Definition At one time or another, most of us have experienced a leader (e.g., teacher, manager, coach, or employer) who seemed mean, unfair, manipulative, or very controlling. This person’s leadership often created a whole range of negative emotions in followers, from fear and insecurity to anger and resentment. Individuals who lead in this way can best be described as destructive leaders. In this section, we will identify the characteristics of destructive leadership and define specifically what it means.

In the past 10 years, leadership scholars have focused considerable attention on identifying exactly what is involved in destructive leadership. While there is not consensus about the definition of destructive leadership, scholars have identified certain characteristics that underlie the process and clarify its meaning.

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First, destructive leadership involves the excessive use of power, control, or influence. Destructive leaders are authoritarian and oppressive; they exercise almost complete control over others and attempt to make others obedient to their wishes. As Hitler did in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, a destructive leader will use coercion and force to influence others to accomplish their own objectives. A dogmatic, “my way or the highway” supervisor or boss is illustrative of this aspect of destructive leadership.

Similarly, the president of a company who makes the promotion of an employee contingent on providing the leader with sexual favors demonstrates inappropriate and excessive control. Using power indiscriminately, destructive leaders force followers to do what the leader wants. As extreme as it sounds, destructive leadership is a form of despotic control in which the leader is arbitrary and unrestrained in their use of power

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