For 25 years, Deborah Ancona--professor at the MIT School of Management and founder of the MIT Leadership Center--has researched and worked on how to develop effective leaders and teams in organizations. It's the passion of her life. "There are so many people disenchanted with their work that we need to do something," she said. She spoke with Latin Trade about toxic leaders and their effect on the teams they lead.
What is meant by toxic leadership?
It's leadership that results in a reduction of psychological well-being and self-esteem among those who work under their direction. Toxic leaders promote their own interest over the needs and interests of other people, of organizations, and even above moral codes.
How does one identify a toxic leader in an organization?
Toxic leaders tend to denigrate or ridicule subordinates, are overly critical of people's work and discredit others' work. They lack a strong moral code, pushing people to do what is best for them over what is right. They tend to blame others for their mistakes, bend the rules, and take credit for the work of others. They can be very aggressive and abusive. They may intimidate others by saying things like 'I can have you fired' or 'This work is not good enough.' They might be socially exclusive, choosing to elevate some while ostracizing others or playing one group against another.
Is the toxic leader born or made?
Both. There are personalities that are more likely to engage in this type of conduct, but there are factors, such as parents, organizations, education, or experiences that can influence people to act this way. Psychologists talk about a "dark triad", three personality characteristics that can appear together and result in toxic leadership.
Which are those?
One is narcissism. Narcissists tend to suffer from grandiosity. They think they are better and more deserving than others, although underneath they have a sense of inferiority. They are always seeking attention and positive reinforcement and can be very aggressive if they believe their sense of self is threatened. Another is Machiavellianism. Those who have it use a manipulative strategy that does whatever it takes to hold power--build and break alliances and keep secrets to attain an advantage. The third is psychopathy, people who are callous and don't care about others, lack self-control and very easily get angry. But toxic leaders also are made, for example, in environments where inappropriate behavior is not...