Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Toxic Leadership: Catchy Phrase of Comparative Paradigm?

23 April 2010 | 9.45am - 5:00pm | Workshop

Social Sciences Building, Room 13.08

Workshop organised by the Leaders, Parties and Institutions (LPI) Research Group, School of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) and the Political Studies Association (PSA) Specialist Group on Political Leadership

The concept of toxic leadership has been popularised by the American academic, Jean Lipman-Blumen, who argued some business and political leaders demonstrate 'toxic' tendencies that produce polarization and division. Her ideas are better developed as regards business leaders, but could also be applied to prominent politicians.

Therefore, the aim of this workshop is to advance a model for 'toxic political leadership' and then apply our model of toxicity to a series of case studies of high profile and controversial political leaders.

For the purposes of establishing a framework for analysing the notion of toxic political leadership, the models of ‘toxic’ or ‘bad’ leadership outlined by Jean Lipman-Blumen and Barbara Kellerman will be combined to enable paper givers to consider the following:

  • First, what are the motivations for the styles of political leadership that are being pursued in each of the case studies? This provides scope to analyse the dimensions within the Lipman-Blumen model on the intentionality of their destructive behaviours and their dysfunctional personal characteristics.
  • Second, what are the impacts of the styles of political leadership that are being pursued in each of the case studies? This provides scope to analyse the dimensions within the Lipman-Blumen model on the intensity; duration; and significance of their leadership
  • Third, what are the explanations as to how the leader can sustain the support of followers?

Having examined each the paper givers are requested to (a) determine whether their leader shows sign of toxicity and (b) if so, they are asked to utilise the Kellerman classifications to determine whether their leader can be aligned to one of her ‘toxic types’: incompetent; rigid; intemperate; callous; corrupt; insular; evil.


  • 9.45 Arrivals and Introductions: Tea and Coffee
  • 10.00-11.00 The Concept Toxic Leadership:
    • Toxic Political Leadership: Towards a Framework for Analysis Dr Timothy Heppell, University of Leeds
    • Does Toxicity Travel? Applying the Business Literature to Politics Dr Christine Harlen, University of Leeds
  • 11.00-11.15 Tea and Coffee
  • 11.15-1.15 Case Studies I
    • Silvio Berlusconi, Dr Felia Allum, University of Bath
    • Robert Mugabe, Dr Blessing Miles-Tendi, Oxford University
    • Thaksin Shinawatra Professor Duncan McCargo, University of Leeds
  • 1.15-2.00 Lunch
  • 2.00-3.30 Case Studies II
    • Tony Blair Dr Stuart McAnulla, University of Leeds
    • George W. Bush Dr Jon Herbert, Keele University

The ideas behind this workshop derive from two popular books from the American business school literature, Barbara Kellerman's Bad leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters (Harvard Business School Press 2004) and Jean Lipman-Blumen's The Allure of Toxic Leaders (OUP 2005).

While we do not want to straitjacket participants, in the interests of coherence we would like those presenting case studies to be familiar with the arguments in these books and engage with some of the main points they raise.

Location Details

Room 13.08 is located on Level 13 (third floor) of the Social Sciences Building.

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