• Jonathan

Recognising Toxic Leadership

I don't know about you but in my 30+ years in EMS I have had to endure my fair share of poor management on both sides of the pond. These individuals spread their poison through an organisation with lightning efficiency resulting in a disillusioned and demotivated workforce.


Toxic leaders consistently use dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves. Prolonged use of negative leadership to influence followers undermines the followers' will, initiative and potential, and destroys morale.

One of the most definitive descriptions of toxic leaders was developed by Colonel Denise Williams in her landmark paper about military leaders, originally published in 2005, including these 10 characteristics:

  1. Bully Leaders: those who inflict emotional pain, threats, insults, and invalidate the opinion of others.

  2. Self-Absorbed Leaders: those who are arrogant, self-congratulatory, heavy-handed, and overbearing.

  3. Divisive Leaders: those who are like the narcissistic leader but channel their arrogance toward one person or group of persons.

  4. Insular Leaders: those that form cliques and that ensure their friends enjoy special privileges.

  5. Hypocritical Leaders: those who rarely practice what they preach.

  6. Enforcement Leaders: those only interested in pleasing their superiors; so anything goes to accomplish that task.

  7. Callous Leaders: has a blatant disregard for his subordinates’ welfare or desires.

  8. Senior Preference Leaders: gives preferential treatment to those who served the longest.

  9. Credit-hog Leaders: takes credit for the success or contribution of others.

  10. Blame-shifting Leaders: these are quick to point the finger for anything that goes wrong.

Toxic leadership is expensive both fiscally to the organisation and emotionally to the workforce. The signs of a toxic organization include:

  1. High turnover.

  2. Failure to accomplish tasks in a timely manner.

  3. Unproductive and meaningless work.

  4. Destructive and counterproductive conduct.

  5. General dissatisfaction with current organizational leadership.

Understanding these common characteristics are necessary to spot a toxic EMS leader and develop strategies to deal with them as an individual and as an organisation. Have you experienced any of these leadership qualities? If you comment please do not name names.

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