Does your organisation have a toxic leader?

Toxic leaders can have a profoundly negative impact on people and organisations. Here is how to identify one

Does your organisation have a toxic leader?

Business Strategy


According to Theo Veldsman, Professor and Head of the Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, there is a growing incidence of toxic leadership in organisations across the world.

What’s more, his research shows that about three out of every ten leaders are toxic.

In an article published in Eyewitness News, Veldsman explained how this cancer of toxicity threatens not just the well-being of individuals and organisations, but can also affect the performance of a society and country.

“That's why there is a pressing need for leaders to understand the nature, dynamics and evolution of toxic leadership and organisations,” he said.

He pointed out that five typical toxic leaders exist:

  • The Cold Fish: the ends justifies the means. So any decision and action is justifiable in terms of the results desired.
  • The Snake: the world serves me in the endeavour to satisfy my personal needs like greed, status and power.
  • Glory Seeker: personal glory and public visibility at any cost, regardless of whether I have made any real and meaningful contribution.
  • Puppet Master: absolute, centralised control over everything and anyone, under all circumstances.
  • Monarch: ruling the organisation as if it is my kingdom. All of its assets are available for my personal use.

“The more prolific these toxic leaders are in an organisation, the more toxic the organisation,” he explained.

Veldsman added that organisations can also be toxic in their own right through the organisational culture they have.

“Organisational culture refers to shared ways of seeing, interpreting and acting upon the world that becomes ingrained in an organisation's DNA. It's the glue holding it together and provides an organisation with a way of looking at and relating to the world,” he said.

When toxic patterns become ingrained into the DNA of an organisation the following patterns emerge:

  • Paranoid: the defensive, afraid, suspicious, trusting no-one or nobody organisation.
  • Compulsive: the over-planned and over-programmed organisation.
  • Hyperactive: the impulsive, unfocused organisation, acting like an adolescent.
  • Deflated: the energy-less, depressed and impotent organisation.
  • Delusional: the reality estranged, make-believe organisation, living in a world of its own.
  • Conscienceless: the unethical, amoral organisation.

Veldsman concluded by saying that that this is “in no uncertain terms” endangering the wellbeing of organisational members.

“It compromises future sustainable organisational, community and societal performance and success, as well as the very continued existence of them,” he said. 

The preceding article was originally published on our sister site Learning & Development.

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