Organizational Behaviour And Leadership Management

Essay add: 21-10-2016, 13:42   /   Views: 6

There is a quote that goes "With great power comes great responsibility". This quote holds a lot of importance in today's world. We live in what is called the corporate age which is a fast paced world where competition is an ingrained attribute in all of us. Big corporate giants be it organizations or governments compete against each other to prove to the world, their greatness. These giants hire individuals to work in and run the organization, hoping to extrapolate their skills and get the best in return, however despite their best efforts we always hear about heads of the organization that have become infamous due to their notorious and corrupt behaviour, tyrannical attitudes and narcissistic personalities. These are the people who have many a times led the organization to its downfall, the results being disastrous at times. This makes us curious as to why some of the leaders turn abusive in nature. In this article we explore the possibilities of why some leaders abuse their power, the consequences to their actions and the measures that the followers have to take in response when a leader abuses his or her power in detail.

To begin to explore the dark side of Power abuse in leaders we must first take a closer look at the kinds of abusive leaders that exist and how they have wielded their power over other followers in the organization. These followers could be employees of the organization or supporters of a politician or even common individuals who follow a leader in pursuit of a united goal. The common belief regarding leaders always has been that they are the ones that bring about change and make a difference. They are believed to imbibe positive effects in followers and bring them together as a group. Leaders are usually held in high regards and sometimes even patronised by their followers and this reinforces bad behaviour in the leaders.

Power and its effects on leaders

One of the key causes of an efficient person turning into an abusive leader is self-centredness. When organizations hire people, they tend to put technical educational achievements and concentrate less on the behavioural aspects of an individual. Many times these technically sound people are forerunners for the heads of organization. If adequate measures are not taken it is almost impossible to detect any dysfunctional behavioural pattern among these individuals during the initial years of association with the organization.

(Whicker, 1996) describes toxic leaders as being "maladjusted, malcontent, and often malevolent, even malicious. They succeed by tearing others down. They glory in turf protection, fighting and controlling rather than uplifting followers." Another compelling trait of these abusive leaders is that they tend to have short term goals and proceed to carry them out regardless of the opinions of others. They become insensitive towards building good work ethics and a stable work environment. One cannot exactly point out a single bad thing about abusive leaders, as a whole their behaviour is a cumulative effect of self-preservation, arrogant attitude towards subordinates, and a personal desire for power. The ramifications of these abusive leaders tend to extend far beyond their tenure and sometimes leading the organizations to their doomsday.

(Blumen, 2005) states that "individual toxic leader does not necessarily operate in toxic mode in all situations, nor all of the time even in the same circumstances. To complicate matters, when we compare different toxic leaders, we see that they exhibit varying degrees and types of toxicity". As we can see the toxicity in a leader has no clear boundaries, there are various levels and shades of toxicity in the behaviour of an abusive leader, this is usually circumstantial.

To fully understand the causes of abuse of power by leaders, we must first look at the different types of abusive leaders; this helps us deduce how each type of leader abuses power in different ways.

Abusive leaders in general can be categorized into four major types. They are,

The Manipulators.

The Abusive Tyrants.

The Authoritarians.

The Rigid Bosses.

The Manipulators.

The Manipulators are one of the worse categories of abusive leaders. This argument can be supported by the fact that manipulative leaders are charming and suave from the exterior and convey a sense of strength, confidence and grandeur and this is usually seen as a positive trait rather than negative. However, this is a cause for concern because it is this trait that makes it hard to spot a manipulative leader. They like to garner all the attention and usually succeed at it. They exhibit tendencies towards exploitation and victimization of their followers but are usually subtle at it, so the followers rarely know what's hit them until it does.

(Madeleine Landau Tobias, 1994) states that these are "individuals whose narcissism is so extreme and grandiose that they exist in a kind of splendid isolation in which the creation of the grandiose self takes precedence over legal, moral or interpersonal commitments." The manipulator category leaders are obsessed with themselves and this precedes their organizational commitment. An example for a manipulator category leader would be the former president of United States of America, Richard Nixon, who in the quest to cohere his position and power as a leader demonstrated aspects of a manipulative leader by directing his henchmen to commit various crimes, ranging from theft and burglary to frauds to secure vital information. Another example for a manipulative leader would be Jeffery Skilling of the corporate giant Enron, Skilling was indicted on 35 counts of fraud and insider trading in 2006. Skilling was convicted of misleading Enron board of members by using accounting loopholes and special purpose entries combined with bad financial reporting, hiding billions of dollars of debt from failed deals leading Enron to bankruptcy. Here we observe that Skilling singlehandedly could not achieve this herculean task of a fraud, he had followers of his own whom under his guidance and leadership combined with their technical knowledge were able to commit the fraud. We can observe the way Skilling manipulated his employees to commit a fraud that benefitted him but left shareholders with 11 billion dollars worth of losses.

