Understanding the Power of Toxic Leadership on Followers and Organizations

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Leaders influence their organizations and followers. Overall, we accept this; however, we rarely consider what happens if leaders are toxic. This session explores the true influences of toxic leadership on both organizations and followers. Additionally, this session equips attendees with an understanding of toxic leadership, behaviors associated with toxic leadership, and strategies to mitigate toxic leaders' influences. 



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


Toxic leaders are leaders who harm organizations and followers. Unfortunately, toxic leaders are common. Specifically, a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 survey showed over two-thirds of Americans reported working in or having worked in a toxic work environment. Furthermore, more than 50% of these respondents stated their leader was the cause of this toxicity. Thus, toxic leadership is common and, unfortunately, rarely discussed. This session strives to change this by exploring the negative/toxic side of leadership to create awareness. 

In addition to being common, toxic leadership is harmful. The current research shows toxic leaders inflict harm on both their organizations and followers. From an organizational perspective, toxic leaders are linked to decreases in organizational performance, organizational learning, innovation, organizational citizenship behavior, and an increase in organizational cynicism.  On an individual level, the followers of toxic leaders report having lower job satisfaction, higher turnover intentions, increased stress levels, decreased affective well-being, and using coping strategies to "deal" with their leaders.

These harms are directly related to innovation and innovation, as we all know, is needed in online education. So, being able to identify toxic leaders, understand the reasons for toxic leadership, and address toxic leadership behaviors is important to the future of innovation (and our organizations). This session invites participants to learn about what toxic leadership is, the characteristics and behaviors of toxic leaders, their harms on organizations and followers, and strategies to minimize toxic leaders' influence.  After learning the basics in these areas, attendees reflect on their personal experiences with a toxic leader(s) and think about how that experience has influenced them and their organizations. Special attention will be paid to the influences on innovation directly.  Attendees will share these reflections with the group and talk about ways to mitigate toxic leaders in their organizations.  

Session Interactivity

As an education 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, influences 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 influenced them or their organization (related to innovation if possible). 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 in Padlet (or similar tool) The goal of this section of the presentation is to allow participants to learn from others' experiences. 

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 harm organizations and followers; 

5) Learn about strategies to mitigate the influences 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, a handout/padlet to guide the reflection portion (for attendees to write their thoughts).