Leadership Challenges

A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.

For most of us, leadership has a positive connotation. We have been fortunate enough to benefit from the guidance of teachers or coaches, for example, or we admire noteworthy historical leaders. However, Palmer urges us to pay more attention to the shadow side of leadership. Political figures, parents, clergy, and business executives have the potential to cast as much shadow as they do light.

Refusing to face the dark side of leadership makes abuse more likely. All too often, leaders “do not even know they are making a choice," let alone how to reflect on the process of choosing.

Recently other scholars have joined Palmer in urging us to pay more attention to the dark or negative dimension of leadership. Claremont Graduate University professor Jean Lipman-Blumen uses the term toxic leaders to describe those who engage in destructive behaviors and who exhibit dysfunctional personal characteristics.

These behaviors and qualities cause significant harm to followers and organizations. A group of Norwegian researchers points out that destructive organizational leadership undermines the group’s success and/or the well-being of followers. Destructive leaders can be antiorganization, antisubordi-nates, or both. Tyrannical leaders reach organizational goals while abusing followers. Supportive-disloyalleaders care for the welfare of subordinates at the expense of organizational goals.


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