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Toxic Leadership

Toxic Leadership

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Published by CDR Salamander
Article on Toxic Leadership.
Article on Toxic Leadership.

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Published by: CDR Salamander on Dec 24, 2012
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55
MILITARY REVIEW

January-February 2013
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Doty, Retired,works as a leadership and ethics con-sultant. He is a graduate of West Point,commanded at the battalion level, andpreviously served as the deputy director of the Center for the Army Professionand Ethic.Master Sergeant Jeff Fenlason is a23 year infantry NCO who serves inthe 3rd Infantry Division. He has heldleadership and staff positions at thebattalion, brigade, and division leveland writes about leader developmentand ethical training on his personalleadership blog and Leader Net.PHOTO: GEN Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings atLeyte, Philippine Island
s,
October 1944.
W
HY WOULD A LEADER in the Army or in any organization chooseto micro-manage subordinates; show a lack of respect for them;choose not to listen to or value their input; or be rude, mean-spirited, andthreatening? Most leaders would not. Most people do not choose to act likethis. However, it is clearly happening in the uniformed services and in societyas a whole. The Army recently released a study reporting that 80 percent of the of 
cers and NCOs polled had observed toxic leaders in action and that20 percent had worked for a toxic leader. This problem is not new. Withinthe past few years, the Army has relieved two brigade commanders and ageneral for alleged toxic—and arguably narcissistic and abusive—behavior.A division commander who served in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Free-dom was “asked” to retire following an investigation of his leadership styleand toxic command climate. Toxic leaders have been around for years andwill continue to serve in all branches of our military.
1
The Navy has recentlyrelieved a number of commanders owing to toxic behavior and unhealthycommand climates.
2
One can argue that most, if not all, toxic leaders suffer from being narcis-sistic. What is a narcissistic and toxic leader? These leaders are sel
sh andself-serving individuals who crush the morale of subordinates and units.In the best of circumstances, subordinates endure and survive toxic lead-ers—then the leader or the subordinate moves, changes units, or leaves themilitary. However, at worst, a toxic leader devastates the espirit de corps,discipline, initiative, drive, and willing service of subordinates and the unitsthey comprise.
Narcissism
Because narcissism is a critical and large part of the toxic leadership paradigm, the Army should begin to consider looking at it—its pros andcons— and developing methods to enhance its positive attributes and raiseawareness of its negative ones. By de
nition, narcissistic leaders have“an in
ated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with
Narcissism andToxic Leaders
Joe Doty, Ph.D., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired, andMaster Sergeant Jeff Fenlason, U.S. Army
 
