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Can there be Toxic Leadership without Toxic Followership?
No. I believe there has to be a formation of toxic leadership before there is toxic followership within an organization. Leaders lead followers. According to his article titled “In Praise of Followers,” Robert E. Kelley (1988) asserts that the notion of followership dominates our everyday lives. In other words, everyone is a follower; it doesn’t matter if a person is a subordinate or a leader. Even the leaders of an organization are still following the guidelines given by a boss. The differences are mostly given by their roles within organizations – as the follower, and as the leader (Kelley, 1988). At some point before the formation of toxic followership, there had to be a person whether he or she played a role in a formal or informal leadership position that influenced the formation of toxicity within an organization. In his book titled Organizational Ethics, Craig Johnson (2016) articulates how toxic leaders engage in destructive behaviors by failing their followers, violating rights, misleading followers, fostering unethical or illegal acts, identifying scapegoats, cultivating unethical qualities, and more (p. 250). The leader who exhibits and encourages some of the aforementioned behaviors establishes a form of toxicity that can last even after a leader is replaced by a new one. Followers would then start to cultivate the toxicity by making it the new norm.
Why Is It Important for Followers to Be Authentic?
Just as it is important for leaders to be authentic, it is therefore important for followers to be their true selves in order to foster an environment that enhances good qualities within organizations. According to their article titled “Authentic Leadership,” researchers conducted a quantitative survey analyzing 30 leaders and 252 followers focusing in the concept of authenticity in the workplace (Leroy et al., 2012). The researcher observed that authentic followers were more likely to perform better in workplaces because they felt personally responsible for their behavior and ethical values (Leroy et al., 2012). Authentic followers are observed to be true to their personal values, be self-aware, and are honest with their leaders even if they find themselves disagreeing on a project (Johnson, 2016). Followers who practice good quality behavior and promote ethical values in workplaces enhance organization goals and outcomes; they also enhance and strengthen the culture of an organization that can last a lifetime.
How Do You Decide When It Is Time to Exit an Organization/to Have the Courage to Leave?
Leaving an organization can be one of the most challenging decisions for a person. However, according to Johnson (2016), a new setting or workplace may open new doors or opportunities for personal growth and career attainment. In the article titled “How to Explain Your Reasons for Leaving A Job, researchers provide some of the following suggestions to think about before leaving: organizational values do not align with personal ones, lack of career goals, toxic leadership or employees, misalignment with organizational goals and mission, and the lack of vision (Indeed, 2020). One of the most salient reasons to consider is the toxicity within an organization. Nobody should work in an environment that feels disgusting or where employees and leaders are always disgruntled. This type of environment promotes negative outcomes and poor performance. It can also result to destructive leadership where leaders are observed to avoid interaction with their followers, delay decisions, exert disloyalty, humiliate or manipulate others, and more (Johnson, 2016). Sometimes leaving an organization is the best option in order to grow and experience new opportunities.
Indeed. (2020). How to explain your reasons for leaving a job (with examples). Indeed
[webpage]. Retrieved from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/how-to-explain-your-reasons-for-leaving-a-job
Johnson, C. E. (2016). Organizational ethics: A practical approach (3rd ed.). Los
Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.
Kelley, R. E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review, 6, 142.
Leroy, H., Anseel, F., Gardner, W. L., Sels, L. (2012). Authentic leadership, authentic
followership, basic need satisfaction, and work role performance: A cross-level study. Journal of Management, 41(6), 1677-1697. doi: 10.1177/0149206312457822
Can there be toxic leadership without toxic followership? Why or why not?
In my opinion, where you have toxic leadership, you also have toxic followership and vice versa. Johnson (2016), states that “leadership is the exercise of influence in a group context . . . [and
that] leaders and followers function collaboratively” (p. 231). Johnson also states that “toxic followership makes toxic leadership possible” (p. 272). This indicates that if the leader is toxic, the followers will most likely respond with toxic actions. It is contagious. Ashgar (2014), states that “it, in fact, seems to be a complicated tango, one in which each side gradually leads the other off the precipice” (para. 2). We are all leaders and followers, often in the same job/position. “A toxic leader can also be a toxic follower. The common strand that exists in the establishment of a poisonous climate” (Boswell, 2015, para. 3).
Why is it important for followers to be authentic?
Authenticity is an important aspect of leadership and followership. Authentic behavior is characterized by honesty, directness, being non-judgmental (McNamara, n.d.) and being true to yourself and others. Johnson (2016), states that “authentic leaders act in harmony with what they believe and do not change their behavior to please others or to earn rewards or avoid punishment” (p. 151). Being authentic as a leader encourages the same type of behavior in followers. It is important for followers to be authentic because this is what ensures followers take ownership of their part in the organization, have the courage to own up to their mistakes and failures and maintain trusting relationships. Authenticity in followership enables followers to “establish good working relationships with their leaders” (Johnson, 2016, p. 283) which is something leaders look for in their subordinates.
How do you decide when it is time to exit an organization/to have the courage to leave?
For me, a nagging sense of unhappiness or that my goals do not align with the mission or vision statement of the organization is a sign that it is time to move on. According to Cabrino (2017), there are five important signs that it is time to leave an organization. These include (1) experiencing unhappiness daily, (2) the environment is toxic, (3) you are not using the skills you enjoy, (4) you have a feeling you are not doing what you were meant to do, and/or (5) you don’t believe in what you are doing.
Ashgar, R. (2014, September 16). How toxic followers enable toxic leaders. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/09/16/how-toxic-followers-enable-toxic-leaders/?sh=77800602d468
Boswell, M. (2015, May 29). Commentary: Toxic followership: Who, what is it? https://www.mildenhall.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/728695/commentary-toxic-followership-who-what-is-it/
Cabrino, K. (2017, February 14). 5 undeniable signs it’s time to leave your job. https://managementhelp.org/personalwellness/authenticity.htm
Johnson, C. (2016). Organizational ethics. A practical approach (3rd ed). Sage Publications, Inc.
McNamara, C. (n.d.). Authenticity – How to remain authentic with yourself and others. https://managementhelp.org/personalwellness/authenticity.htm
“Toxic followership makes toxic leadership possible” (Johnson, 2018, p. 213). Followers tend to do what they are told, that is what makes them followers. If the followers are doing everything the leader tells them, toxic or not, they are enabling the leader to maintain their toxic leadership. The text explains ways to step out of a toxic situation and become self-reliant, such as “recognizing that anxiety is a fact of life, learning to act independently and demand leaders who tell the truth” (Johnson, 2018, p. 213). There are more ways listed but I took the first three because I felt they were some of the most important. Leaders need followers, but followers do not have to enable the leaders if they are making poor choices.
It is important for leaders to be authentic because in my opinion, everyone needs that kind of positivity in their life. Authentic leaders search for and praise the positive in their followers. “Authentic leadership has a strong moral component” (Johnson, 2018, p. 203) and authentic leaders are using their moral compass to lead. They are not just leading, they are leading by example and personally, I think that is the best way lead.
I think it is time to leave an organization when it no longer feels right. When it feels like a struggle to go to work every day. When the decisions at work feel morally wrong, or you do not feel like you are making a difference, then it is time to move on. If your leader is not someone that you feel comfortable following anymore, then it is time to move on to another organization.
Johnson, C. E. (2018). Organizational ethics: A practical approach. SAGE Publications.