Skip to main content

Toxic Leadership


What is toxic leadership?

Using coercive, controlling, or manipulative tactics prioritizes personal gain over meaningful goals undermining collaborative achievements. When our actions hurt those we are charged with caring for, it can damage relationships and the whole organization.

Common Characteristics

  1. Micromanagement
    Excessive control and monitoring of others leave little space for autonomy or independence. It inhibits creativity and imagination.

  2. Intimidation
    Using threats, humiliation, or other forms of bullying only serves to control others and maintain power. Increasing fear keeps others in fight/flight mode.

  3. Lack of empathy
    Being insensitive to the needs and feelings of others communicates not taking their concerns seriously. This shuts down honest and respectful dialogue.

  4. Discrimination
    Favoritism towards certain people or groups belittles others' value to the organization based on factors such as gender, race, or ethnicity. It increases unhealthy competition and it's not legal.

  5. No accountability
    Refusing to take responsibility for their actions and behaviors increases blaming others for their mistakes. It encourages widespread blame avoidance.

The negative effects of toxic leadership can be significant, including decreased morale and job satisfaction, increased turnover, and reduced productivity. The poison of abusive and manipulative toxic behaviors can also create a culture of fear and mistrust, which causes ineffectiveness and inefficiency in the organization and employee trauma.


The effects of narcissistic leaders can cause devastating damage to our overall health and wellness. When we are doing things to be safe our fight, our flight, and freeze response is constantly activated. This pours stress hormones into our bodies. An abundance over time puts your health at risk.

To help protect ourselves, here are the fundamental pillars of resiliency...


  • Awareness: think about what you're thinking about
  • Adaptability: high performance happens in the moment
  • Decision making: our prioritization process for what we want in life
  • Positive thinking: see opportunities everywhere with an abundance mindset


  • Endurance: energy is a renewable resource
  • Nutrition: we are what we eat
  • Recovery: sleep is your superpower
  • Strength: rigid and weak things break, get strong & flexible


  • Family: our basic support system
  • Communication: what we tell ourselves and others
  • Connectedness: embrace our shared humanity
  • Teamwork: seeing others as success partners


  • Core values: our guidance system through life
  • Perseverance: no matter the goal, finish the race
  • Perspective: our framing of facts and stories
  • Purpose: connection to your "why"

Going after balance in all these areas is not necessarily the goal. Our ability to "feed" each one of these pillars determines our overall resilience to life situations. Protecting ourselves through increasing our resiliency is always helpful. Even the most resilient person won't be immune to the effects of toxic leadership. These effects speak directly to the workplace culture. What's rewarded will be repeated. Watch for signs that support positive personal growth and development to prepare everyone for the increased responsibility of caring for others.

Leadership Intentions

Self-awareness of the shadow we cast on others can reveal how our behaviors are perceived by others. It's the alignment of what we say and do. It's how we display our trustworthiness to others. The better we are the better our influence on others and the better "we" become collectively.

Here's a TED Talk on the power of civility in the workplace by Christine Porath...
Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business

Remember, it's never personal. The effects of toxic leadership are the projection of insecurities that arise from others' trauma. Only hurt people hurt people. Stay focused on what you really want for yourself, others, the team, and the organization and behave in ways aligned with those intentions. We're never wrong to stand up for what we believe in authentic, honest, and respectful ways. Leadership takes courage and it's always available to you!

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi

Add Comment

Comments (0)


About the Extension Foundation

This website is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of use at

Link copied to your clipboard.