Surviving Toxic Leaders
How to Work for Flawed People in Churches, Schools, and Christian Organizations

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 03/18/2011 by Mark Tubbs.

Recommended. Brief but helpful insights into a rogues' gallery of toxic leaders according to type, present even in Christian organizations.

In her book Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time, organizational thinker Margaret J. Wheatley laments that "in the past few years, ever since uncertainty became our insistent twenty-first-century [sic] companion, leadership strategies have taken a great leap backward to the familiar territory of command and control.” As Wheatley goes on to comment, recent recession and global conflict causes widespread and heightened anxiety. In this environment, toxic leaders can more easily gain ascendancy, whether they are intentionally toxic or not. It is about these leaders that Christian leadership guru Kenneth O. Gangel wrote his final book, Surviving Toxic Leaders.

Gangel perceived the need for a book of this sort upon reading Jean Lipman-Blumen's 2004 book The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians - and How We Can Survive Them. In Gangel's slim volume he does what Lipman-Blumen did not, and probably could not, do: incorporate biblical examples of both godly and toxic leadership. He begins where you might expect, by identifying and defining many different types of toxic leaders. Simply because leaders are Christians, he warns, doesn't means that they are "good people with pure motives and healthy souls." Ouch, but true. Since leaders cannot operate without people to lead (obviously), organizations are necessarily affected by toxic leaders. Whether or not the leader knows something is wrong with them is almost immaterial – "almost" because any leader, especially a Christian one indwelt by the Holy Spirit – is capable of being open to making core changes to themselves in an attitude of humility.

As one of the endorsers states, Gangel's lifetime accummulation of leadership literature is a highlight of the book. But there are other strengths: the godly admonition that staying put, not moving until you are forced to, is put forward as an ideal. To reiterate the old cliché, bloom where you are planted; try to effect change in your current place of employment. If you are a toxic leader, ignorance is not bliss and is no excuse for bad leadership. Incompetence can be cured, but leaders who are cruel bullies should must be resisted. Gangel marshals biblical examples, real-life situations, and relevant paragraphs from the literature of the discipline to underscore his points.

Unfortunately, there are mentionable weaknesses too. It's probably too short at 91 pages and its editing isn't as polished as I would like. Two jabs in bad taste eluded the editors and faulty, awkward syntax is noticeable in at least a dozen places.

In the end, Surviving Toxic Leaders is a valuable book, but isn't really a Christian substitute for Lipman-Blumen’s book, and should be supplemented with Peacemaking Women, Theory R Management, and/or Leading from the Second Chair, to name a few. Nevertheless, Gangel does succeed in what he set out to accomplish: ways and means of identifying toxic leaders, and how those suffering under toxic leaders can detoxify the leader, or the organization, or both.