Bad Apples, Bad Barrels, and Broken Followers? An Empirical Examination of Contextual Influences on Follower Perceptions and Reactions to Aversive Leadership

Open Access
Thoroughgood, Christian Noble
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
February 24, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Sam Hunter, Thesis Advisor
  • Samuel Todd Hunter, Thesis Advisor
  • Aversive Leadership
  • Dark-Side Leadership
  • Gender and Leadership
Research on destructive leadership has largely focused on characteristics of the leader thought to be responsible for harmful outcomes in organizations. Recent findings, however, demonstrate the need to examine important contextual factors underlying destructive leadership processes. As such, the present study examined the role of an organization’s climate and financial performance on subordinate perceptions and reactions (e.g. whistle-blowing behavior) to aversive leadership, a form of destructive leadership based on coercive power. Additionally, the present effort sought to determine whether such perceptions and reactions hold for all leaders, or if they vary depending on the leader’s gender. 177 undergraduate students from a large northeastern university completed an online survey after reading a series of fictional email exchanges between various members of a hypothetical organization. Twelve sets of emails, one for each study condition, depicted a fictional organizational situation involving an aversive leader and differed only in terms of the study’s three independent variables, leader gender, organizational climate, and organizational performance. Results suggest that aversive leadership, and destructive leadership more broadly, is a complex process resulting from the confluence of leaders, followers, and the organizational environment. By taking a follower-centric approach that focuses on important characteristics of the organizational environment and leader, it is our hope that the present research offers a more holistic perspective on destructive leadership. Theoretical and practical implications as well as future research directions are also discussed.