Forms of Destructive Behaviors in Organizations
by Abdel Abuisneineh, PhD candidate, Concordia University Chicago
August 2014

        This paper discusses three prominent forms of destructive behaviors in organizations and briefly describes methods to curb the malignant behaviors. The paper is not meant to be specific about one form of behavior being more or less important than the others. The prominent forms to be discussed here are: Illegal activities, destructive conflict, and pathological leadership.


Illegal Activities

        Breaking the laws and rules, particularly business laws, is perhaps the most flagrant destructive behavior in organizations.  Organizations operate in environments that govern their activities to protect the interests of various stakeholders, including stockholders, government, officers and employees, customers, as well as the environment.

        Areas where laws are mostly violated by organizations include accounting and finance as well as safety. Many of the “well known” companies that declared bankruptcy were found guilty of violating accounting and tax laws and reporting rules. This includes Enron, MiniScribe, Finova, Bausch & Lomb, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, HealthSouth, Marsh & McLennan, Tyco, and many more.

        Besides the hefty penalties and asset seizure that these organizations incur as a result of cooking books and using fraudulent accounting and tax procedures, using illegal activities to transact business can affect the morale of the employees and their attitudes to their organization. Spreading an aura of fraud in the organization can lead to reduction in loyalty and productivity.

          Committing illegal activities can also be found in organizations that deliberately avoid safety guidelines, or simply fabricate experimental safety results. Examples of such illegal activities are abundant in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries. “A pooled weighted average of 1.97% … of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices,” (Fanelli, 2010, n.p). The pharma industry “has paid more than $30.2 billion in civil and criminal penalties to the US and state governments and continues to face more allegations of wrongdoing,” (Kelton, 2013, n.p.)

        Another illegal set of activities is related to labor laws. Discriminatory treatment of employees, wrongful termination, unsafe work environment, and harassment can put organizations under great legal and civil liability. Besides all other negative impacts that legal breaches can cause to the organization, breaking these laws can also adversely impact labor morale. Discrimination and harassment at workplace injure workers, promote poor morale, decrease work productivity, and render the organization vulnerable to costly litigation losses of valuable money, time, energy, and even good workers. Gluck (n.d.) argued that the people who are “discriminated against may feel such strong resentment and loss of self worth that they resort to destruction as a way to get back at the discriminatory employer or coworkers. Destructiveness may manifest itself as physical violence against others, destruction of property or propagation of malicious rumors about people in the company and the company itself,” (n.p.)

        Educating managers and leaders of the legal framework, including the consequences of illegal activities, of the areas of their work is a key step to prevent illegal activities. Also, providing organization members with the proper mechanisms to speak out and report any violation, encouraging staff members to speak out and to report violations, and rewarding those who report the violations are key factors in eliminating legal breaches. Finally punishing those who attempt to cross the red lines can provide a reasonable expectation for those who think about breaking the laws and rules, or get tempted to do so.


 Destructive Conflict

        “It is important to differentiate between substantive [productive] conflict and affective (destructive) conflict, which is centered on the personal relationship between group members,” (Johnson, 2015, p. 287). Substantive conflict is constructive conflict that produces a number of positive results such as better reasoning of things, phenomena, people, relationships, etc. Personality based conflicts can lead to negative results including creating hostility and hostile environment.

        Conflicts among members of the same organization can come as a result of organizational members’ shift of focus, from the focus on organizational interests to the focus on goals and agenda of self, family, or friends. With that attitude prevailing in the organization “conflict of interests” triumph; at which point the organization has arrived to a serious ethical cliff, one that organization members are even not identifying “the least moralistic of all the forms of unethical conduct in business: the conflict of interest,” (Jennings, 2006, p. 177.)

        The Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.) defined conflict of interest as one that “exists when two or more contradictory interests relate to an activity by an individual or an institution. The conflict lies in the situation, not in any behavior or lack of behavior of the individual. That means that a conflict of interest is not intrinsically a bad thing,” (n.p.)

        Jennings (2006) suggested that combating harmful conflicts comes after acknowledging the existence of conflict of interests, creating “definitive conflicts policies and enforce the rules… [and not to] waive your conflict policy,” (p. 202.)


Psychopathological Leadership

        Sheard,  Kakabadse, and  Kakabadse (2013) identified four types of destructive leaderships: Deluded, Paranoid, Sociopathic, and Narcissistic. Why some leaders are inspiring while others are destructive? Kakabadse, and Kakabadse (2013) think that in “large part it boils down to the choices they make, and the behaviours they adopt. The worst believe they are special, entitled to more positive outcomes in life than others, that they are more intelligent than they actually are, and better in their exertion of power and dominance than others,” (n.p.) Politically savvy, successful leader “requires relatively low ego needs. One who is truly savvy takes greater satisfaction from achievement than from getting all the credit,” (DeLucia, 1999, p. 133.)

        Those bigger-than-life individuals need to be avoided and not hired. For existing personnel that consider themselves “iconic”, Jennings (2006) suggested that people in charge must always “question the iconic…. conduct in personal lives matters,  [and to] curb your CEO,” (p. 136.)



        DeLuca, J.R. (1999). Political savvy: Systematic approach to leadership behind-the-scenes. Berwyn, PA: Evergreen Business Group.

        Fanelli, D. (2009). How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. Retrieved on 8/5/2014 from

        Jennings, M.M. (2006). The seven signs of ethical collapse: How to spot moral meltdowns in companies… Before it’s too late. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

        Johnson, C.E. (2015). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting lights or shadow. Los Angelos, CA: Sage.

        Kakabadse N. and Kakabadse, A. (2013). How to spot a destructive leader. Retrieved on 8/5/2014 from

        Kelton, E. (2013). Is big pharma addicted to fraud?. Retrieved on 8/5/2014 from      


        Office of Research Integrity of the US Department of Health and Human Services (n.d). Retrieved on 8/5/2014 from

        Sheard, A.G., Kakabadse, N., and  Kakabadse, A. (2013).  Destructive behaviours and leadership: The Source of the shift from a functional to dysfunctional workplace? International Journal of Social Science Studies, vol. 1(1). Retrieved on 8/5/2014 from

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