Pages Navigation Menu

Insights. Influence. Results.

The Dark Leader-Storm on the Organizational Horizon

The Dark Leader-Storm on the Organizational Horizon

Colonel Terry Fobbs (Ret), Consultant and Facilitator for Gailforce Resources

A friend of mine lost his job recently. He is an extremely dependable, capable and extraordinarily competent employee beloved by his staff and his customers and well-respected in his field around the world..  He is also the epitome of integrity. In short, he is a star performer. Then why, would you ask did he lose his job? Was it because of downsizing? No. Was it because of a merger and his position wasn’t needed? No. Why then? He was fired, because he was the victim of a toxic leader, a man who had just come in as a General Manager and wanted someone fired for making a minor error on a job. No real harm done materially or monetarily to the company, but had to go, because the new boss had to make a point to the staff, that he would not tolerate mistakes of any type and that HE was the boss, the King and HIS word was the law of the land. My friend has the temerity to approach this man and raise an objection to his assigned duty of administering the ax to his employee. He pointed out that this man to be fired was a good worker, and this was a very minor error, easily corrected and an oral counseling would certainly be more appropriate than a firing. My friend was summarily fired for questioning his boss. His immediate supervisor was also fired when he raised strenuous objections to my friend’s firing.

Unfortunately, this type of situation is played out thousands of times across the world. My friend is one of a multitude of victims of these types of leaders.  In some instances toxic leadership can prove destructive to organizations such as in the case of Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay at Enron and John Gutfruend at Salomon Brothers, where the results of their toxic leadership affected not only employees who lost their jobs, but losses sustained by thousands of investors and other stakeholders in addition to prison time for Lay and Skilling and personal public humiliation for all of them.

In his 2008 research study, Development and Validation of the Toxic Leadership Scale, Alexander A. Schmidt examined toxic leadership and developed a statistical model to examine it. Mr. Schmidt outlined there are five types of toxic leaders. The Dark Charismatic-This individual is one who uses his or her influence over people to follow them not to build up and develop the follower, those rewards are certainly broadly hinted at, but to ultimately build up and in some cases deify the leader their betterment, not the organization and certainly not the follower. An extreme example of this is Jim Jones and the Guyana tragedy. The second Toxic Leader type is The Petty Tyrant. Citing Ashforth in his 1994 article in Human Relations, Schmidt describes the petty tyrant as a leader who demonstrates the tendency to lord their power over their followers. These leaders, Schmidt asserts, citing Ashforth in this 1997 article in the Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, that the petty tyrant is arbitrary in his or her treatment of their followers, is prone to self aggrandize, demonstrates a lack of consideration of others, particularly the followers, belittles employees, usually publicly, discourages employees from displaying initiative, resolves conflicts by forcing their solution as the only way, and metes out punishment based on whim. The third Toxic Leader type described by Schmidt citing Tepper in his 2000 article in the Academy of Management Journal, describes the Abusive Supervision as a variant of the Petty Tyrant who engages in continued and sustained hostile non-verbal and verbal behaviors short of physical contact>The fourth Toxic leader type is Narcissistic Leader who views themselves through a lens of destructive grandiose self-importance, placing themselves above all others, in their quest to remain the center of attention and importance. These extreme narcissistic leaders, argues Schmidt tend to be extreme controlling micromanagers, never trusting and in some cases extremely paranoid. The fifth Toxic Leader style describes by Schmidt is The Authoritarian Leader citing  Cheng, Chou, Wu, Huang, and Farh in their, 2004 article in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology ,who is the leader who takes advantage of their  position and power differential  asserts absolute control and authority over their followers and demands absolute and unquestioned obedience from them.

Now that we have a glimpse into this complex topic of toxic leadership and I am sure, we can see many examples in organizations either we work in, or know of; we ask what causes the toxic leader to become what they are?

