Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians - and How We Can Survive Them

Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians - and How We Can Survive Them

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by Jean Lipman-Blumen
     
 

Toxic leaders—such as Ken Lay at Enron or Al Dunlap ("Chainsaw Al") at Sunbeam, or Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia—have always been with us, and many books explain what makes them tick. But in The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Jean Lipman-Blumen explains what makes the followers tick, exploring why we tolerate—and remain steadfastly loyal

Overview

Toxic leaders—such as Ken Lay at Enron or Al Dunlap ("Chainsaw Al") at Sunbeam, or Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia—have always been with us, and many books explain what makes them tick. But in The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Jean Lipman-Blumen explains what makes the followers tick, exploring why we tolerate—and remain steadfastly loyal to—leaders who are destructive to their organizations, their employees, their nations, and their constituents.
Why do we knowingly follow, seldom unseat, frequently prefer, and sometimes even create toxic leaders? Lipman-Blumen argues that these leaders appeal to our deepest needs, playing on our anxieties and fears, on our yearnings for security, high self-esteem, and significance, and on our desire for noble enterprises and immortality. The author explores how psychological needs—such as the desire to be at the heart of the action, to be an insider—can often make us susceptible to toxic leaders. She describes how followers inadvertently keep themselves in line by a set of insidious control myths that they internalize. In addition, outside forces—such as economic depressions, political upheavals, or a crisis in the company—can increase our anxiety and our longing for charismatic leaders. Equally important, Lipman-Blumen shows how followers, mired in the swamp of toxic leadership, can learn critical lessons for the future and survive in the meantime. She discusses how to confront, reform, undermine, blow the whistle on, or oust a toxic leader. And she suggests how we can diminish our need for strong leaders, identify "reluctant leaders" among competent followers, and even nurture the leader within ourselves.
Toxic leaders first charm, but then manipulate, mistreat, weaken, and ultimately devastate their followers. The Allure of Toxic Leaders tells us how to recognize these leaders and identify the germ of toxicity within their "noble" visions before it's too late.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Easily one of the best leadership books of the 1990s was Ron Heifetz's Leadership Without Easy Answers. By explaining why followership is equally demanding, The Allure of Toxic Leaders is a perfect complement."—Financial Times

"This book certainly makes interesting election-year reading."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A remarkably comprehensive yet penetrating analysis that sees bad leadership both as morally wrong and psychologically dysfunctional, with practical strategies for reform. A sophisticated study that sees the problem as a failure of followership as well as leadership." —James MacGregor Burns

"It's a long, detailed, thoughtful essay, concentrating on followers and the predicaments they find themselves in with toxic leaders, and the various strategies they employ to extricate themselves. It's rewarding, but not easy, reading."—Globe & Mail

"I thought it was an absolutely brilliant book... I've read few books in my life that made me see things from a wholly new perspective. This was one of those very few." —Robert J. Sternberg, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, Yale University

"A solid look at a dismaying business trend.... Examines the seemingly inexplicable reasons why many employees are loyal to CEOs and politicians who abuse power, cook finances and otherwise virtually destroy their companies.... Offers numerous examples in both politics and business of toxic leaders who have survived crises and received accolades despite their obvious flaws.... The book's strength is the detailed psychological approach to examining the phenomenon of loyalty to toxic leaders."—Publishers Weekly

"Whose fault is it that we seem to have so many bad (toxic) leaders today? Jean Lipman-Blumen asserts that everyone's to blame, especially us followers. Beautifully reasoned and intricately argued, she convincingly explains how followers help spawn toxic leaders. Fortunately, she also tells us how to get out of the trap we're in and proposes a highly innovative model of leadership that promises a healthier future." —Jerry I. Porras, Lane Professor of Organizational Behavior and Change, Emeritus, Stanford Business School

"In this powerful and eye-opening book, Lipman-Blumen illuminates the darkness of the rarely understood—except to its victims—dangers of evil leadership. She proffers wise counsel and early warnings on how to detect and defend against it. I enthusiastically recommend it to all leaders—and even more, to their vulnerable followers." —Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California, and author of On Becoming a Leader

"The Allure of Toxic Leaders provides remarkable insights into why so many destructive leaders gain and keep power. By explaining the role of followers, Jean Lipman-Blumen makes a profound statement about the nature of leadership itself." —Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc.

"In our search for leaders, our appraisal of leaders, Jean Lipman-Blumen provides us with a powerful tool to identify, understand and analyze the toxic leader as she gives us fresh observations on our own journey to leadership." —Frances Hesselbein, Chairman, Leader to Leader Institute; founding President of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management

