JLBC: Leadership

JLBC: Leadership

Wherever a leader appears to be detached from the responsibilities of their position, there is a reasonable chance they have become derailed.

The normalization of deviance

While negative leadership generally arises because of individuals' flawed values or priorities and the unique pressures of the context, such behavior can also occur when the norms and values of the organization have slipped into negative or unethical territory. Known as the normalization of deviance, this process occurs slowly and is therefore not apparent to those with the power to prevent it. As relatively benign behavior gradually evolves into more dangerous or high-risk activities, bystanders unwittingly collude with the process because they are led to believe it is harmless and 'normal.'

The unethical leader

Underlying the different ways negative leadership is represented in the military is a failure of personal ethics. JLBC Cadets Knowing the difference between right and wrong in a specific situation requires considerable ethical wisdom. Ethical wisdom can never be assumed; organizational values and ethics must continuously be modeled and reinforced.

A truly unethical leader is a person who knows something is ethically wrong but goes ahead with an adverse decision anyway. Such choices take followers down a dark path and risk their engagement in acts that violate their ethical values and those of the organization. To demand such a compromise from one's people without just cause fits the criterion of an unethical act.


When leaders use their authority or influence in such a way that risks the integrity of the organization and the welfare of their people or appears to be predominately self-serving, they have become hostile leaders. While negative leader behavior generally reflects flaws in the values or personality of the individual, it is clear that situational factors can also increase the risk of a leader following a negative path. The consequences of such behavior can be significant within organizations, but even more so within a military context where personal sacrifice is often a requirement of service.


Leadership theories are emerging in the post–World War I period focussed on the leader's possession of necessary personal qualities. This approach assumed that leaders shared some standard list of traits that could be identified and conveyed, through training or development, to others. The emphasis shifted from inner qualities to observable behaviors after World War II.

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