Does Burnout Cause Dark-Sided Personality Traits to Appear?

Sometimes in life we come across a leader who is not always a positive influence. We often have to wonder, how did they become that way? Did they learn these behaviors from their parents? Their peers? Or did they become so burnt out in their job that they became frustrated and these negative leadership skills are the only way they know how to cope.

My boss recently retired from her job that she held for more than 30 years. She was very knowledgeable in all aspects of the program. She was an excellent grant writer and a great person to have on you side should a sticky situation arise, she would be the first person to go to bat for you and defend you. Although she was many great things, a great leader she was NOT.

She made the work environment toxic, she was always argumentative, and if she was mad at you trust me when I say, you knew it for a week. She would not look at you or speak to you and you could feel the negative energy radiating off her. There were many days when she made me cry because I forgot a small detail that I did not know about because I had only been in my job for four months. She would yell that she should not have to hold my hand and that I should be capable of knowing how to do things. She liked to exhibit her expert power, meaning she liked to show her knowledge of our program and she liked to make sure everyone knew that NO ONE was going to be better at it than her.

The longer she was there the more her dark-side personality traits came out. Dark-side personality traits are “irritating or counterproductive behavioral tendencies that interfere with a leader’s ability to form cohesive teams,” (Dobbs).  I often wonder if she always naturally tapped into the dark-side personality traits and she lived through her shadow self or if she became that way over time because she was burnout from her job.

Overtime I saw my boss lose some of the traits that Kirkpatirck and Locke identified in 1991. My boss was losing her drive for the program and she did not have a desire to lead anymore. Although that was the case she ALWAYS made sure that she tapped into her interpersonal insensitivities, meaning she did not care what other people thought of her and still made sure to establish herself as the boss until she walked out the door on the day she retired.

Even though those dark-side personality traits are there, and we tap into them from time to time, we cannot let something like burnout take our focus from what is important. Being the best possible leader, we can be for our companies, organizations, etc. As we teach the future generations leadership skills we also need to remind ourselves that we want to teach the youth of today the proper skills so that they may be the successful leaders of tomorrow.



Dobbs, J. (2019). Penn State University. PSY 532. Lesson 02: Trait Approach. Retrieved from


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