The Dark Side of Leadership and Its Impact on Followers, a PhD thesis by Victoria Joy Webster, attempted to investigate destructive leadership from the leaders’ and the followers’ perspectives. In particular, the study aimed at exploring the antecedents of toxic, abusive, aversive, and derailing behaviors in leadership. Drawing from the hypothesis that the “dark side” or socially undesirable traits are related to such leadership outcomes as follower performance, engagement, and well-being, Webster (2016) conducted three separate studies that explored destructive leadership. Overall, the author strived to provide practical guidance for addressing the issue of the dark side of leadership in organizations. Consequently, a combination of the studies’ results served as a warning about the dangers of destructive leadership and the cornerstone of the evidence-based recommendations for practitioners.
Despite the absence of an explicitly stated research problem, the author provided all necessary information in several sections dedicated to theory. Firstly, Webster (2016) outlined a research context based on the relational view of leadership and followship theory. According to Webster (2016), destructive leadership consists of three primary domains: destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. However, the depth of research in each of the domains was deemed insufficient in relation to the dark side of leadership. In particular, Webster (2016) noted the lack of focus on the antecedents that predispose leaders’ engagement in destructive leadership behaviors and the limited research on coping strategies deployed by the followers. By outlining the research context, the author established a clear theoretical framework and demonstrated an innovative aspect of their study.
In addition, the researcher justified the significance of their study in the rationale section. Webster (2016) explained the practical value of the thesis from two perspectives. Firstly, destructive leadership was related to such negative psychological outcomes for the followers as stress, disengagement, withdrawal, and absenteeism. Secondly, the dark side of leadership was associated with high financial costs for organizations (Webster, 2016). In this regard, the researcher provided the necessary practical rationale for their work.
Finally, the author synthesized the research context and rationale for research into the set of research questions and goals. In regard to questions, Webster (2016) attempted to identify what personality traits predispose or inhibit destructive leadership, which leaders’ traits are perceived as harmful by the followers, and what interventions can mitigate the damage. Consequently, Webster (2016) connected research questions to the corresponding research goals of providing evidence-based data to practitioners and informing them on anti-destructive leadership strategies. Therefore, it is possible to state that the thesis contains a well-defined research problem with justified significance, innovation, and practical value, although the problem is explained in segments rather than stated explicitly in a single sentence.
The thesis includes a comprehensive literature review divided into two broad categories related to the research questions. In particular, Chapter 2 introduces a reader to a brief history of leadership theory, a review of studies on the dark side of leadership, and the definitions of destructive leadership (Webster, 2016). However, the utmost significance of this section lies in stressing the scarcity of empirical studies in the field. Webster (2016) claimed that a meta-analysis of the literature identified only the theoretical propositions for traits predisposing harmful behaviors in leaders. Therefore, the thesis attempted to bridge the gap by exploring the theories related to destructive leadership in real-life organizational settings.
In addition, the researcher attempted to widen the scope of their work by studying the followers’ perspective. In Chapter 3, Webster (2016) examined the studies on interactions within the follower—destructive leader dyad and claimed that only a few field studies investigated coping strategies deployed by the followers. In this regard, the review underpinned the second dimension of the research problem — potential practical and realistic interventions for addressing destructive leadership in organizations. Overall, two chapters dedicated to literature review can be considered one of the strongest parts of the thesis due to the comprehensiveness of valuable information related to research questions. A detailed review of existing studies allowed the author to identify the knowledge gaps and design appropriate research methods for bridging them.
The methodological approach used by the researcher was directly related to the research goals stated in the corresponding section of the thesis. Webster (2016) tried to use a positivistic research approach and obtain non-randomized samples from the “real world” organizations. As a result, research questions were addressed through three separate studies in which quantitative and mixed methods were applied. For instance, Study 1 focused on identifying and measuring personality traits that predict or inhibit destructive leadership. For this purpose, the researcher surveyed 300 organizational managers via the Global Personality Inventory (GPI). The quantitative analysis allowed the author to confirm the research hypotheses. In particular, Webster (2016) confirmed the positive relationship between independence and derailing leadership traits and partially confirmed the mediating impact of leaders’ negative affectivity on destructive leadership. Therefore, one can state that the quantitative research method was appropriate for the task.
A similar situation can be observed in Studies 2 and 3 performed in the thesis. Study 2 aimed at exploring the followers’ perception of destructive leadership and harmful leaders’ traits. Consequently, Webster (2016) conducted 76 qualitative online interviews with the individuals who worked under toxic leadership. As a result, the researcher obtained the necessary information on specific behaviors exhibited by destructive leaders, the impact of such behaviors on the followers, and the coping strategies utilized by the followers. Finally, the quasi-experimental Study 3 tested and confirmed the efficacy of stress prevention psychological intervention developed for enhancing the followers’ resilience to toxic leadership (Webster, 2016). Overall, the researcher chose appropriate research methods, which allowed them to answer the questions stated in the introductory part of the thesis.
Organization, Structure, and Stylistics
The thesis has a fluent, well-organized structure, in which all sections logically stem from the previous parts. For instance, Webster (2016) started the study with a research context in order to explain the subject of destructive leadership and its consequences for organizations. The context was followed by research rationale, questions, and goals, which allowed the author to underscore their work’s practical significance and innovative aspect. In the following two chapters, Webster (2016) completed a comprehensive literature review, making it possible to identify knowledge gaps and further tailor the methodology to the research needs. In this regard, Chapters 1-3 can be considered a solid foundation for the practical section of the thesis.
Due to their meticulous work in the introductory phase, the author successfully applied selected methodological approaches and answered the research questions. Chapters 4-6, dedicated to three consecutive studies, are written in a similar fashion — a brief description of the method is followed by the presentation of results and a discussion. In Chapter 7, Webster (2016) summarized the research results in a general discussion, thus giving a logical conclusion to the study. Lastly, the author utilized a proper scholarly style and supported their writing with multiple figures and appendices throughout the whole paper. Given these details, one can claim that the thesis meets all requirements for a scholarly study.
The author dedicated a specific part to the theoretical and practical implications of the study, as well as to research strengths, limitations, and future directions. From the theoretical perspective, Webster (2016) confirmed that excessive “bright side” leadership traits such as independence are associated with derailing traits — ego-centredness, manipulativeness, and micro-management. The qualitative interviews conducted in Study 2 offered new insight into toxic leadership by adding non-action, micromanaging, and passive aggression to the Dark Triad’s narcissism, intimidation, and manipulation (Webster, 2016). Furthermore, the thesis included several practical recommendations for destructive leadership prevention, such as immediate dealing with destructive managers and introducing internal ethical codes and leadership development programs (Webster, 2016). Lastly, the thesis contains an overview of research strengths — a variety of methods, consideration of leaders’ and followers’ perspectives, and research limitations — reliance on self-report data that might be biased (Webster, 2016). Overall, the author completed their study and presented key findings, strengths, and limitations in a concise manner.
The Dark Side of Leadership and Its Impact on Followers by V.J. Webster can be considered a fine example of a well-designed, thoughtfully researched, and skillfully written PhD thesis. The author maintained consistency throughout the paper and followed the logic impeccably. As a result, Webster (2016) selected an appropriate methodology for answering the research questions and obtained valuable findings for the practitioners in the spheres of leadership and organizational management. PhD applicants should consider examining this thesis to gain an insight into the correct implementation of the research design.
Webster, V. J. (2016). The dark side of leadership and its impact on followers [PhD thesis, Griffith University]. Griffith Research Online.