An Examination of Toxic Leadership, Job Outcomes, and the Impact of Military Deployment

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Schmidt, Andrew Alexander
Hanges, Paul J.
Despite increasing coverage of toxic leadership from the popular press and lay publications, it has only recently been the subject of rigorous empirical scrutiny. This investigation tested a moderated mediation model to examine the relationships between toxic leadership, group cohesion, and job outcome variables among military personnel in different deployment situations. Using conservation of resources (COR) theory as a grounding framework, responses were collected from military personnel who were stationed "in garrison" (i.e. at home, in a low stress situation), deployed, (a high stress situation), and deployed to an active combat zone (an extreme stress situation). Hypotheses were focused on group-level ratings of toxic leadership and job outcomes. Multilevel analyses were used to control for individual-level effects. Confirmatory factor analysis showed support for a five-factor structure of toxic leadership that includes dimensions of self-promotion, abusive supervision, unpredictability, narcissism, and authoritarian leadership. The higher-order construct of toxic leadership and its five component dimensions had direct negative effects on all four job outcome variables: group-level job satisfaction, group productivity, group-level organizational trust, and group-level organizational commitment. Toxic leadership also had a direct negative effect on group cohesion. Group cohesion was found to be a full mediator of the relationships between self-promotion, abusive supervision, and unpredictability and group-level job satisfaction. Group cohesion was found to be a partial mediator for the 17 remaining relationships between the toxic leadership dimensions and job outcomes. Relative importance analysis indicated that while the toxic leadership dimensions of unpredictability and abusive supervision were key predictors of job outcomes, self-promotion was the dimension with the most predictive power. No support was found for the hypothesized interactions caused by deployment status. Future directions are proposed for research on destructive leadership styles, and implications for practitioners are discussed.