The Dark Side of Leadership Part 2

A few years back, in an earlier post entitled the Dark Side of Leadership, I discussed the responsibility that comes with being a leader that might test the resolve of some individuals. For example, terminating employees because the company is underperforming can be a stressful but necessary task that leaders are expected to do. Although this may not be deemed unethical, there is still an element of discomfort that exists. Today I want to shift the focus towards things that leaders do both intentionally and unintentionally that lead to poor decision making and occurrences of unethical behavior.

1) Leading autocratically:

Whenever you begin to believe you know it all, that is when you know absolutely nothing. Over time when those around you want to impress you, it can be easy to believe you are the end all be all. What might happen is that you begin to depend less on your team for solutions and lead by making all the decisions. This type of thinking can backfire as you lose the innovation that comes with having multiple perspectives to address challenges. Also, to make matters worse, when you do not engage your employees or consider their ideas, they will allow you to bask in your ignorance. You will truly know nothing when you try to direct everything, because your employees will no longer communicate important information to you from the trenches.

2) Not articulating codes of ethics:

Employees’ values differ based on differences in culture, beliefs, religion, even by industry. Leaders cannot assume everyone in the organization is on same page ethically. You have to articulate what you and your organization value in order to see those values show up in your employees. You must also scrutinize what behaviors are rewarded and how they are rewarded. The behaviors that receive attention are the ones that will be repeated, ultimately determining how your employees behave and perform. If you do not represent the values of your organization, then overtime it may be difficult to harness unethical behavior when it occurs.

3) Just being kind of “crazy”:

Recently, some researchers have found that some leaders may possess trait characteristics similar to psychopaths in the clinical sense. A study found that found that 8 out of 200 high-level executives had scores that exceeded the psychopathic threshold used in the criminal justice system. Individuals who fit this mold exhibit a higher degree of risk-taking, do not sense empathy like most other people, and use manipulation in the relationships they have. So if you think your boss is crazy, there is 4% chance you could be right.


Dr. Jason R. Lambert is a cofounder at, and a researcher, writer, and business professor whose research examines the impact of individual differences on organizational outcomes. His work has been presented at both regional and international conferences and in scholarly journals. His professional career spans 10 years in managerial roles in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

He can be contacted at or through his website at

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The Dark Side of Leadership



Everybody wants to lead.  In American society, leadership is synonymous with power and influence. Most leadership authors frequently discuss ways to be a better leaders and the strategies always seem straightforward. Tactics identified usually speak to the higher nature of our personalities. “Be a positive example”; “Engage your employees”; “Happy employees make for happy customers”. However, there is a dearth of literature that looks at how difficult it is to be a manager or leader on an ordinary and daily basis. Below are 4 things that you need to be able to do in order to lead effectively that many leadership books do not talk about that may test not only your abilities, but also your ethical compass.

1 Keep secrets

Most leaders can attest that when you are in a position of authority you are privy to a lot of information. Some information is “classified”.  It can be very awkward  and difficult for some to be professional and cordial with others when you know things about their character. For example, you may be aware of employees who have a pending sexual harassment charge against them. As a manager, you also know who your poor performers are versus your superstars. You can’t slip up and leak certain information about employees or bad mouth them over a cocktail after work. You also can’t tell employees the company is planning to layoff folks until the predetermined time. But you and Jim started working there at the same time. Would you tell him? Can you keep a secret?

2 Tell the truth

I believe in the saying that the truth will set you free. You should always tell the truth even to your own detriment. If your company is going bankrupt, let your employees know. If Jim asks if he will be laid off, tell him. If you do not have the solution to a problem, that is okay. Do not pretend you have all the answers. And please do not make up answers like I have witnessed a few leaders do. That will lead to mistrust and it is very difficult to regain trust back.

3 Fire people

There is no space for employees who continually underperform. So, unfortunately you will have to terminate employees. I never understood how some people actually enjoy firing employees. I have found this to be one of the most difficult things about leading a team, unit, or organization. However, it must be done whether due to an employee’s poor performance or budget constraints.  But how you do it makes all the difference because your employees are observing your behavior. Are terminated employees treated with dignity as a human being or are they dismissed with impunity as if their contributions never mattered? Regardless of how you approach the situation, the bottom line is that when you fire someone or lay them off you may be essentially destroying their life. Their family, health, and well-being depends on their livelihood from work income and you have the power to take that away. Whether they deserve it or not, it actually sucks when you understand the consequences of what may happen to someone you have to fire.

4 Be humble

As a manager, some of your colleagues will treat you differently. They may bring you a gift for your birthday. You may find a souvenir in your mailbox from a country your colleague visited. As a result, some managers develop a god-like complex. They begin to believe that everything they say or do is the gospel. They begin to dismiss the ideas of those around them or make unreasonable requests. Do not fall into that trap. My best advice is to always ask for the opinions of others even when you think you know the right answer. I have found that my ideas are never the best, or at least they can always be adjusted by the ideas of others.  Like Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying, “The wise know too well their weakness to assume infallibility; and he who knows most knows best how little he knows.” And always give credit to someone else even if you think you deserve it (because you probably do not deserve it due to your power blinding you from reality). What is the worse that can happen if you give away the credit?  Your employees will trust and appreciate you, and you still will get the credit anyway.  That is because others will perceive you as being able to motivate strong and innovative performers. 

So… do you still wanna lead?

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