) suggested that, in contrast to bystanders who
ignored or looked on but did nothing to help, rescuers possessed a need to display “courageous resistance” on behalf of their
Jewish comrades despite the potential costs to themselves. Similar to the concepts of “courageous followership” (Chaleff, 1995)
and “courageous conscience” (Kelley, 2008), courageous resistance refers to the sustained display of voluntary selfless behavior
that entails high risk or cost to the actor and which often stems from one’s response to a moral calling (Shepela et al., 1999). While
typically discussed in terms of extreme situations (e.g., genocide), it is also applicable to cases of destructive leadership in
corporate and political settings. For instance, courageous resistance can entail whistle blowing where social or economic costs
compound (e.g., losing a job) or participation in demonstrations where imprisonment or physical harm are possible (Shepela et
al., 1999).
While courageous resistance is partly a function of the dynamics underlying a particular situation, Shepela et al. (1999) noted that
personality plays a critical role in its enactment. Prior research on mass genocide, namely the Holocaust, indicates that, unlike
bystanders, rescuers maintained a courageous-prosocial disposition characterized by increased levels of empathic concern, altruistic
moral reasoning, social responsibility, and risk-taking (Fagin-Jones & Midlarsky, 2007; London, 1970; Midlarsky & Kahana, 1994;
Midlarsky et al., 2005; Oliner & Oliner, 1988; Staub, 2005). Together, these characteristics form the backbone of valor, kindness, and
self-sacrifice (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), and are believed to be necessary for helping in high stress situations involving the potential
for high personal costs to the actor.
Proposition 6. Individuals with higher scores on the bystander follower type, including (a) low core self-evaluations, (b) high selfmonitoring,
(c) low extraversion and dominance, and (d) a low courageous prosocial disposition, are more likely to experience
manipulative triggers in the presence of destructive leaders than those with lower scores on the bystander follower type.

  1. Colluders: opportunists
    Shifting gears, the dark personalities of opportunists seem to resemble those of their destructive leaders. These followers view
    their alliance with such leaders as a vehicle for personal gain and willingly follow to acquire financial, political, or professional
    outcomes (Lipman-Blumen, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007). Opportunists carry out destructive orders given they believe there is an
    instrumental link between their compliance and contingent rewards (Bass, 1985; Kuhnert & Lewis, 1987), suggesting that exchange
    triggers are at the core of their susceptibility to destructive leaders (Barbuto, 2000). Exchange triggers reflect an inclination to comply
    based on the anticipation of desired rewards upon goal or task completion (Kelman, 1958).When destructive leaders tap exchange

triggers in opportunists, the greater the extent with which these followers believe the leader holds reward power, or the ability to
control resources and dispense valued outcomes (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989), the greater the probability of their compliance
(Barbuto, 2000). This probability further increases to the extent that opportunists are instrumentally motivated to attain tangible
extrinsic rewards and their resistance to the leader’s inducements is low (Barbuto, 2000).
Proposition 7. As opportunists’ (a) instrumental motivation increases, (b) their resistance to the influence attempt decreases, and
(c) the leader’s reward power increases, the likelihood that exchange triggers will lead to their compliance with destructive leaders also
While additional research is needed, our review indicates that opportunists possess (a) personal ambition and (b)
unsocialized characteristics, such as Machiavellianism, greed, and low impulse control. These factors increase the probability of
destructive leaders activating exchange triggers in opportunists.
11.1. Personal ambition
A key aspect of opportunists is their focus on achieving external indicators of success (Padilla et al., 2007). Given their
voracious ambition and willingness to conspire with those who can reward them for their services, they are apt to promote the
leader’s destructive agenda to get ahead. Research suggests that highly ambitious employees are more likely to violate ethical
codes of conduct, stab coworkers in the back, and engage in corruption (Jackall, 1988; Zyglidopoulos, Fleming, & Rothenberg,
2009). They are also more likely to exploit others and follow coercive policies to further their interests (McClelland, 1975; Padilla
et al., 2007). For example, Andrew Fastow, former CFO of Enron and architect behind its intricate plots used to cover up major
financial losses, was widely perceived to be extremely ambitious and willing to press the legal limits on deals (Bolman & Deal,
2006; McLean & Elkind, 2003).
11.2. Unsocialized characteristics
Though further research would be useful, the psychological overlap among opportunists and destructive leaders suggests that they
share certain unsocialized characteristics such as Machiavellianism, greed, and low levels of self-control (Padilla et al., 2007).