Manipulative leaders often tend to use cunning and deceitful means to achieve their personal goals because the driving forces of such leaders are greed and self-serving. These leaders beguile and use sarcasm and humiliations as weapons to subvert subordinates and make themselves look more appealing. They absent themselves from crucial issues and avoid taking blame for the mistakes committed by them. They also provide ambiguous direction by changing their targets every once a while and giving million ideas an hour, this results in confusion, lack of trust, disengagement and leads to performance damage and lower morale among followers.

The Abusive Tyrant.

The Abusive Tyrant leader is another category of leaders who believes in controlling and exerting leadership by the means of terrorizing followers. Tyrant leaders expect obsequious behaviour from their followers. They have the deep desire to be omnipotent and ubiquitous. An example of an abusive tyrant is Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series by British author J.K. Rowling. Lord Voldemort builds up support by exhibiting unique magical abilities and by threatening people to follow him or suffer the consequences of his wrath. Such leaders have no emotional bonds with their followers. They gather support by virtually dangling the sword in front of their followers and believe in the power of punishment. They utilize their followers' weakness to their benefit. Followers tend to agree with such leaders out of pure fear. These leaders tend to have what we can describe as the dark glamour and many of the followers are enamoured by this dark glamour.

(Kellerman, 2004) argues that "Followers' dedication to such abusive tyrants tends to be stronger when leaders are very bad as opposed to somewhat bad." We can quote another example of the Nazi regime where some of the followers of Hitler were purely sadistic in nature but others were believing that they were committed to a mission and that the Jews were some sort of disease in the world and they were getting rid of the disease. These followers were captivated by Hitler's dark glamour and this caused them to pursue some of the most heinous crimes in the history of mankind.

Leaders such as Hitler and Lord Voldemort do not hesitate to brutal methods of torture as punishments on their followers should they believe that there has been some sort of negligence on the followers' part to carry out orders. Lord Voldemort uses pain curse on his followers who were compassionate towards his adversaries. Tyrant leaders themselves tend to have a fear of being overthrown and this fuels their controlling behaviour. They believe that if they behave in a lenient manner towards their followers then the followers will take them for granted and therefore build an image of fear in the minds of their followers. (Amar,V) argues that "Tyrants may delegate some tasks, but never power" and we have seen that it is true. Tyrants are very fond of power and refuse to share it with anyone else. This forms again from the inherent fear of the tyrant that their importance and control power over followers will reduce if the power is shared.

The Authoritarians.

The authoritarians are those leaders who follow the traditional autocratic leadership style. While mere autocratic style of leadership may not be necessarily an abusive one, an authoritarian leader when he or she oversteps the boundaries of an autocratic style of leadership, they can get abusive in nature. To fully understand this let us look at what does authoritarian (autocratic) leadership style really means. (Brennen) defines authoritarian leadership as follows "Authoritarian leadership is basically characterized by a leader who makes all the decisions and passes the directions to subordinates who are expected to carry these out under very close supervision. Any subordinates' questioning of directives is discouraged." Although for an edict based management style, authoritarian leadership seems appropriate, followers hardly prefer working in an environment where contribution on their part is limited. In this type of leadership followers are strictly supervised by the leader and are restricted from taking initiatives. This results in lower morale among followers as it inhibits their creativity. Methods such as rewards, task delegation, punishments are used to monitor the behaviour of followers.

The Authoritarian leadership style is based on an assumption that the leader's knowledge and skills are higher than followers and followers are considered to be less knowledgeable or incapable of handling responsibility. Such leadership style can make the leader to become ostentatious, egoistical and hostile towards subordinates and followers. This type of leadership may suit certain environments such as Military and Prisons where it is necessary to build a cohesive unit and command the followers; however it can create a problem in a highly professional environment where the followers are technically skilled and expect some sort of involvement in the making of decisions. In such a set-up, authoritarian leadership can lead to the work environment becoming poisonous where disgruntled followers end up conspiring against the leader. Motivation to follow the leader tends to be at an all time low in these followers.

The Rigid Boss.

