Chapter 13. Following Toxic Leaders
In Search of Posthumous Praise
Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the human condition, beset by our awareness that we all inevitably die, evokes both a terror and denial of death. In this chapter, I would like to build on Becker's insight by proposing that, to cope with our existential angst, most of us choose to live by illusions. We seek illusions that lull our existential anxiety, reassure us that we are safe, even convince us that we shall attain immortality, which, as Napoleon Bonaparte argued, exists only "in the memory in the minds of men." We might even think of immortality as posthumous praise. Our choice to live by illusions leaves us susceptible to dream merchants, who often appear in the guise of toxic leaders, leaders who leave us worse off than they found us.
This chapter draws and expands on several of my previous publications, including The Allure of Toxic Leaders. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005; "Toxic Leadership: When Grand Illusions Masquerade as Noble Visions." Leader to Leader, Spring 2005, pp. 29–36; "Our Existential Vulnerability to Toxic Leaders." In D. Liechty (ed.), Death and Denial: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Legacy of Ernest Becker. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002; and "Toxic Leaders and the Fundamental Vulnerability of Being Alive." In B. Shamir, R. Pillai, M. C. Bligh, and M. Uhl-Bien (eds.), Follower-Centered Perspectives on Leadership. Greenwich, Conn.: Information ...