Machiavellianism refers to a proclivity for engaging in deception, manipulative politics, and expressive behavior to acquire personal
outcomes (Christie & Geis, 1970). Those high on Machiavellianism tend to display cunning, manipulation, deception, and forceful
persuasion to gain personal power and control (Judge, Piccolo, & Kosalka, 2009). Machiavellianism is applicable to followership as well.
Considerable overlap exists in behaviors displayed by opportunists and people high on Machiavellianism. Like opportunists, these
individuals employ their influence tactics and methods of deception to acquire power and status (Padilla et al., 2007). Clements and
Washburn (1999) suggested that Machiavellian followers are prototypical “yes” men, engaging in flattery with their leaders and
withholding criticism from them.While Machiavellianism disposes opportunists to conspire with destructive leaders in the short term,
they may set their leaders up for failure to obtain their own power (Clements & Washburn, 1999). Thus, opportunists can become
destructive themselves.
Like opportunists, Machiavellian followers engage in economic opportunism, demonstrating little concern for their financial
partners (Dahling, Whitaker, & Levy, 2009; Sakalaki, Richardson, & Thepaut, 2007). They are also more likely to steal from others
(Fehr, Samson, & Paulhus, 1992; Harrell & Hartnagel, 1976); display influence tactics to establish political connections (Dingler-
Duhon & Brown, 1987; Harrell, 1980; Pandey & Rastogi, 1979); select politically charged careers with greater opportunities for
wealth, power, and status (Corzine, 1997; Fehr et al., 1992; Hunt & Chonko, 1984); and are less likely to adhere to organizational
rules and policies (Judge et al., 2009). Indeed, Machiavellianism has been implicated in the complicity witnessed in recent
scandals at Enron, MCI WorldCom, and Haliburton (Dahling et al., 2009).
Greed refers to a selfish longing to accrue goods, status, or power beyond any reasonable limits, without regard for others
or the common good (Farrugia, 2002; Kaplan, 1991; Nikelly, 1992). While greed may be a more salient aspect of opportunists
in the corporate realm (Padilla et al., 2007), it seems to be a common thread of opportunists across organizations. Hermann
Göring, Hitler’s commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), for instance, was personally responsible for
stealing over 200 valuable pieces of art, with most coming from victims of the Holocaust (Aalders, 2004; Kurtz, 2006; Turner,
Finally, an absence of self-control is a principal explanation for criminal behavior; it refers to a “tendency to avoid acts whose longterm
costs exceed momentary advantages” (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1994, p. 4). Self-control theory suggests that individuals with high
levels of self-control display restraint from engaging in deviant activities because they sufficiently process the long-term outcomes of
their behavior (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Despite criticisms (e.g., Geis, 2000;Miller & Burack, 1993), meta-analytic evidence indicates
that self-control is one of the strongest predictors of crime (e.g., Pratt & Cullen, 2000). The construct has also attracted the attention of
counterproductive work behavior (CWB) researchers (e.g., Collins & Griffin, 1998; Wanek, 1995) and is linked to organizational
corruption (Marcus & Schuler, 2004).
Proposition 8. Individuals with higher scores on the opportunist follower type, including (a) high levels of personal ambition, (b) high
levels of Machiavellianism, (c) high levels of greed, and (d) low levels of self-control, are more likely to experience exchange triggers in the
presence of destructive leaders than those with lower scores on the opportunist follower type.

  1. Colluder: acolytes
    While Lipman-Blumen (2005) suggested that opportunistic followers base their loyalty to destructive leaders simply on the
    potential for personal rewards, Kellerman (2004) and Padilla et al. (2007) indicated that others collude because they share
    congruent values and goals with the leader. Thus, in addition to opportunists, we find a second type of colluder: the acolyte.
    Unlike lost souls, acolytes hold a firm sense of self and seek expression of their ideological values and beliefs via the leader’s
    mission (Howell & Shamir, 2005; Padilla et al., 2007). Indeed, research suggests that leaders are capable of achieving
    transformative effects on followers by articulating a vision that directly aligns with central aspects of their self-concepts (Burns,
    1978; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Shamir et al., 1993). Thus, the acolyte’s motivations for following destructive leaders are rooted
    primarily in their goal internalization motivation, which causes the acolyte to behave in ways that are consistent with their
    personal values (Barbuto, 2000; Barbuto & Scholl, 1998).
