MGT 539 - The Allure of Toxic Leadership

The primary objective of this course is to understand the dynamics of the relationship between toxic leaders and their followers. The secondary objective is to examine strategies for identifying, coping with, and escaping from toxic leaders.


Toxic leaders first charm, but then manipulate, mistreat, weaken, and ultimately devastate their followers. This course explores why we tolerate – and remain steadfastly loyal to – leaders who are destructive to their followers/employees/constituents, their organizations, their communities, and/or their nations. Why do we seldom unseat, frequently prefer, and sometimes even create toxic leaders? To answer these questions, we shall examine how these leaders appeal to our deepest needs, playing on our anxieties and fears, on our yearnings for security, high self-esteem, and significance, and on our desire for noble enterprises and immortality. We shall consider how psychological needs – such as the desire to be at the heart of the action, to be an insider – can often make us susceptible to toxic leaders. We shall explore how psychosocial forces, those interactions of individuals with their environments, particularly individuals’ experiences of success and failure, predispose them either to perceive themselves as leaders or to seek an external leader. In this course, we shall also discuss how to recognize the first signs of toxicity and which personal and policy options are critical for dealing with toxic leaders. 

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