People seem implicitly to attach the word 'good' to the word 'leadership'. This tendency may explain why academic researchers have avoided managerial (and leadership) incompetence. The recent implosion of several organizations (i.e. Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, Hollinger International) and the associated media coverage has called attention to the existence of bad leaders. This article draws on the knowledge base concerning the dark side of personality to define the critical issues associated with managerial derailment and to offer guidance to leadership development practitioners. The paper is organized sin three sections. First, we offer a definition of leadership that differs from the standard view. Second, we define personality dimensions that characterize both effective and ineffective leadership, and show how these dimensions translate into leadership behavior. Finally, we offer some suggestions for leadership development practitioners.
Defining Good and Bad Leadership
Researchers and practitioners often complain that there is no agreed-upon definition of leadership – there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are people who study it. We find it helpful to focus on the functions of leadership than the characteristics of people who are in charge. Consistent with this orientation, we value the roach and Behling (1984) definition in terms of the process of influencing a group toward accomplishing its goals. This definition highlights three critical issues: (1) leadership is a process; (2) it implies influence (implicitly a bidirectional influence process); (3) it entails accomplishing a specified goal. Hogan and colleagues extend this definition by arguing that leadership should be understood in terms of both the 'ends' – accomplishing the goals of an organization – and the 'means' of leadership – building and maintaining high performance teams. Obviously, the means of leadership concern the processes by which the ends (effective performance) are achieved.
As noted above, it is often assumed that all (or most) people in senior positions in organizations are good leaders, but this is clearly not the case. In fact this special issue as well as a special issue of The Leadership Quarterly (2007), and a spate of recent articles on toxic leadership, indicate a paradigm shift from learning leadership exclusively through the study of leadership effectiveness to learning about leadership by examining leadership ineffectiveness. To understand toxic leadership, it is useful to review some historical research on managerial derailment.
Research at the Center for Creative Leadership started this line of inquiry. McCall and Lombardo (1983) concluded that a combination of personal and performance flaws cause managers to derail and/or fail. Some specific behaviors related to failure include: being aloof, cold, and arrogant; betraying trust; being overly ambitious; being burned out; having miscellaneous skill deficiencies. The problems identified by these researchers could be placed in three overarching categories: (1) managerial skills, (2) personal qualities, and (3) leadership abilities. Lombardo et al. (1988) extended this work by comparing derailed and successful managers; they found that derailed executives were rated significantly lower across scales concerning personal flaws (honor, sensitivity, composure) and managerial flaws. Van Vesler and Leslie (1995) reevaluated these causes of derailment across time and culture and reached similar conclusions. As the trends of increased organizational complexity, globalization, and downsizing continue, leaders will be called upon to deliver results more quickly and more accurately in spite of the dynamic environment. This requirement to deliver places a premium on a leader’s ability to inspire performance beyond expectations from organization members – to...