Abusive Leadership?

Abuse me?


Why did I cough up $125.00 for The Bass Handbook of Leadership?

My graduate professors insisted the book was the last word… now I have a 10-pound, 1,500-page book that may be incomplete.

People talk about leadership every day. They throw the word out there and accept it from others as if we were really communicating an exact meaning. But there are literally thousands of definitions of leadership.

Is leadership a personality trait or a behavior, an attribution, the foci of a group process, a symbol, a maker of meaning, a thought, a purposeful or persuasive action, the initiation of structure, the exercise of influence or a discretionary influence? Are leaders born or made?

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examines a little discussed negative aspect of the oh-so-admired-and-researched topic – Abusive Leadership.

The study examined the impacts of verbal abuse and demeaning emails of team leaders in leader-follower dyads (YES, I actually used the word DYAD, I paid a lot of money for grad school and learned several words I can’t seem use anywhere but Scrabble).

Basically, they studied what happens when a bad boss is mean to a subordinate and how the behavior impacts the broader team.

The study was conducted in China and the findings were replicated in the USA.


  1. As you might have guessed, abused employees felt demoralized and undervalued and their productivity decreased,
  2. Surprisingly, cases of abuse correlated with higher levels of team conflict and lower productivity across the team unit.


Traditional interventions into workplace abuse generally focused on the affected parties (the abuser and the abused). This study suggests that we may want to address the impacts of the abuse across the entire team unit.

Luckily, none of us has ever had to work for one of THOSE leaders.

Fortune Cookie Bottom-Line:

When your bad boss is a bully and zaps all of your steam, remember this study and turn to your team.

Source: Crystal I. C. Farh, Zhijun Chen. Beyond the Individual Victim: Multilevel Consequences of Abusive Supervision in Teams. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2014; DOI: 10.1037/a0037636

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