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What We Are Truly Witnessing: Toxic Leadership on Full Display

Before starting this post, I need to make one disclaimer: This is not a political post. I am not evaluating political stances or criticizing someone because I identify with a different political party. What I am doing is evaluating someone's leadership practice. In fact, I am evaluating the leader of our nation. (I truly believe we get too caught up in political stances in elections and, as a result, we forget we are electing our leader. Thus, leadership practices should matter.)


Like most individuals, I have been watching and following the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation's response, and thinking about our leaders. I want them to succeed as it means we, as a society, will succeed. However, instead of feeling safe and supported by our country's leader, I have felt disgusted, frustrated, and anxious. Because of this, I have been thinking a great deal and a few days ago it dawned on me: we are watching toxic leadership on full display. And, it's not okay. It's not okay with me, and I would argue it should not be okay with you, that our nation's leader is a toxic leader. As someone who researches this topic, please let me explain my stance.

Andrew Schmidt (2008) created the Toxic Leadership Scale (TLS) which is used in research to evaluate individuals' perceptions of leaders. The TLS is comprised of five dimensions: abusive leadership, authoritarian leadership, narcissism, self-promotion, and unpredictability. I used this scale to evaluate our nation's leader, and here are my professional findings.


Abusive Supervision: Abusive supervision includes the following behaviors: ridiculing, belittling, reminding people of past failures, not being considerate of peoples' lives outside of work, and holding people accountable for items beyond their control. If you have been following the nation's leader's tweets or press conferences, I am sure you could understand why I believe he belittles and ridicules people. He ridicules individuals by name-calling (sleazy reporters, sleepy Joe, etc.). He also holds people accountable for items outside of their control (WHO threat).


Authoritarian Leadership: Authoritarian leadership includes controlling how work is completed, being inflexible, and ignoring ideas that are not their own. While I cannot say that our leader is inflexible (he has come up with some pretty creative "solutions"), I can say I believe he controls or attempts to control how work is completed (wanting to claim complete control in how and when the country reopens). He also has ignored ideas different from his on numerous occasions.


Narcissism: Narcissism includes a sense of entitlement, believes they are more capable than they are, and thrives on compliments and accolades. If you are on Twitter and follow our leader; you have surely seen the tweets about him knowing more than others, being better than others (see the tweet on the header of this post), and deserving more praise. Our president lies easily to make himself look better.


Self-Promotion: Self-promotion includes denying responsibility for mistakes, acts with intent of next promotion, and taking credit for others' work. I do not know about you, but I have never heard, during all of this, our leader take responsibility for anything. Not his response, not his planning, not his reaction, nothing. In fact, I believe he was quoted as saying "I take absolutely no accountability." Additionally, Obama, the WHO, and China have all been blamed for the mess we are in now.


Unpredictability: Unpredictability includes explosive outbursts, moodiness, and public displays of anger. I argue that our president is completely unpredictable. One day he may be calling for the country to reopen, the next day shaming governors for reopening, and then the next day recommending "alternative" treatments for COVID-19, and then next day sending letters to fundraise for his election.


So, based on all of this, I argue and believe we are witnessing one of the greatest examples of toxic leadership right now. We have a toxic leader on full display for everyone to see. And I, for one, am not okay with this. I am not okay that our leader meets all the toxic leadership criteria. So my question to you, are you okay with toxic leaders in your organization? And, are you okay with a toxic leader leading our country?

Perhaps you have a different view than I do, and that is fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I will not belittle you or call you names if you disagree with me. What I will do is encourage you to look at the toxic leadership framework and just think if this argument makes sense. My argument is that we are watching toxic leadership as we rarely see it--on full display. Toxic leadership is on Twitter, on the news, at press conferences for us all to see.



Schmidt, Andrew Alexander. (2008). Development and Validation of the Toxic Leadership Scale. (University of Maryland, College Park). https://drum.lib.umd. edu/bitstream/handle/1903/8176/umi-umd-5358.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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