Publishers Weekly
Lipman-Blumen, a professor of public policy and organizational behavior at Claremont Graduate University, examines the seemingly inexplicable reasons why many employees are loyal to CEOs and politicians who abuse power, cook finances and otherwise virtually destroy their companies. Among the book's conclusions: employees feeling uncertain over their own job security will remain loyal to a toxic executive. Furthermore, economic turmoil, political crisis or company problems sometimes enhance the toxic leader's appeal. Using insights based on a psychological approach, especially Maslow's theories of self-esteem, Lipman-Blumen (The Connective Edge) offers numerous examples in both politics and business of toxic leaders who have survived crises and received accolades despite their obvious flaws. By using names familiar to many readers-Rudolph Giuliani; the former mayor of Providence, R.I., Buddy Cianci-the author is likely to attract a wider audience than if she focused on business executives. The book's strength is the detailed psychological approach to examining the phenomenon of loyalty to toxic leaders. The last section discusses how employees can recognize the signs of toxic leadership, but it doesn't offer enough practical steps on how to challenge these leaders. Still, this is a solid look at a dismaying business trend. (Sept.) Forecast: Endorsements from such notables as leadership gurus Max De Pree and Warren Bennis should boost book sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Why We Follow Destructive Bosses And Corrupt Politicians
Leaders who are destructive to their organizations, their employees, their countries and their constituents make headlines regularly, but still these toxic leaders continue to pop up in the boardroom and the courtroom. In The Allure of Toxic Leaders, leadership expert Jean Lipman-Blumen explores how our own psychological needs, such as the desire to play a more crucial role in an organization and the need to expand our insider status, can often drive us closer to toxic leaders. She also describes how those who are suffering under toxic leaders can best confront, reform, undermine, expose and even unseat these leaders by speaking out on their own behalf and creating "a conspiracy of goodness," in which "an individual's conscious must be one's true guide."

Organizational Tyrants
Lipman-Blumen starts her book by examining why people such as Enron's Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, as well as junk bond king Michael Milken and Tyco's L. Dennis Kozlowski are so attractive and fascinating to their followers. While looking closely at their transgressions and the crises they create, she questions how imprints from our childhood and our shared human condition leave us vulnerable to toxic leaders, such as Hitler and Mao Zedong, as well as the everyday organizational tyrants who display cynicism, corruption and cruelty.

After describing dozens of situations from political and business history that spell out the traps that followers can fall into when working with toxic leaders, Lipman-Blumen presents pragmatic strategies for getting out from the traps that toxic leaders can set for us and that we can set for ourselves.

Lipman-Blumen writes, "Toxic leaders, particularly as they slip deeper into paranoia and toxicity, frequently devote the lion's share of their energies to controlling their followers (despite the evidence that followers often control themselves)." Once toxic leaders are distracted by their efforts to control instead of pursuing growth, leadership gaps will appear throughout an organization. One silver lining to working with toxic leaders is that informal leaders get an opportunity to step up to the plate and, according to the author, "give full vent to their own creativity and leadership potential." The urgency of unmet needs pushes them to act, which allows them to exercise the hidden leader within them. The void created by the toxic leader's neglect creates places where emerging leaders can test their metal.

'How Not to Lead'
Another benefit of working with a toxic leader is the opportunity to learn positive lessons from a negative role model. "Toxic leaders, acting as negative role models, teach followers many lessons about how not to lead," Lipman-Blumen writes. Although working with a toxic leader can be traumatic, it can also be a very good opportunity for followers to reconsider their own values.

Lipman-Blumen offers these actions that can be taken by those who live and work under the power of a toxic leader, and who are willing to take the risk:

  • Counsel the toxic leader; help that leader to improve. If key opinion shapers both within and outside the leader's group are brought into the process, they might be able to have a serious impact on the leader.
  • Quietly work to undermine the leader. Despite the personal dangers that might be involved, when all other avenues are blocked and the toxic impact of a leader is high, this might be your only possible route.
  • Join with others to confront the leader. Coalitions are extremely important in confronting toxic leaders.
  • Join with others to overthrow the leader. Joining with outsiders who represent important constituencies can serve as a powerful lever.

Why We Like This Book
By presenting many examples of how toxicity in the workplace and government has been addressed, Lipman-Blumen adds vibrant color to an in-depth examination of a common organizational problem. The strength of the author's prose and grasp of her subject make her book captivating and useful as a guide to improving work. Copyright © 2005 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195166347
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
09/03/2004
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Jean Lipman-Blumen is the Thornton F. Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, Claremont Graduate University, in California. She is a co-founding director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership and served as a special advisor in the White House under President Carter. Her books include The Connective Edge: Leading in an Interdependent World and Hot Groups: Seeding Them, Feeding Them, and Using Them to Ignite Your Organization (with Harold J. Leavitt), which was the Association of American Publishers' "Business Book of the Year."

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The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians--and How We Can Survive Them 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This intriguing, intellectual study of disastrous leadership offers a courageous interpretation of corporate scandal and political folly. Amoral leaders are not entirely to blame, Jean Lipman-Blumen argues. Rather, followers enable misguided leaders to rise to power and stay there. Her analysis applies psychological principles to Adolf Hitler¿s Germany and Jeff Skilling¿s Enron (not exactly parallel, but you get the idea) and concludes that toxic leaders¿ followers are willing victims who allowed misguided bosses to appeal to their basest instincts. While Lipman-Blumen¿s assertions are startling, she makes a compelling case written in dense but readable prose with intriguing detail. We suggest this book to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the relationship between leaders and their followers, particularly given the swath cut by today¿s toxic leaders.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been studying leadership for over a dozen years and this is by far and away the best book on the subject. It goes deeply beneath the hype and glorification and shows how we followers can be suckered by sociopaths and even be complicit in pushing benign con artists into a more toxic behavior level. Our culture is built with great tolerance of greed and manipulation at the top and we have to laboriously train ourselves to be on the lookout for toxic tendencies in our leaders by keeping an ironic and skeptical corner of our eye ever open. Lipman-Blumen¿s book explains this in sparkling language and good grace.