Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen of Claremont Graduate University says there are many reasons why the American people initially believed in President Bush and continued to support him for years, despite his dismal performance. More surprisingly, perhaps, even the media fell under Bush’s sway. The author of “The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians--and How We Can Survive Them” calls Bush “an unbelievably toxic leader," and offers this historical perspective of President Bush.
According to Lipman-Blumen, arrogance, stubbornness and incompetence are all characteristics which President Bush shares with many other toxic leaders. And these qualities actually fall on the mild end of the “toxic” spectrum, compared to those of other deliberately evil leaders.
Toxic leaders commonly first charm, but then manipulate, mistreat, undermine, and ultimately leave their followers worse off than they found them. Lipman-Blumen isn’t blaming the victim, but there are many reasons why toxic leaders, such as President Bush, rise to power and remain in office:
• Psychological reasons: Humans are programmed to follow authoritarian leaders. Ever since we were kids, we’ve been told by our parents to do what we are told and everything will be fine.
• Existential reasons: We think leaders will keep us safe, and leaders who promise everything will be okay resonate with our fears.
• Psychosocial: We often give power to those who we think can succeed better than we can; if we thought we could do it, we’d want to be the leader ourselves.
Saints rarely seek elected office. So it is left to us ordinary human beings, many of whom prefer to do our own thing. There are several reasons why the best candidates don’t seek office, but one major factor is:
• The inconvenience of leadership: Being a leader is a big responsibility and it can dramatically change our lifestyle: less time with family, longer working hours and a lot more stress. Consequently, we step aside for others who want to take on the added burden, even if they aren’t exactly perfect for the job. “It’s easier to let someone else do the job and then criticize that person than it is to do it ourselves,” Lipman-Blumen says.
Leadership roles often attract the wrong people because we incorrectly consider leadership a privilege, offering power and prestige.
• Not surprising, then, is that the most narcissistic, neurotic, and power-hungry individuals usually elbow their way to the front of the line.
Lipman-Blumen says it’s important for people to recognize warning signs before we elect leaders.
Is Bush the most toxic of all or of our time?
"President Bush has left the US in disarray domestically and diminished our position internationally.," Lipman-Blumen offers. "Bush’s incompetence causes him to make serious mistakes, and his stubbornness prevents him from trying to correct any errors he might be able to acknowledge. Still, he certainly has stiff competition for the title of 'Most Toxic Leader.'”
The Thornton F. Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Organizational Behavior, Professor Lipman-Blumen is director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Leadership, at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management. She has served as assistant director of the National Institute of Education and as special advisor to the Domestic Policy Staff in the White House under President Carter, has consulted for various governments and private sector organizations, and was the president of L-BS International, Ltd., a management consulting and public policy research firm. She has published seven books, three monographs, and more than 70 articles on public policy, leadership, management, crisis management, and gender issues. Her earlier book, "The Connective Edge: Leading in an Interdependent World" (Jossey-Bass, 1996), paperback edition (Oxford University Press, 2000), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Founded in 1925, Claremont Graduate University is one of the top graduate schools in the United States. Our nine academic schools conduct leading-edge research and award masters and doctoral degrees in 22 disciplines. Because the world’s problems are not simple nor easily defined, diverse faculty and students research and study across the traditional discipline boundaries to create new and practical solutions for the major problems plaguing our world. A Southern California based graduate school devoted entirely to graduate research and study, CGU boasts a low student-to-faculty ratio.