Dysfunctional Leadership in the Public Service

Author: Luni Vermeulen


Dysfunctional leaders, habitually depicting narcissistic behaviour, are distressingly detrimental to the wellbeing of individual employees and an organisation in its entirety. To enhance the wellbeing of both individual employees and organisations at large, it is essential to understand the harmful consequences of dysfunctional leaders and to acquire knowledge on how to manage such leaders. This understanding depends upon mindfulness of their behaviour and an awareness of who they are. The article elucidates the characteristic traits of dysfunctional leaders based on their behaviour, which is often imprinted in a psychological origin. Self-Psychology Theory is used to delineate the psychological origin of the dysfunctional leader’s behaviour. As the underlying psychosomatic causes to leaders’ behaviour are often unheeded in Public Administration, the phenomenon of dysfunctional leadership is not approached from a traditional management perspective, but rather from a psychological standpoint. The research revealed conspicuous resemblances between the traits of a dysfunctional leader and that of a narcissist. The article also brings to the fore that the behaviour of dysfunctional leaders frequently leads to psychological distress amongst employees. Taking appropriate measures to deal with dysfunctional leadership can hold far-reaching constructive results, worthy of the wellbeing of both the individual employee and the organisation. In this regard, the article provides recommendations on managing dysfunctional leadership in an organisational context in the South African Public Service. The synthesis and findings of the research is based on theoretically grounded premises and the interpretation of conceptual perspectives from theory.


Keywords: Dysfunctional leadership, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, psychological origin, psychological distress, self-psychology theory.


Luni Vermeulen, PhD. Public Administration, Deputy Director: School of Government Studies, Faculty of Humanities, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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