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Building a Foundation on Sand: The Demise of Leaders Resulting from Toxic Followership

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Technical Report,05 Jul 2015,26 May 2016

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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The US Army tends to over-emphasize leader development, neglecting the integral role followers play in organizational decision-making. This reflects the assumption that good leaders are also good followers, but this assumption does not hold up under scrutiny. Often, friction between leaders and followers results in followers who develop toxic followership traits, which cause them to undermine the leader and the organization. Effective leaders act as toxic followers when they subvert authority in this manner. The US Army seeks to develop leaders through education, experience, and training. This teaches individuals to amplify their strengths as leaders and to use these traits to achieve results, but this can contribute to neglect of the individuals skill as a follower. When this leads to toxic followership, that individual ultimately loses effectiveness as a leader as well. History reveals this trend even at the highest levels, in which the President relieves a general officer. While many critics cite failures in leadership as the cause, the relief often results from toxic followership. This provides a warning for US Army leader development. When individuals build their leadership foundation on the sand, they will likely fail in the future.

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