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How Much Damage Can a Bad Leader Do?

Can a destructive leader make good people behave badly?

The sad truth is that many of us are subjected to bad leaders – leaders who are tyrants, destructive (hurting their followers and organizations), or simply incompetent. Sadly, some scholars believe that bad leaders are more numerous than we think because they are not identified or challenged by those whom they lead.

A meta-analysis (which is a study of studies) by Birgit Schyns and Jan Schilling investigated the negative effects that destructive leaders can have.  Here are some of their findings:

  • Bad, abusive supervisors are not trusted and their requests are resisted by followers.
  • Bad leaders create dissatisfaction in followers and de-motivate them.
  • Followers of bad leaders are less committed to their jobs and organizations, look to leave the organization, and may even engage in counterproductive work behaviors.
  • Bad, abusive leaders create stress in followers and can have adverse effects on their health and well-being.

An interesting finding was that while bad leaders are perceived negatively by followers, oftentimes followers don’t put up any resistance. This is consistent with what we see in many organizations – followers know that their leader is toxic, incompetent, and unsupportive, and they secretly complain about it, but put up little resistance.

From the results of this research, one thing is clear: Bad leaders not only hurt their followers, causing them to be dissatisfied, stressed out, and angry, but there are also negative consequences for the organization as followers of bad leaders seek to leave the organization, and they may also act out in counterproductive ways (e.g., sabotage, slacking off, etc.).

What to do about bad leaders? Stand up to them. Call them out. Leave. You do have options, although there are risks involved.

 

References

Schyns, B., & Schilling, J. (2013). How bad are the effects of bad leaders? A meta-analysis of destructive leadership and its outcomes. The Leadership Quarterly, 24(1), 138-158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2012.09.00

 

Originally published at Psychology Today

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