Those who have read Lipman-Blumen's previously published Connective Leadership and/or Hot Groups can correctly assume that she again offers brilliant insights, eloquently expressed, in her newest book. She responds to two especially interesting questions: "Why do so many people follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians?" and "How can we survive them?" In fairness both to her and to those who have not as yet read this book, I will resist the temptation to reveal what her responses are. However, I hope the remarks which follow create sufficient interest in this book because it eminently deserves and richly rewards a careful reading.
She organizes her material within Four Parts: The Big Picture (Chapter 1) in which she explains why toxic leaders are so plentiful; Leaders, Leaders, Why Do We All Want Leaders? (Chapters 2-6) in which she examines psychological needs, angst and illusions (e.g. about life, death, and immortality), global instabilities, creation of potentially dangerous deities, and the urge for heroic men and women; How [and Why] We Create Willing Followers and Toxic Leaders (Chapters 7-9) in which she discusses various myths which help to explain the appeal of toxic leaders and the rejection of non-toxic leaders; and finally, Liberating Ourselves from the Allure of Toxic Leaders (Chapters 10-13) in which Lipman-Blumen proposes a number of mindsets, values, strategies, tactics, and initiatives which can -- at least in some instances -- protect mankind from toxic leaders or expedite their loss of power and even influence.
In this volume, Lipman-Blumen demonstrates all of the highly-developed skills of a world-class cultural anthropologist whose cutting-edge thinking about effective leadership and productive teamwork has earned for her the eminence she now enjoys. In my opinion, she has far greater and much more challenging ambitions in this book than she did in either of the two which preceded it. Consider this brief excerpt from the first chapter: Toxic leaders "first charm but then manipulate, mistreat, undermine, and ultimately leave their followers worse off than when they found them. Yet many of these followers hang on. I do not speak merely of the leader's immediate entourage -- the leader's close-in staff and advisors. I am speaking also of the larger mass of supporters (employees, constituents, volunteers) who only glimpse their toxic leader through a glass darkly -- perchance through a window of the executive suite or on the television screen. More surprisingly perhaps, even those groups charged with keeping leaders under the microscope and on the straight and narrow -- the media and boards of directors -- fall under they sway."
How to explain the "allure" of toxic leaders? How do they sustain, if not increase their domination of others? Even when exposed as toxic leaders, why do they continue to retain so many loyal followers? Realistically, to what extent (if any) can one individual or even a group remove such leaders from their positions of dominance? These and other questions have intrigued me for decades. Although I do not agree with all of Lipman-Blumen's opinions, I appreciate the rigor with which she has formulated those opinions.
To me, the book's most thought-provoking and thus most valuable material is provided in Part III, with the relatively weakest material following in Part IV. Lipman-Blumen is at her best when examining, indeed explaining how and why mankind creates toxic leaders as well as their willing followers. She is much less effective, in my opinion, when offering advice as to how to avoid or respond to the allure of such leaders. For example, is a coup or assassination the only effective solution to a tyrant? In a business context, what if a toxic leader is the owner/CEO of a small company? Realistically, is there any viable choice other than leaving? Lipman-Blumen's difficulties with the material in Part IV were probably inevitable...and have nothing to do with her intelligence, sensitivity, street smarts, and frame-of-reference. With all due respect to the "lessons" she reviews (please see pages 206-215) and the five strategies she then recommends (please see pages 238-249), I think those difficulties are explained, rather, by flaws in human nature which some have traced back to the Garden of Eden. Historically, those whom toxic leaders manipulate, mistreat, undermine, betray, and ultimately leave worse off than before are victims. Those who support toxic leaders are willing accomplices. Those who oppose toxic leaders are heroic. Those among them who are destroyed by toxic leaders are martyrs. For me, the most important question Lipman-Blumen poses in this book is hardly original: "Who are you?" For each reader, the answer will not be found in this book. However, a careful reading of it can assist with completing that immensely difficult journey of self-discovery.
I also highly recommend Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior co-authored by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.