When Leaders Don’t Lead

When Leaders Don’t Lead

Written by Dr Arron Grow

The seminal work of Lipman-Blumen (2005) and others such as Reed (2010) and Heppell (2011) highlight a trend that is not a good one for leadership. Though bad leadership may have always existed, the documentation and formal research into this subject has just gotten started. After reviewing multiple studies, Higgs (2009) found that which is commonly considered ‘bad’ leadership typically falls into one of four behaviors.

  1. Abuse of Power (Lipman-Blumen, 2005; Benson and Hogan, 2008)
  2. Inflicting Damage on Others (Kellerman, 2004; Aasland et al., 2008)
  3. Overuse of Control (Tepper, 2000; Benson and Hogan, 2008)
  4. Rule Breaking to Serve One’s Own Purpose (Tepper, 2000; Kellerman, 2004)

One does not have to be an academic to know that bad leadership creates bad work environments. What higher level leaders do not seem to realize is how deeply bad leadership can cut into people, product and service quality, and profit. How bad are the effects of bad leadership? Schyns and Schilling (2013) asked this exact question. In their review of 57 studies on this topic, they found that destructive leadership has impacts in not one or two, but four different areas; leader-related issues, job related matters, organizational impacts, and consequences to followers.

Among these four categories, Schyns and Schilling (2013) found the strongest impacts of bad leadership to be on followers and how they feel about the bad leader. The second strongest effect, according to the researchers, was job-related matters. While outright, or direct, resistance was not typically displayed towards bad leaders; ‘general counterproductive work behavior’ was common. Multiply the distraction, disinterest in engagement, and productivity times the number of people impacted by the bad leader AND number of days, weeks, months, and even years the bad leader remains in place and one starts to get a small hint of how large of an impact bad leadership can have.

After many instances of organizational failure due to ethics-related issues, many programs in higher education began adding ethics courses as part of many degree programs. While no one questions this strategy is better than no strategy, there are many who would agree that bad leadership due to poor ethics, poor leadership skills, and related issues continues to exist in the work world today. In short, ethics education alone does not seem to be the sole answer to ridding the world of bad leadership.

Leaders who want their peers to step up to a better way of doing things need ways to address these situations not sometime in the future, but now. What policies, procedures, and strategies can leader educators, advisers, and peers apply today that will help those in authority lead more effectively, more ethically, less toxically? These are questions that should be asked regularly at every level of leadership; questions that should be asked followed by actions based on answers to these questions. The cost to organizational personnel and productivity of not addressing these is just too high.

This is just my opinion. I could be wrong. But I’m not.

Dr. Arron Grow is a full time faculty member in CityU’s Division of Doctoral Studies.  He is currently the Program Coordinator for the Organizational Leadership Concentration.


Aasland, M.S., Skogstad, A. and Einarsen, S. (2008). The dark side: defining destructive leadership behavior, Organisations and People, 15(3), 19–26.

Benson, M.J. and Hogan, R.S. (2008). How dark side leadership personality destroys trust and degrades organisational effectiveness, Organisations and People, 15(3),10–18.

Heppell, T. (2011). Toxic leadership: Applying the Lipman-Blumen model to political leadership. Representation, 47(3), 241-249. doi: 10.1080/00344893.2011.596422.

Higgs, M. (2009). The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Leadership and Narcissism. Journal of Change Management, 9(2), 165-178.

Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad Leadership. What it is, How it Happens, Why it Matters. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). Toxic leadership: When grand illusions masquerade as noble visions. Leader to Leader, 36, 29-36.

Reed, G.E & Olsen, R.A. (2010). Toxic Leadership: Part Deux. Military Review, 90(6), 58-64.

Schyns, B. and 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.

Tepper, B.J. (2000). Consequences of abusive supervision, Academy of Management Journal, 43(2), 178–190.

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Published May 20, 2014



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