Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Leader as Anti-Hero: Decoding Nuances of Dysfunctional Leadership

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Public Policy

Leader as Anti-Hero: Decoding Nuances of Dysfunctional Leadership

Article excerpt


Traditionally leaders have been regarded as fountainhead of energy and motivation, enabling their followers to transcend all limitations in order to realize the vision and mission of any organization. For long, leadership has been viewed as fundamentally benevolent act aimed at benefitting all the stakeholders. Such glorification of leadership roles has clouded great number of instances of high-handed behaviour of the leaders. Hence undesirable leadership patterns (which are just opposite the core values on which leadership is based) often get overlooked in rigorous academic scrutiny. No wonder, literature on dysfunctional leadership is abysmally low in terms of number of books and research papers published in peer-reviewed journals. There are a few reports based on anecdotes and reflective articles in newspapers and magazine which tend to keep the theme alive. It is therefore imperative that a comprehensive study on the theme of dysfunctional leadership is presented to the scholarly community so as to ignite research interest in the fast changing organizational contexts driven more actively by the followers rather than the leaders as in the traditional paradigm.

Darker side of leaders where they come across to their followers more as monsters thrives on the power that comes with the role and grows out of personality traits such as self-aggrandizement, entitlement, narcissism, self-deceit and abuse of power (Kets de Vries, 2004). Deadly combination of neurotic personality and personal power often unleash worst kinds of disasters at workplace as well as in social arena (Kets de Vries, 2004). Whicker tried to frame such leaders as 'toxic leaders' almost three decades ago. The toxic leaders were visualized as bullies, enforcers and street fighters who are maladjusted, malcontent, and often malevolent and malicious people and who succeed by tearing others down and controlling others rather than uplifting followers (Whicker, 1996). Such leaders have deep-seated but well-disguised sense of personal inadequacy, selfish values, and cleverness at concealing deceit (Whicker, 1996). Lipman-Blumen (2005) labelled toxic leaders as those individuals who, by virtue of their destructive behaviors and their dysfunctional personal qualities or characteristics, inflict serious and enduring harm on the individuals, groups, organizations, communities and even the nations that they lead Indeed, the idea of toxic leaders gave a fillip to studies on dysfunctional leadership patterns.

In spite of recognition of darker side of leadership as an emerging research theme in human resource management, not much is known about the fundamental thought processes with which employees develop perceptions of supervisory abuse and how these attributions are associated with psychological and behavioural reactions (Martinko, Harvey, Sikora, & Douglas, 2011). Further, there are several questions that merit attention of researchers: Why do some leaders, either consciously or unconsciously, make work more difficult for everyone around them? Why do some people, instead of promoting leadership in others, appear to rejoice in the struggles of others? What are the dynamics that drive a leader to become toxic for the people around him? (Tavanti, 2011). Obviously, there are great research opportunities to explore the theme of dysfunctional leadership both conceptually as well as empirical. At the same time there is huge cost in ignoring this in terms of poor organizational performance, low employee morale, high employee turnover, and above all negative organizational climate.

Defining Dysfunctional Leadership

In simple terms, dysfunctional leadership can be equated with 'abusive supervision' -a phrase popularized by Tepper. Abusive supervision may be explained as subordinates' perceptions of the extent to which supervisors engage in the sustained display of hostile verbal and non-verbal behaviours, excluding physical contact (Tepper, 2000). …

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