The Allure of Toxic Leaders

Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and How We Can Survive Them

by Jean Lipman-Blumen

Number of pages: 303

Publisher: Oxford University Press

BBB Library: Leadership

ISBN: 9780195166347

About the Author

Jean Lipman-Blumen is a co-founding director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership and served as a special advisor.


Editorial Review

Leaders worthy of the name understand and accept that they are appointed as much for their values and courage as for administrative skills or visionary outlook. They always keep their word to be as binding as a signed legal document. The climate created by leaders has more impact on employees than we generally realize. People bring out the best in themselves when they hear and see the best in their leaders. All companies—public and private—must create a culture in which employees come first and are treated royally. They always return the favor. No matter what the field, no star is totally a self-made man. Most of us were the beneficiaries of lucky breaks. We owe a portion of our success to others and the only way to repay that assistance is by sharing good fortune. Many of us surrender to the allure of toxic leaders. We may complain about toxic leaders, but frequently, we, surprisingly, tolerate them for a long time. These intriguing leaders first charm but then manipulate, mistreat, undermine and ultimately leave their followers worse off than they found them.

Book Reviews

"Using insights based on a psychological approach, especially Maslow's theories of self-esteem, Lipman-Blumen (The Connective Edge) offers numerous examples in both politics and business of toxic leaders who have survived crises and received accolades despite their obvious flaws." Publishers Weekly

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Wisdom to Share

Do not look for great leaders among formal leaders. Great people rarely seek top management positions. They seldom enter politics or corporate world. We are more likely to discover them outside of formal organizations; we might spot such leaders in the streets feeding the homeless.

The dictionary defines toxic as having the effect of a poison. Toxic leaders have poisonous effects that cause serious harm to their organizations and their followers.

We tend to gravitate towards any leader who will make us feel safe, protected and good about ourselves.

Toxic leaders that promise security and assure us that we are special or chosen become particularly powerful magnets for our egos. This sets us up to tolerate toxic leadership.

Although we like to feel special, we also have an intense need to belong. In fact, part of feeling chosen usually means membership in an elite group.

Another psychological driver that makes us susceptible to toxic leaders is our sense of personal weakness “After all, I’m just one person. I have no power. How can you expect me to change the whole world?” So we often passively surrender to such leaders. We just don’t challenge them.

Leaders offer us various reassuring illusions. The illusion that life is both controllable and meaningful allows much of social life to proceed.

Fascinating new psychological research demonstrates that “bad is stronger than good”. Bad events stay with us longer than good ones.

Searching for leaders to guide us through turmoil is perfectly understandable, but we followers ask for more than mere guidance.

We want leaders who will forthwith slay the dragons so that we can sleep peacefully. We desire nothing less than leaders who can swiftly whip turmoil and confusion into order.

Those of us who have experienced life under toxic leaders, be it a boss, a spouse, or a politician, know how difficult it is to escape.