Protecting Innovation Through Undesrstanding Toxic Leadership

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

It is widely accepted successful innovation occurs most frequently in environments where individuals feel safe and have the ability to fail.  Unfortunately, toxic leaders exist and create environments counterproductive to innovation.  This session equips attendees with an understanding of toxic leadership, its impacts, and strategies to minimize the impact. 


Stephanie Hinshaw is the senior vice president of academic affairs. In her role, she oversees all academic activities and initiatives for the college, including academic programs and departments, curriculum production services, student affairs, academic excellence, and continuous improvement. As an advocate for student-first approaches and processes, Hinshaw's ethos revolves around monitoring and converting student feedback and achievement into actionable changes and eliminating barriers to continuing education. She is passionate about providing high-quality education in an accessible manner for adult learners. Hinshaw has worked in higher education for over 19 years and joined American College of Education in 2014, where she ascended the ranks, serving as the senior director of registration and student services, senior director of student operations, and assistant provost and vice president of student operations. Previously, Hinshaw worked as the director of admissions operation for Orbis Education, where she spearheaded admissions efforts for their accelerated online nursing programs and partners. She co-led the creation of their centralized admissions model. Before that, she served as an instructor, director of admissions, corporate director of admissions and marketing, and vice president of admissions for MedTech College. She received her MBA in marketing from Butler University and a bachelor's in journalism and public relations from Indiana University. Hinshaw is presently completing her Ed.D. in interdisciplinary leadership at Creighton University where she is researching the impacts of toxic leaders on their followers. She also attended Harvard's Graduate School of Education 2017 Women in Education Leadership conference and the Online Learning Consortium's 2019 Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning, both programs are designed to help senior-level leaders advance their leadership practice and the field of education.

Extended Abstract


Research articles, popular literature, and even the internet agree that successful innovation occurs most frequently in organizations with a certain culture and environment.  Specifically, organizations, where employees feel safe and believe they can fail without unwarranted repercussions, are typically more prime for successful innovation.  One of the greatest contributors to an organization’s culture and the environment is its leaders. Leaders can create the environment needed for innovation or they can destroy it. This session explores one type of leadership that can destroy the environment needed for innovation: toxic leadership.

Toxic leaders are leaders who leave followers and organizations worse than when they found them (Lipman-Blumen, 2005). These leaders tend to be narcissistic, abusive, and unpredictable (Schmidt, 2008). Additionally, they characteristically use an authoritarian style of leadership to lead their teams and focus on promoting their own interests over those of their team members or organization (Schmidt, 2008). As a result, researchers have found toxic leadership to have a negative impact on organizational performance, organizational commitment, job satisfaction, employee turnover, and the level of cynicism in followers.  Researchers have also linked toxic leadership to higher job stress and lower affective well-being in followers.  

Where it is important to understand toxic leaders, it is also important to understand how followers and the environment influence or restrict their influence (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaier, 2007).  Specifically, followers can help mitigate the impacts of toxic leaders by not conforming with their wishes and voicing concerns.  Organizations can limit the prevalence or influence of toxic leaders by creating an environment with checks and balances, use specific hiring and training strategies, and empowering followers. 

This session invites participants to learn about what toxic leadership is, the characteristics and behaviors of toxic leaders, their impacts on organizations and followers, and strategies to minimize their impact.  After learning the basics in these areas, participants reflect on their personal experiences with a toxic leader(s) and think about how that impacted innovation in their teams or organization.  Attendees will share these reflections with the group and talk about ways to mitigate toxic leaders in their organizations.  

Session Interactivity:

As a present and reflect session, this session will focus on learning about toxic leadership and allowing individuals to reflect and discuss their revelations. The session will begin with a 5-minute interactive, digital survey to gather information about attendees’ experiences with toxic leadership and their perceptions of what toxic leadership is.  The session will then progress to the presentation part. The 25-minute presentation will center on the following information: definitions of toxic leadership, characteristics and behaviors of toxic leaders, impacts of toxic leaders on organizations and followers, and strategies to minimize toxic leader impact.  The presentation will encourage attendees to engage throughout the presentation and through offering examples and thoughts if they are comfortable. 

After the presentation ends, participants will spend 5 minutes reflecting on any experiences they may have had with a toxic leader(s) and think about how this leader impacted innovation in the organization.  Participants will also think about any strategies that could have mitigated the impact of this leader.  The session will then conclude with 10 minutes of sharing and discussion.  Participants will share the experiences and strategies they identified during the reflection portion. I will record the trends and themes of these reflections for participants to see.  The goal of this section of the presentation is to allow participants to learn from others' experiences with toxic leaders and how they impacted innovation.  

Session Goals:

Session participants can expect to accomplish the following:

1) Discuss how toxic leadership can impact innovation; 

2) Learn definitions of toxic leadership; 

3) Discover the common behaviors and characteristics of toxic leaders; 

4) Explore how toxic leaders impact organizations and followers; 

5) Learn about strategies to mitigate the impacts of toxic leaders; 

6) Reflect on personal experiences with toxic leaders; 

7) Share experiences with others to learn through real-life examples of toxic leaders. ​


This session will include a digital/interactive survey, a PowerPoint Presentation (available for download), a handout that will outline common characteristics and behaviors of toxic leaders, and a handout to guide the reflection portion (for attendees to write their thoughts).


Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Padilla, A., Hogan, R., & Kaier, R. (2007). The toxic triangle: Destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and conducive environments. The Leadership Quarterly 18(3), 176–194.  doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2007.03.001

Schmidt, Andrew Alexander. (2008). Development and Validation of the Toxic Leadership Scale. (University of Maryland, College Park). Retrieved from https://drum.lib.umd.   edu/bitstream/handle/1903/8176/umi-umd-5358.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y