Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

3 Exploring the impact of poor or weak leadership

In Section 2, you considered different types of poor leadership. Here, you’re going to look at the potential impact of that leadership.

A pane of glass with cracks radiating out following the impact of something at its centre.
Figure 3 Poor leadership can be shattering.

Activity 3 Impact of poor leadership

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Think of a time when you felt demotivated. Could your leader (manager, supervisor, team captain etc.) have done anything to change how you felt? What could they have done? What could you have done yourself to change the situation? Summarise your thoughts here:

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Demotivation is a common result of poor leadership, but there are opportunities for a leader to do something about it. For example, acknowledging the demotivation and taking steps to boost morale is a good start. You’ll learn more about motivating teams in Week 6.

Did you have any ideas about what you could have done yourself to change the situation? Giving your leader appropriate and constructive feedback can lead to a positive outcome for everyone.

In extreme circumstances, e.g. bullying or harassment, you may require support from your Human Resources team.

The impact of poor leadership can be felt in many ways across an organisation. In their meta-analysis of destructive leadership, Schyns and Schilling (2013) propose a framework made up of four concepts:

  1. Leader related
    • Followers show resistance towards a destructive leader e.g. ignoring requests
    • Followers lose trust in the leader
  2. Job related
    • Job satisfaction diminishes as the environment becomes less pleasant
    • Followers become less dedicated or motivated
  3. Organisation related
    • Commitment reduces as followers feel the organisation has failed to protect them
    • Productivity and turnover is affected
  4. Individual follower related
    • Followers experience stress and there is a negative impact on well-being
    • Followers reduce their efforts, leading to poor performance

You can see from this framework that the impact of negative leadership can have profound consequences for everyone involved.

Activity 4 Case study

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Read this case study:

Lucy was a Head of Department in a school. She was an effective leader with a dedicated and successful team and a strong relationship with the Headteacher.

After a few years, the external context started to change. The school came under pressure to obtain better results and the increasingly stressed Headteacher started to change his approach. Instead of supporting and encouraging Lucy, he started to make unrealistic demands of her and her team.

As Lucy had a strong relationship with the Headteacher, she resisted his demands and repeatedly argued the case for a different approach. He disagreed and became increasingly autocratic, telling her what to do and how to do it, and criticising work that he had previously been happy with. She felt she had no choice but to follow his instructions.

When she communicated his demands to her team, Lucy met with resistance. She represented her boss’s vision as enthusiastically as she could, despite her misgivings, but the team could see she lacked her usual conviction. They interpreted this as Lucy losing interest and not fighting their corner, and started to lose their respect for her. Eventually, many of them became demotivated and critical.

Lucy started to lose confidence. As a result, she communicated less with her team and became increasingly intimidated by her boss, which only increased his frustration. She felt she had lost the support of both the Headteacher and her team and she eventually left the school.

In the box below answer the following questions:

  1. Was the Headteacher a destructive leader?
  2. What could Lucy have done differently?
  3. How might Lucy have maintained the motivation of her team?
  4. Might members of the team have viewed Lucy as a destructive leader?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


There are many different circumstances that can lead to destructive leadership. In this case, increasing pressure was causing the Headteacher to behave destructively. A lack of emotional intelligence also meant he didn’t see the impact that his behaviour was having on Lucy.

Lucy could have been clearer with her team about her efforts to counter his demands, and a discussion about ways to convince him, incorporating ideas from the team, could have been beneficial.

She might also have enlisted support from other Heads of Department or consulted with Human Resources advisers to explore whether his behaviour was appropriate. School governors or the local authority could also offer support.

Members of Lucy’s team might have viewed her leadership as ‘incompetent’, based on their assumptions about the circumstances.

In Activity 4, you’ve started to consider ways you might mitigate the impact of poor leadership. You’ll explore these ideas in more detail in the next section.