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Conceptualizing leadership psychosis: the Department of Veteran Affairs scandal

Alejandro Rodriguez (College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, University of Texas Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)
Alvin Brown (School of Urban and Public Affairs, University of Texas Arlington, Arlington, Texas, USA)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 8 February 2016




This paper argues that “lack of leadership” is not an accurate descriptor for dysfunctional leadership. It proposes that some leaders fall into a type of dysfunctional performance when faced with the high and often conflicting organizational demands characteristic of the interdependent and rapidly evolving challenges of the twenty-first century. It calls this dysfunction “leadership psychosis.” The purpose of this paper is to offer a four-stage conceptual definition of leadership psychosis.


Based on a review of the literature central to leadership psychosis, namely, transformational, authentic, and transactional leadership theories, the paper discusses the conceptualization of leadership psychosis as it progresses through four increasingly dysfunctional stages.


It identified four increasingly dysfunctional stages of leadership psychosis grounded on the literature review central to transformational, authentic, and transactional leadership theories.

Research limitations/implications

Transformational and authentic leadership theories are a nuanced development of the discarded trait theories of leadership. So it is fair to argue that leadership psychosis falls into the same criticism given that psychopathic leaders’ behavior can be seen as rooted in some personality trait. Measuring psychopathic leaders’ behavior will be an impressive challenge.

Practical implications

It suggests replacing “lack of leadership” with a better descriptor of organizational dysfunction: leadership psychosis.

Social implications

It calls attention to the rise of the organizational psychopath to leadership positions in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.


Leadership psychosis is introduced as a new construct to explain dysfunctional leadership.



Rodriguez, A. and Brown, A. (2016), "Conceptualizing leadership psychosis: the Department of Veteran Affairs scandal", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 14-31.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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