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The Impact of Bad Bosses

In a world where leadership can make or break a company’s spirit, the destructive power of certain personality traits in leaders should not be underestimated. The latest findings from Helsingin Sanomat spotlight four particularly toxic personality traits—narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism—that can dramatically undermine both employee morale and organizational success.

In this blog, we delve deep into how such traits not only corrode the internal culture but also threaten the very fabric of a company’s reputation and operational vitality. Understanding these dynamics and the subtle ways they manifest in leadership can be crucial to safeguarding your organization’s future and nurturing a truly collaborative and healthy work environment.

The Personalities that Destroy

According to an article released by Helsingin Sanomat, four personality traits are especially detrimental to employees when possessed by their leaders. These are narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism. It’s good to note that not all people showing signs of these personality traits have a disorder associated with them.


Narcissism is perhaps the most known trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Individuals with narcissistic traits often believe they are superior to others and seek validation and attention to maintain their self-esteem. In the workplace, narcissistic leaders may prioritize their own interests over organizational goals, engage in self-promotion, and show manipulative behavior to maintain their perceived superiority.


Psychopathy is also known to many, at least by name. This personality disorder includes a lack of empathy, shallow emotions, manipulative behavior, and a tendency towards antisocial behavior. Individuals with psychopathic traits often exhibit a disregard for social norms, a tendency to exploit others for personal gain, and a lack of remorse for their actions. Psychopathic leaders may engage in unethical or exploitative behavior, manipulate others to achieve their goals, and prioritize their interests over the well-being of their employees.


Machiavellianism is perhaps a less-known personality trait. It’s characterized by manipulative behavior, strategic thinking, and a willingness to exploit others for personal gain. Individuals with Machiavellian traits are often skilled at manipulating social situations to achieve their goals and are willing to use deception and manipulation to advance their interests. In the workplace, these leaders may display political maneuvering, manipulation of colleagues and subordinates, and strategic decision-making to maintain power and control.


Sadism refers to a personality trait characterized by deriving pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others. These individuals may exhibit aggressive behavior, enjoy exerting power and control over others, and lack empathy for their victims. Sadistic leaders may show bullying, harassment, or other forms of abusive behavior towards their employees.

How They End Up as Leaders

It’s not unknown that these personality traits are detrimental to the people around those who possess them. So, how is it that these individuals end up in positions of power?

Turns out that it’s due to a combination of factors. Individuals with these traits often possess charismatic and dominant personalities that can initially appeal to others. They may exude confidence, assertiveness, and charm, traits that are sometimes associated with effective leadership. They are also often skilled at self-promotion and manipulation, which can help them navigate organizational hierarchies and advance their careers.

In some cases, organizations may tolerate or overlook problematic behavior in leaders, especially if they deliver results or possess specialized skills. This tolerance or ignorance may allow individuals with severe personality disorders to ascend to leadership positions without adequate scrutiny or intervention. Many organizations also lack screening and assessment processes for identifying personality disorders among potential leaders, allowing them to assume leadership roles unchecked.

Business Impact of Dysfunctional Leadership Traits

Poor Decision-Making

Individuals with dysfunctional traits may make decisions based on self-interest rather than the best interests of the organization. This can result in poor strategic decisions, misallocation of resources, and ultimately, hindered organizational growth and success.

Damaged Reputation and External Relations

Organizational performance can also be affected externally as leaders with these traits may engage in unethical or inappropriate behavior that damages the organization’s reputation and brand image. This can lead to a loss of customer trust and investor confidence, and potential legal ramifications, ultimately impacting financial performance and long-term sustainability.

Stifling Innovation and Creativity

Toxic work environments created by leaders can stifle innovation and creativity within the organization. Employees may feel reluctant to share ideas or take risks in fear of retaliation from their leaders. This atmosphere stifles creativity and can cause the organization to miss out on growth opportunities and innovation.

Impact on Employee Well-Being

Disruption in Team Collaboration

Leaders with these traits may display favoritism, manipulation, and scapegoating, which can disrupt team dynamics and undermine collaboration. This can lead to conflicts among team members, decreased trust, and hindered teamwork, ultimately affecting overall team and organizational performance.

Toxic Work Environment

Leaders with these personality traits often prioritize their own interests over organizational and team goals, creating a toxic work environment characterized by manipulation, lack of empathy, and disregard for ethical norms. This can cause decreased morale, increased turnover rates, and reduced productivity among employees.

Impact on Ambitious Employees

According to Science Daily, ambitious employees under abusive leadership may reduce their initiative, fearing that their efforts will not be recognized or rewarded. This leads to a decrease in motivation and productivity, potentially driving high performers to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Mental Health

A study discussed in Forbes introduced interesting statistics on the mental health impacts of managers and leadership on their employees. The study showed that managers have a significant impact on employees’ mental health, with 69% reporting their managers have the greatest influence, equal to that of their partners. Stress at work also negatively affects a large portion of employees, impacting performance (78%) and well-being (64%). The impact of leadership is crucial, as positive mental health correlates with higher work commitment (63%) and energy levels (80%), suggesting benefits for both individuals and businesses.

People Quit a Boss

In a research conducted in Finland, 44% of respondents attributed the reason for leaving their jobs to the poor leadership skills of their supervisors. This impacted the decision to leave even more than compensation (31%) and workload (28%). As the saying goes—people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

Contrarily, an HBR article from a few years back claimed that the main reason for leaving is dissatisfaction with the job itself. However, even in this case, many factors in the job are largely influenced by leaders as they can shape the work experience of their employees. By designing jobs that align with employees’ interests and strengths, facilitating career development, and accommodating personal priorities to minimize conflicts between work and personal life, leaders can better retain talent and ensure job satisfaction. The exact opposite is also a possibility.

According to Forbes, bad bosses can contribute to employee turnover in several ways. Micromanagement stifles creativity and erodes trust, leading to decreased confidence and increased stress among employees. When supervisors fail to seek employee input, they may feel undervalued and disconnected, resulting in reduced motivation and job satisfaction. Environments that discourage diverse opinions can make employees feel powerless and stifle innovation. Additionally, bosses who lack integrity create ethical dilemmas for their employees, potentially damaging their mental health and career prospects.


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