A bad leader lacks talent and skill, a destructive leader lacks character.
Leadership can be destructive. I mean this in the sense that poor, weak, or harmful leaders exist and can do great and lasting damage, not only to the organization but most importantly, to the people.
Great leaders use meaningful connections, shared values and mutual understanding to bring people together. ~ Linda Fisher Thornton
Lately, I have been very focused on the rise in destructive leadership in the lives of those I intersect with. A leader’s responsibility is many-fold but destruction is typically not one of the verbs used. My fellow-blogger and ethical leadership expert Linda Fisher Thornton’s post on Great Leader’s Unite captured my attention. Her quote, cited above, clearly speaks to what the rank and file believe about leader’s and their responsibilities. What happens to move a leader from the textbook definition and Linda’s description to being a destructive or toxic leader?
Many things can make this happen. Hubris, corruption, outside influence, ethical failure, or ulterior motives to name a few. We must always remember that “stuff” rolls downhill and often a leader can become consumed in that movement and destroy people along the way. Sometimes, it seems like a leader forgets that the people matter most and they get so wrapped up in the accomplishment of the mission or execution of their plan that they do unbelievable damage to the most important pieces of their organization…their people.
Need tips to overcome destructive leaders? Check out: “Seize the Moment!“
I have worked for a few destructive leaders across the years. It can be difficult to recognize them or feel their negative influence until the damage is done. Typically, the mediocre people are not the ones who feel a destructive leader’s influence. The go-getters, type A’s, and action-focused people who are making the mission happen are impacted the greatest.
I worked for a leader once who was a vindictive leader. He was carrying lots of personal anger over not being promoted and he picked a subordinate yet senior leader in the organization to take his anger out on. In my role as the senior enlisted leader (principally responsible for the people) I worked to keep these two apart and the mission happening. I failed, as the vindictive leader eventually pushed the right series of buttons and the subordinate reacted and was summarily fired. A good and respected leader was pushed out by a destructive leader.
The most destructive leader in my experience is the threatening leader. This type of leader uses threats to instill fear and hopefully get people to react; rarely is it effective. This is not a taught skill but rather a personal quirk of the leader. Too often I have seen leaders threaten others and the result was a strong worker who left the organization and achieved success elsewhere.
Anyone could be a leader if there was no cost. True leaders willingly pay a price, to sacrifice self-interest, to have the honor to lead. ~ Simon Sinek
Do you know or work with one of these types of leaders? We must always remember that leadership is a privilege and an honor. The two specific types of destructive leaders I have discussed do not deserve that privilege. To be responsible for the organizational vision, execution of the mission, and the growth, development, and success of the people is what good leaders doggedly pursue across their careers.