The Rigid Boss is a category of leaders who are resistant towards any form of change or transformation. They are unyielding in behaviour and unwilling to adapt to newer and changing conditions of an organization. They sincerely believe in what can be called as 'pet project' i.e. a project or an idea that is so close to their heart that they do not look beyond it. They spend their time and expertise on the pet project and refuse to budge or move away from it even knowing consciously and fully well that it might not work.

(Conger, 1990) argues that "Leaders might construct an organizational vision that is essentially a monument to themselves and therefore something quite different from the actual wishes of their organizations or customers". This creates a blind drive among such leaders that makes them short-sighted and results in an inability to comprehend the problems and opportunities that surround them in reality. This can also result in wastage of time and resources and lead to the downfall of the organization. An example for a rigid boss is Thabo Mbeki who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa. The perils of the apartheid system of South Africa was so deeply ingrained in him that he turned hostile towards the west. This caused huge problems as he believed that HIV did not cause AIDS and refused to get medical help for many people suffering from HIV which included pregnant women. Thabo Mbeki was supposedly waiting for a local cure to be developed. This short-sightedness cost many people their lives. Another example by (Conger, 1990) is of Thomas Edison who was so enamoured by Direct Electrical Current that he passionately believed in future of DC for urban power grids that he failed to see the rapid acceptance of Alternative Current (AC). This causes the followers to develop a mistrust in the leadership abilities of the leader because they know that the rigid boss never considers anybody's opinion but his or her own. Followers sometimes end up overthrowing the leader for they no longer believe in the ideas of the leader.

From the above styles of leadership we can observe the categories of abusive leaders. We shall now explore how these leaders abuse the power vested in them.

Power can be simply defined as an ability that a person possesses and utilizes to get others to do what they want them to do. (Fairholm, 1993) argues "Power is a part of all organized behavior. Organizational power politics permeates all organizational action. Using power is valuable to us as a means to achieve some desired future action in others. It is instrumental; that is, people use power as an aid to achieve their intended results. We use power to achieve other goals than power itself." Power is a double edged-sword for it has many connotations. Power is usually instrumental in meeting the ends rather than an end itself. Power in the hands of an abusive leader can be seen as manipulative, authoritarian, coercive and exploitative. This is one of the major reasons why power is always viewed with suspicion. Abusive Leaders tend to use their power for malignant purposes rather than for constructive purposes. Over the centuries Individual need for dominance and power has atrophied.

Power always has the ability to fuel a leader's psychological needs. Some leaders indulge in this power and become narcissistic. When the society terms a leader as exceptional ,they assume that they can get away with their whims and wishes. They expect others to obey them without questioning their ideas or beliefs. As we have seen above there exist various category of abusive leaders, and the way each category of abusive leader reacts to power is different, the manipulators tend to use coersive and decietful means to entrap their followers making them believe that what the leader says is the best. The Tyrants and authoritarians believe in controlling and hoarding of power to build fear and make their followers do what they want. Whereas the rigid bosses may not be as controlling in their attitude towards their followers, they absolutely refuse the counsel of anyone apart from themselves believing that they are the best people for the job.

Barring certain situations, Most of the time Total Authoritarian style of Leadership does not exist in most organizations. Power is usually distributed in an hierarchical manner. In such cases social proximity can play an important role in how leaders at different levels in an organization. Social proximity can be defined as the level of closeness that an indivdiual has both in terms of personal or professional relations with another individual as a result of certain acquaintance formed between the two. (Lee-Chai & Bargh, 2001) state that " Organization Members have greater opportunities to derive instrumental benefits (status power) from social proximity with powerful others than with less powerful others". What we can observe from this is that the behaviour of approach of a leader at the middle level of hierarchy may very well change with the company that he or she keeps.If the leader is in the company of members on the higher level of the hierarchy then their behaviour is considerably different from the time when they are in the company of members on the lower level of the hierarchy. These leaders act by the means of using liberal dose of charm and charisma on their superiors to achieve their personal goals while condescending their subordinates.

