Toxic Leadership and the Impact on the Organisation and Employees

The incidence of toxic leadership and organisations is on the increase and if not addressed it will most definitely negatively impact the world of work, employees, organisational well-being as well as organisational performance, sustainability and outcomes. It is thus, important that we understand the nature, dynamics and evolution of toxic leadership and organisations, in a holistic and systemic way.[1]

“Toxic Leadership is characterized by mistreatment of subordinates in a corporate structure, resulting in a destructive and harmful working environment”. The toxic leader will think “I am always right”, it is always about “I, me and myself”,” turning a blind eye” when work needs to be done, has “clique mentality” by having small inner circle of followers and often heard saying “I meant it then, but not anymore”.[2]

Dr Paul Vorster from the Ethics Institute, South Africa defined the following characteristics of toxic leadership:[3]

  • Toxic leaders intentionally make decisions that benefit them and harm their followers and organisations over the long-term.
  • Toxic leaders prefer to coerce followers and be in control.
  • Toxic leaders are selfish. 

Vorster further provides the following checklist that can be used to determine whether a leader is possibly toxic:

  1. “The leader only makes decisions that benefit him or her.
  2. The leader has a negative impact on followers in the long-term.
  3. The leader does not allow the input of followers.
  4. The leader marginalises or attacks anyone that disagrees with him or her.
  5. The leader does not take minority groups into account.
  6. The leader vilifies a certain group of people to make his or her point.
  7. The leader relies on emotive arguments and not rational arguments.
  8. The leader often uses stereotypes to make his or her point about groups he/she does not like.
  9. The leader is arrogant and self-serving.
  10. The leader makes grandiose self-references”.

A toxic work environment is defined as an environment that negatively impacts the viability of an organization.[4]The more prolific these toxic leaders are in an organisation, the more toxic the organisation.

The table below profiles these toxic leaders.[5]

Schmidt, 2015 noted that multiple studies identified the negative impact of toxic leadership on job satisfaction, productivity, commitment and trust in the organization with subsequent lower job outcomes. He further indicated that toxic leadership also eroded group cohesion and motivated people to pull away from their work teams. Employees with toxic leaders were more intent on leaving the organization and were less likely to help co-workers.[6]

Toxic leadership without a doubt compromises the ethics of the working environment which is now subject to typical behaviours such as abuse of privileges, theft, violence and verbal abuse.[7]

Compiled by: I Asia, Managing Director JPSA

Date: 12 July 2019

[1] Pelletier, Jeffrey Pfeffer, David Roy-Girad, Michael Walton, Birgit Schyns, Jan Schilling and Jarret Shalhoop. Veldsman, Theo. (2014). The Growing Cancer Endangering Organisations: Toxicity. Human Capital Review.

[2] Rajh V Iver. (2014). The characteristics of the toxic leader. 

[3] Dr. Paul Vorster (The Ethics Institute), Accessed 12 July 2019

[4] David Sloan Wilson (2014), Toxic Leadership and the impact on the workplace and employees

[5] William LaFalce, NCO Journal, 2017

[6] Andrew Schmidt (2015), What is a Toxic Leader? accessed on 09 July 2019

[7] Linda Ronnie (2017), Toxic leaders affect companies, and governments. How to deal with them




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