While this relatively short note won’t go into the complete social psychological aspects of toxic leadership, I will introduce you to the concept of Dark Leadership. Toxic Leadership as described here are but several forms of Dark Leadership.  According to authors McIntosh and Rima in their 1997 book, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction.” They argue that everyone displays some aspect of the dark side of leadership. This dark side is described as “…the inner urges and compulsions and dysfunctions of  (ones) personality that often go unexamined  or remain unknown to one until there is an emotional explosion” (McIntosh & Rima, 1997, p.22). In essence it is those attributes that are manifested as part of the hidden urges, compulsions and dysfunctions that remain unnoticed until there is an emotional explosion or a situation where those dysfunctions become public and are incorporated as part of that leader’s daily behavior.

McIntosh and Rima (1997) also assert that the dark side begins with the basic needs as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization; then an individual experiences a traumatic event or events that deprive him or her of a need or needs from that hierarchy. This missing block of needs creates a sense of personal failure and a desire by that person to repay an existential debt through manifestation of dark leader behaviors throughout one’s life. These all combine to form an emotional cauldron that manifests itself in the perpetuation of dark leader behavior.

So, as in my friend’s case, based on this construct of dark leadership, there is no easy fix for his former boss and we can receive a glimpse into what type of toxic leader he had to deal with based on the definitions presented here. What we can’t see or begin to understand, what has caused his former boss to display these manifestations of Dark Leadership to begin with.

The following two tabs change content below.
Colonel (Ret) Terry Fobbs, PhD, Consultant and Facilitator for Gailforce Resources, is an accomplished public speaker, facilitator and media commentator on human resources, leadership, motivational, national security and community issues. With a BS-Zoology, MBA, Masters in-Strategic Studies, PhD- in Organization & Management specializing in Leadership, Terry has earned the respect of his peers, employer and Gailforce clientele. Terry is an ISO 9000 Certified Lead Assessor, a Baldrige Quality Examiner with the Center for Excellence in Education and the Michigan Quality Council and a recipient of the Michigan Quality Council Quality Hero Award. Terry has served as an adjunct instructor in Business Management for the University of Maryland. He is a member of the Academy of Management and serves as a member of the Academy’s Organizational Development and Entrepreneurship committees. Terry plays active consulting and facilitating roles for Gailforce Resources, working with CEO’s, Boards of Directors, Business Owners, Municipalities and Sector Groups to turn their business strategy into execution and their people into valuable business assets.

No Comments


  1. Why Yes People Are Bad for Your Organization | HR C-Suite - [...] themselves with yes-men and yes-women may have some issues with acute narcissism and other forms of toxic leadership, a…
  2. The Paradox of the Dark Leader:The Battle Within | HR C-Suite - [...] number of you have requested to learn about how one becomes a Dark Leader. This reminds me of a…
  3. Government Non-Lessons:Pathway to Eradicate Organizational Waste, Fraud and Abuse | HR C-Suite - [...] problem in Washington we have a management problem. Yet it is not surprising that these areas of mismanagement are…
  4. Battlefield HR: ‘You’re Wrong Because I Said So!” Dealing with the Workplace Tasmanian Devil | HR C-Suite - [...] earlier articles, I wrote about toxic leaders and provided some descriptors for them. For your edification the scientific classification…
  5. 5 “Its Time To Dump this Place” Red Flags | HR C-Suite - [...] people, seems uncharacteristically disconnected from reality and/or unavailable: Imagine top leadership that seeks and hires all “yes” people. Does…

Donate To Help Others

Donate to Doctors Without Borders

Donate to Doctors Without Borders

In a time when we can help others, we encourage a donation to Doctors Without Borders.

Check This Offer Out

Sign Up To Get Our Free Hot HR Trends Report

Also get: 

1) HR and Leadership strategy thought articles delivered to your inbox once a week;

2) Access to white papers and special reports as they become available;

3) Access to tools and resources;

4) Discount information from our partners. 


You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This