    Acolytes are “true believers” who do not require strong inducements from destructive leaders to aid the organization in
    achieving its toxic goals (Barbuto, 2000). Given their shared goals and values, goal identification and value-based triggers are
    central to the acolyte’s compliance with destructive leaders (Barbuto, 2000; Shamir et al., 1993). While the former stems from
    identification with the organization’s vision and a belief that compliance will facilitate its goals (Bass, 1985; Yukl, 1998), the latter
    results from a belief that the organization’s goals are congruent with one’s values and that pursuing them supports those values
    (Barbuto, 2000; Bass, 1985; Howell & Shamir, 2005; Shamir et al., 1993). For example, Heinrich Himmler, reichsführer of Hitler’s
    SS, was a “firm believer in the Aryan master race” (Williamson, 2004, p. 31) and “steeped in every aspect of the radicalization of
    anti-Semitic policy” (Levy, 2005, p. 302).
    Thus, the greater the acolyte’s goal internalization motivation and the lower their resistance, the greater the likelihood of goalidentification
    triggers and value-based triggers leading to their compliance with destructive leaders. Further, expert power, which
    entails a leader’s ability to administer information, knowledge, or expertise (Hinkin & Schriesheim, 1989), necessitates amutual set of
    goals between leaders and followers and a belief among followers that the leaderwill act in the organization’s best interests (French &
    Raven, 1959). As such,when acolytes believe that a leader holds the qualifications and skills needed to achieve the organization’s toxic
    goals and trusts he or she will behave in ways that are consistentwith the group’s collectivemission (i.e., expert power), this further
    increases the chances of goal identification and value-based triggers leading to the acolyte’s compliance with destructive leaders
    (Barbuto, 2000).
    Proposition 9. As acolytes’ (a) goal internalization motivation increases, (b) their resistance to the influence attempt decreases, and
    (c) the leader’s expert power increases, the likelihood that goal-identification triggers and value-based triggers will lead to their
    compliance with destructive leaders also increases.
    Proposition 10. Individuals with higher scores on the acolyte follower type, including high congruency between their goals and values
    and those of the leader, are more likely to experience goal-identification and value-based triggers in the presence of destructive leaders
    than those with lower scores on the acolyte follower type.
  2. Implications for future research
    There are several areas that future research should address. First, it is vital that future studies test the theoretical foundation
    governing each follower’s unique susceptibilities. Though separate measures exist for different facets of authoritarians [e.g., RWA
    (Altemeyer, 1981, 1988], bystanders [e.g., self-monitoring (Lennox &Wolfe, 1984)], lost souls [e.g., self-concept clarity (Campbell et
    al., 1996)], and colluders [e.g., Machiavellianism (Dahling et al., 2009)], a unified psychometric effort is necessary to determine each
    follower’s factor structure, the degree with which the follower types are correlated or load onto a higher-order susceptibility factor,
    and the ability of measures of each to predict relevant outcomes. While we do not assume that these follower categories are
    orthogonal, future studies should test this hypothesis directly. In addition to developing scales to identify these different types of
    susceptible followers, other empirical analyses (e.g., cluster analysis) should be conducted to verify the existence of each unique
    follower type.
    Second, prior studies shed some light on the interactions that occur among susceptible followers and destructive leaders (e.g., Song
    Hing et al., 2007). Yet, we are unaware of any studies examining the interpersonal dynamicswithin the susceptible circle itself, which
    may further allow destructive leaders to thrive in various organizations. The passivity of bystanders may justify to lost souls and
    authoritarians the unethical orders handed down to them, and further encourage colluders to engage in a leader’s harmful vision
    (Staub, 1989, 1990). Colluders, and eventually lost souls and authoritarians, may, in turn, use fear-based influence tactics to force
    bystanders into participating in the destruction. Consistent with research on group polarization (Hogg, Turner, & Davidson, 1990),
    colluders may adopt more extremeworldviews as they interactwith similar deviant others (e.g.,Hitler’sNazi SS), initiating a reciprocal
    chain reaction of destructiveness. Moreover, groupthink (Janis, 1972), a related group decision-making phenomenon that entails
    group members’ psychological drive for consensus, may override followers’ independent thinking and stifle dissent and appraisal of
    alternatives — thereby facilitating compliance with destructive leaders.
