The Cost of Destructive Leadership

Bad leaders cost money. How much? According to research, destructive leadership impacts almost 14% of US workers and costs US companies more than $23 billion annually. Destructive leadership includes behaviors directed at employees such as:

  • Abusive leadership
  • Social undermining
  • Coercive use of power
  • Verbal abuse
  • Public ridiculing
  • Taking credit for subordinates' success
  • Scapegoating subordinates
  • Impeding cooperation of a team

In addition to the financial toll, researchers have discovered severe consequences of destructive leadership on organizational culture and individual employees:

  • Negative attitudes and covert resistance toward the leader, which are displayed through counterproductive work behaviors
  • Negative attitudes toward the organization, due to the perception that the organization will not protect employees
  • Mimicking of leaders' destructive behavior because of the perception that the organization allows or values bad behavior
  • Negative affect, increased stress, decreased well-being, and decreased performance of employees

If, as a leader, you notice your employees being resistant and passive-aggressive with increasingly negative attitudes toward you and the organization, perhaps you have been engaging in destructive leadership behaviors such as those mentioned above. Before you become labeled as a "destructive leader," begin taking action with these antidotes to poor leadership behaviors.

  1. Rather than undermining your employees, be clear about your performance expectations and do what you can to support them in achieving their professional goals.
  2. Rather than using your power to coerce people with threats of negative consequences, use your power to positively influence them. Engage in open conversation about the costs and benefits of important decisions, listen to feedback, and provide a well-reasoned argument for the decisions you make.
  3. Rather than publicly ridiculing direct reports, ask them to sit down with you privately to deliver negative feedback. Be firm about your expectations but express empathy for the way it feels to hear bad news.
  4. Rather than taking credit for subordinates' success, always give credit where credit is due. Reward employees for great performance and great ideas.
  5. Rather than scapegoating someone else when you make a mistake, take full responsibility for your role in the situation. Apologize when necessary.
  6. Rather than impeding the cooperation of a team, empower them to do their work effectively, providing them with the necessary resources and support.

Be constructive rather than destructive in your leadership behaviors, and get ready to experience the financial, cultural, and relational pay-offs.

Read the full meta-analysis on which this post is based:

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, 138-158.


Jaime GoffComment