February 25, 2019—The measure of successful leadership is how well a group performs, over time, in terms of valued outcomes, or the realization of its mission. Benjamin J. Inyang considers leadership as process which “involves the use of non-coercive influence to shape a group’s or organization’s goals, motivate behavior towards the achievement of those goals and help define group or organization culture.”(1) By extension, leadership is a process of influencing people so that they strive willingly and enthusiastically toward the realization of group goals. In other words, effective leaders encourage agency through the distribution of authority.
The concept of leadership as influence goes against the popular notion that leadership is about “power”; getting it, keeping it, withholding it, and wielding it to get people to do things. Leadership is about influence, and the quality of the relationship a leader has with the group mediates that influence.
The notion that leadership is about power perpetuates the all-too-common truth that leadership often is, as Colin Slattery put it, “a place inhabited by incompetence, flawed character and unethical behavior.”(2) The notion that leadership is about power leads to toxic leadership, and ultimately, a failure of the nature and function of leadership. Furnham noted ten different types of toxic leaders scholars have identified:
Dealing With Toxic Leaders
One persistent paradox is the question of “Why do organizations and groups put up with toxic leaders for so long?” Ceasar Milan, known as “The Dog Whisperer,” said, “Humans are the only species on the planet who follow dysfunctional leaders.” All other species in the animal kingdom understand the vital role that leaders play in a group’s survival, health, and effectiveness—the natural order of things guides groups to dismiss ineffective or toxic leaders.
How can organizations deal with toxic leaders?
(1) Inyang, B. J. (2004). Management theory: Principles and practices (2nd ed.). Calabar: Merb Publishers.
(2) Slattery, C. (2009). The dark side of leadership: Troubling times at the top.
(3) Furnham, A. (2010a). The elephant in the boardroom: The cause of leadership derailment. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
(4) Friedman, E. (2007) A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Seabury Books, p. 79.
Want to learn more about cultivating non-toxic leadership? The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops in five locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, Kansas City MO, and Lynchburg, VA. Learn more about Leadership in Ministry workshops.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.