    Third,whilewe have reviewed information across various organizational contexts (e.g., political, corporate, religious,military),we
    are unaware of any research examining whether any of these follower types are more prevalent in certain organizational contexts
    than in others. For example, authoritarians may be attracted to military settings where discipline and obedience are emphasized;

colluders may be drawn to corporate and political contexts where their greed and ambition can thrive; and lost souls may surface
more in deviant subgroups where their unmet needs are easily satisfied by charismatic leaders.

  1. Implications for practice
    While this paper is principally theoretical, it is useful to underscore its practical aspects as well. A critical way to mitigate the
    effects of destructive leadership is to promote strong, independent followers who will challenge destructive leaders and develop
    healthy organizational processes and practices. This is easier said than done. The paradox is that leadersmust relinquish some of their
    power for followers to become stronger and more autonomous. Micro-management and centralization are anathema to good
    leadership in most situations. Further, there is the confounding issue of degree. Some levels of ambition,Machiavellianism, and greed
    may be necessary in certain situations for the good of the team. Excessive levels of such traits may not. An issue for research and
    practice is the question of how much is too much.
    Nonetheless, on the front end, the importance of proper and careful selection seems clear. Pre-screening measures might be
    utilized to identify job candidates at extreme risk of becoming susceptible followers. Validated scales exist for bystanders’ and lost
    souls’ core self-evaluations (Judge et al., 2003), authoritarians’ right-wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1988), and colluders’
    Machiavellianism (Dahling et al., 2009). Assessment centers have also shown to be valuable selection tools and robust predictors of
    various employee outcomes (Arthur, Day,McNelly, & Edens, 2003; Gaugler, Rosenthal, Thornton, & Bentson, 1987). Candidatesmight
    be placed into simulated leader–follower scenarios in which resistance to an unethical leader is a desirable course of action. Given
    colluders’ Machiavellian tendencies, they may also engage in intentional distortion on paper-and-pencil measures of personality. As
    such, practitioners may benefit from using biodata as a substitute for identifying potential colluders. Mumford et al. (1992) created
    several biodata scales for identifying individual propensities for engagement in destructive acts.
    Organizations should also encourage ethical climates that empower subordinates to hold leaders responsible for their unethical
    behavior. Organizations that endorse rigid bureaucracies and authoritarian leadership styles create climates characterized by
    hierarchical, top-down decision-making and submissive followers (Blau, 1968; Carsten et al., 2010). These climates reinforce
    conformer’s obedient tendencies and adherence to large power-status differentials (Blass, 2000; Ridgeway & Walker, 1995), thus
    resulting in an absence of checks and balances on a leader’s abuse of power (Padilla et al., 2007). Organizations marked by strong
    expectations of obedience, in fact, display higher levels of unethical behavior and lower levels of ethically relevant behaviors (Treviño
    &Weaver, 1998; Treviño,Weaver, Gibson, & Toffler, 1999).
    However, organizations adopting practices and procedures, stressing ethical values and codes of conduct, as well as initiatives to
    cultivate proactive employees, will be adept at preventing destructive leader–follower relationships (Chaleff, 2003; Hollander &
    Offermann, 1990). Creating an ethical climate involves establishing clear-cut whistle blowing procedures that remove barriers to
    timely reporting of ethical misconduct, visibly enforcing rules and regulations, supporting ethics-related discussions, and rewarding
    leaders who serve as ethical role-models (Brown, Treviño, & Harrison, 2005). Finally, formal training efforts geared towards
    developing personal initiative, self-efficacy, and autonomy might work to preserve balance and control over authoritarian forms of
    power (Carsten et al., 2010; Padilla et al., 2007).
  2. Conclusion
    We have attempted to illuminate the role of different susceptible followers in the initiation and persistence of destructive
    leadership in organizations. Although our discussion of the susceptible circle reflects only a piece of this complex mosaic, and one
    tempered by the transient nature of susceptible followers over time, the present effort represents the first attempt to synthesize
    existing research across various academic disciplines in order to develop a cohesive taxonomy of vulnerable follower types. In so
    doing, the susceptible circle highlights the importance of followers in the destructive leadership process and hopefully provides
    an impetus for leadership scholars to move past the overly simplistic, trait-based approaches to studying destructive leadership,
    which have dominated the theoretical landscape to date.
    We would like to thank Ron Riggio and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments throughout the review
    process. We also wish to acknowledge Dina Krasikova, Katina Sawyer, Shannon McLaughlin, and Bill Thoroughgood for their
    contributions to the present effort.
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