The concept of good and evil is as old as time itself. Stories paint our history books of the never-ending battle between right and wrong. However, for some the concept of holding fast to our morals and doing what is right is lost in the abyss of self-absorption. Consumed with
narcissism, when these people find themselves in positions of leadership, those around them are subject to the “dark side”. As stated in Northouse (2016), “the dark side of leadership is the destructive and toxic side of leadership in that a leader uses leadership for personal ends” (p.339). How the “dark side” forms can be understood through the 11 dark side traits and the toxic triangle (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007). Those who have had the unfortunate experience of working for such a leader from the “dark side” may be left with “destructive outcomes” that may result in damaged “psychological well-being” among other things (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007, section 2.3). However, with that said, there may be hope.
Understanding how a person could come to the “dark side” can be traced back to some identifying “qualities that when taken to the extreme, resemble the most common personality disorders” (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2017). Categorizing these qualities into three groups: distancing, seductive, and ingratiating, we can better understand how these qualities can adversely impact followers and organizations alike. The distancing category clearly pushes people away. Being cautious or reserved, may not necessarily be a bad thing, however if being cautious results in being indecisive or reserved, results in uncommunicative styles of leadership, it is easy to understand how things could begin to get out of control. It is important as a leader to be able to form positive relationships with co-workers; however pushing them away clearly has an adverse effect. The next group of traits result in an opposite effect from the first group in that they attract, rather than push away. Seductive traits are often found in “assertive, charismatic leaders” and although at times can be a good, just as with the first group of traits, if found in abundance, can result in adverse effects that can cause more harm than good, revealing a sense of arrogance or recklessness that can be extremely damaging. Examples of these kinds of leaders include Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Joe Nacchio, Jeff Skilling, Charles Manson, and David Koresh to name a few (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007). Finally, we have the ingratiating traits. These are traits that are typically associated with people who like to please, however when found excessively can result in perfectionistic or conflict aversive leaders.
Although destructive leaders often times exhibit many of the aforementioned traits in abundance, it is not always simply the leaders themselves that create a toxic environment. As articulated in Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser (2007), destructive leadership results from the effects of the “toxic triangle”, which suggests a combination of destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments to produce a toxic environment. “Destructive leaders are characterized by charisma, personalized needs for power, narcissism, negative life history, and an ideology of hate” however, “a single element is probably insufficient” (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007, section 3.1.6). As such, the next piece of the triangle is introduced, the follower. Destructive leaders, although toxic, need followers to support them. As suggested in Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser, (2007), followers either “lack a clearly defined self-concept” or “share the leader’s values” resulting in conformers and colluders (section 3.2). These types of followers in one way or another, enable destructive leaders to lead. The final leg to the toxic triangle is a conducive environment. According to Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser (2007), four environmental factors are key for igniting the flame of destructive leadership, which include: instability, perceived threat, cultural values, and absence of checks and balances and institutionalization” (section 3.3). With these three components of the toxic triangle in place, the “dark side” will surely take over.
Although the “dark side” can be powerful, there is hope. In focusing specifically on the destructive leader, we know that they have a “lack of integrity, insatiable ambition, arrogance, and reckless disregard for their actions” (Northouse, 2016, p. 339). Essentially, they are narcissistic. To overcome this, we must use the “force”, the force of leadership approaches, which focus on others rather than self. Implementing a strong sense of authentic and servant leadership approaches into the workplace will eradicate the dark force and free the followers from a life of tyranny. Utilizing authentic leadership, which involves self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency, organizations can shape their leaders into trustworthy people who “develop these qualities and apply them to the common good as he or she serves others” (Northouse, 2016, p.206). Additionally, organization can implement servant leadership, which encourages leaders to behave ethically; putting others first, and helping followers to succeed, empowering their people instead of themselves and create value (Northouse, 2016, p. 234-235).
If organizations understand the importance of not just the positive side of leadership, but also the “dark side”, more pronounced steps could be taken to prevent destructive leadership and a toxic workplace. Understanding why destructive leaders develop, to include the 11 traits of the dark side, as well as how, with regard to the toxic triangle, is the first step. Then implementation of positive leadership styles into organizational structures to include authentic and servant leadership approaches. This will help to remove the focus of one-self to the followers, creating a positive atmosphere, rich with empowerment, hopefully stopping the “dark side”.
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017). Could your personality derail your career? Harvard Business Review, September-October 2017. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/09/could-your-personality-derail-your-career
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2007). The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(3), 176-194. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.03.001
Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R. B. (2007). The Toxic Triangle [Graphic]. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/science/article/pii/S1048984307000367
Untitled graphic of 11 dark side traits. Retrieved November 19, 2017, from: https://hbr.org/2017/09/could-your-personality-derail-your-career