Leaders who have higher authority over organizational power tend to have disinhibitions about their behaviour in the organization or even outside of it. (Gelman, 2007) in his article describes Disinhibition as " acting on one's own desires without considering the effects of your actions". (Gruenfeld, 2006) states that "This type of behaviour results from a heightened sensitivity towards one's own emotions and a reduced sensitivity for the interest and concern's for others". An example she mentions is Jann Wenner , the founder and publisher of rolling stones who despite the discomfort of others used to consume onions and vodka in meetings without the courtesy of offering. The others who were in the meetings never said anything to him, and this could be because no one would dare to point it out since he was at a higher level of hierarchy of leaders than them. These leaders believe that their actions have no social consequences because of the level of power they possess. They sometimes indulge in using derogatory words or phrases, explosive outbursts by yelling and screaming, intimidating by threats and humiliating the followers. (Brehm & Brehm, 1981) state that " Individuals who feel threatened or feel a loss of control strive hard to preserve a sense of autonomy". However this only occurs with subordinates who are at the same or lower level of leadership hierarchy and almost never with superiors.

Consequences of abusive leadership on organization

(Zellars, Michelle, & Tepper, 2002) state that "abused subordinates often experience frustration along with a diminished sense of personal control". The frustration in subordinates can be arising due to their inability to respond back to a given situation of abuse by the leader. This creates what is called as "Hostile Work Environment". In a hostile work environment followers are mistrustful of each other and of the leader; this is not a favourable work environment for any organization where teamwork is one of the key requirements for an organization to be successful in its ventures. Any organization where followers and subordinates to a leader feel suppressed, in terms of contribution has always been a potential for conflicts and a ground for discontentment. Such environments tend to be less productive in nature.

An organization's most guarded assets are its people and if they are constantly at loggerheads, it costs the organization, its resources in terms of productivity and profit. We have to observe that an abusive leader has grey shades of toxicity which means that the level of abuse inflicted is not the same across all subordinates. The leader could be more abusive towards a particular individual than towards others and this leads to organizational injustice. The particular victim of abuse may harbour ill feelings towards the leader and other subordinates whom they believe have been given a fair deal while being unfair towards them. This sort of discontentment can cause dysfunctional followers to retaliate, they may gather to form collusion and work towards destroying the organization's reputation.

In short run the victims of abusive leadership may become deluded and are unable to separate the leader from the organization. In their attempt to retaliate at the abusive leader, they may indulge in bad-mouthing of the organization and also leak out confidential information to outsiders. In the long run, the abusive leader may be asked to resign but however, the damage is already done for the company.

Possible Responses to Abusive Leadership

Abuse may occur in any kind of organization and there are no exceptions for it. When power abuse is involved it is hard to anticipate how each follower reacts to it. Abuse may be done by one individual but the consequences are suffered by a large group of followers and sometimes the entire organization.

Followers in an organizations who are subordinates of a given abusive leader may adopt several measures to subvert or even resist the abuse of power by their leader. They can withold actions that benefit the organization like the OCBs such as helping co-workers with work related problems,behaving courteously towards others, speaking approvingly about the organization to outsiders. This is an effective form of response because the non-compliance of OCBs are not punishable in any account (Zellars, Michelle, & Tepper, 2002).

(Kellerman, 2004) states that Followers should "seek to effect institutional changes that will make leaders more responsible and accountable". The organization on its part must have clear role definitions and fair practices inorder to protect the interests and rights of the followers. This could probably include dividing the power effectively so that any given individual is not able to hoard power and misuse it. (Kellerman, 2004) suggests "boards should consider reforms such as: establishing a governance committee; …dividing the responsibilities of the chair of the board from those of the chief executive officer; and opening regular channels of communication to those on the outside". The followers may be empowered with certain amenities to be able to report abuse and fraud if and when it happens.By doing so the abusive nature of a leader can be kept in check, if not avoided completely.


In any given institution Abuse and abusive leaders exist, they may vary upon circumstances and environment of the organizations. Some organizations have no boundaries and clear guidelines towards maintaining amicable and pleasant work environment.The levels of abuse by a toxic leader tends to be of a higher degree in such cases as opposed to an organization where there exists certain guidelines to build a pleasant work environment. Abusive leaders act on their personal desire and their dysfunctional behaviour compounds with the increasing rise of power assigned to them. They tend to destroy the morale of the followers and subordinates and eventually prove to be a costly investment to the organization in terms of both resources and reputation. Hence organizations must work towards creating an affable work environment where the attempts of a leader to become toxic results in futility and is benign. Power must be distributed in an unbiased and rational manner in order to avoid power hoarding by the leaders. Followers on their part must be vigilant and must take a stand by reporting misconduct to the higher authorities instead of suffering in silence. If the organization maintains due diligence in terms of hiring and monitoring the aspirants of position of leaders. They benefit by avoiding to deal with the abuse and subsequent consequences of the abusive leadership.

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