What is it about?

Toxic leader behaviors can “trickle down” to affect the actions of employees at lower organizational levels. But not all abused supervisors abuse their own subordinates, Why not? Just as some parents abused as children resolve to “do right by their own kids,” some abused supervisors disidentify with their abusive managers. They psychologically distance themselves from their bosses and were proud to be nothing like them. When supervisors disidentify with their manager, those who experienced abuse demonstrated more ethical leadership behaviors than those who weren’t mistreated. This effect was strongest among supervisors supervisors who relied on their morals and integrity—what researchers refer to as having a strong moral identity.

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Why is it important?

Workers can inoculate themselves from the abuses of their supervisor through disidentification, which can lead to more ethical and less abusive behavior. Leaders who experience abuse from their manager should know that their boss’s leadership style doesn’t have to define their own. One silver lining from having a toxic boss is that you can learn how not to lead.

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This page is a summary of: Breaking the cycle of abusive supervision: How disidentification and moral identity help the trickle-down change course., Journal of Applied Psychology, October 2018, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/apl0000360.
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