56
January-February 2013
MILITARY REVIEW
themselves.”
3
Their total focus, either consciouslyor unconsciously, is on themselves, their success,their career, and their ego. Everything is about
them
. They are the center of gravity for everyonearound them and their unit. On the other hand, for leaders, especially in the military, there are aspectsof narcissism that are appropriate (if controlled andself-regulated) and important for the leader’s andunit’s success.One study described them as “gifted and creativestrategists who see the big picture and
nd meaningin the risky challenge of changing the world andleaving behind a legacy. Productive narcissists arenot only risk takers willing to get the job done butalso charmers who can convert the masses withtheir rhetoric.”
4
It is too simplistic to imply that all narcissistic behaviors are inevitably toxic. However, when nar-cissism becomes a disorder (like alcoholism, drugaddiction, and depression), the results hurt moraleand group effectiveness and can potentially lead todisaster. Signs of a leader being narcissistic to thedetriment of a unit include— 
Being a poor listener.
Being overly sensitive to criticism.
Taking advantage of others to achieve one’sown goals.
Lacking empathy or disregarding the feelingsof others.
Having excessive feelings of self-importance(arrogance).
Exaggerating achievements or talents.
Needing constant attention and admiration.
Reacting to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation.
Being preoccupied with success or power.
5
As noted by Richard Wagner in “Smart PeopleDoing Dumb Things: The Case of ManagerialIncompetence”—  Narcissistic individuals also tend to be egotisti-cal, manipulative, self-seeking and exploitative. Narcissists do not accept suggestions from others.Doing so might make them appear weak, which con-
icts with their need for self-enhancement. Somenarcissists have such an in
ated self-con
dence thatthey do not believe that others have anything usefulto say to them. They also take more credit than theydeserve, often at the expense of taking credit for the contributions of co-workers and subordinates.Conversely, they avoid taking responsibility for shortcomings and failures. Narcissistic individualsoften are in
uential in group settings because theyhave such conviction in the worth of their ideas thatothers tend to believe them and follow.”
6
 Many current or former member of the militaryhave experienced a leader that
ts this description.Soldiers who have experienced toxic and narcissisticleaders often relate stories of how they were treatedor how they witnessed this type narcissistic leader treating others. What follows are real examples:
A colonel (division chief of staff) addressed amajor after the major reported to the colonel while themajor’s immediate supervisor, a lieutenant colonel,was unavailable. “Get the ___ out of my of 
ce!” hesaid. “There is nothing that a major in the U.S. Armycan tell me that I don’t already know!”
A commander is about to take a new unit on its
rst winter training exercise, a 110-mile deploymentwith limited vehicles and key equipment to keep people warm. At the last in progress review before theexercise, he spends the entire time talking about his
shing and hunting exploits while numerous soldiersstand in below zero temperature for hours waitingfor transportation and warming facilities. The com-mander communicated a total disregard for soldiers’welfare and a lack of self-awareness, demonstratinga clear sign of narcissism.
A battalion command sergeant major beratesand insults a squad for being dirty and unshaven after they just returned to the FOB following a gruelingseven-day mission.
A brigade commander takes full credit for arisky training exercise in front of the commandinggeneral, even though months before the event the brigade commander had told his operations of 
cer that the idea for the training event was the stupidestidea he had ever heard.
Because narcissism is a critical and large part of the toxic leadership paradigm, the Army should begin toconsider looking at its pros and cons,and developing methods to enhance its positive attributes and raise awarenessof its negative ones.
 
57
MILITARY REVIEW
January-February 2013
NARCISSISM
The above are examples of leaders selected anddeemed successful by our Army and rewarded withthe honor to lead America’s
nest, but they arenot the kind of leaders the Army wants or needs.Individuals like these are a cancer spreadingthroughout the profession of arms, although theArmy culture has systemically supported this behavior pattern over the years in many ways.Acceptance of narcissistic and toxic leader behav-ior is part of the culture in our services—if it werenot, they would become extinct. Certainly, thistype of culture and behavior is more prevalent insome organizations or units than in others—and itchanges over time as these abusive leaders movefrom unit to unit. Narcissistic leaders support and perpetuate tox-icity on a daily basis. As long as the imagined viewof a successful leader (whether it is true or not)remains the screaming, yelling, sel
sh, beratingcommander standing in front of a soldier or a staff,then it is not likely that we will remove this culturalaspect from our services. As the old saying goes,“If the leader walks by and observes somethingwrong without making the correction, he has justestablished the new standard of behavior.” If theArmy refuses to address narcissism as part of thetoxic leader methodology, then it will continue toturn a blind eye to the problem of toxic leadership.This leads us to a few thought-provokingquestions: Do narcissistic leaders know they arenarcissistic? If so, do they care? Do they want to be toxic leaders? Are we continually encouragingtoxic and narcissistic leadership models by limit-ing the metric we use to judge successful leadersand commands?Perhaps two less affectively loaded questionsare more appropriate:
 How aware are leaders of their narcissistic behaviors? How does someonerecognize his own narcissism and its toxic out-comes?
U.S. soldiers and their Afghan partners observe as rounds
red from an Afghan D-30 howitzer land in the impact zone of a
ring range in eastern Afghanistan, 25 November 2012.
   (   U .   S .   A  r  m  y ,   S   S   G    N   i  c  o   l  a  s   M  o  r  a   l  e   )

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