The Problem With Toxic And Counterproductive Leadership Allegations

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The experienced attorneys at The Law Office of Jocelyn Stewart are accustomed to defending senior servicemembers against allegations of all kinds. While we are known for our victories at trial, we also resolve many cases early by proactively dealing with allegations during the investigation process. In recent years, many of our senior military clients have had to undergo command investigation for a topic that some may not recognize as misconduct:  allegations of poor leadership. This type of allegation should be taken seriously, as it can lead to adverse action and career-ending administrative decisions.

These claims are frequently referred to as “Toxic Leadership” or, more recently in the Army specifically, as “Counterproductive Leadership.” For a full explanation on the differences between these two terms, see How Does The Military Define Counterproductive Leadership and What Is Toxic Leadership. In general, “toxic” or “counterproductive” leadership is a term that essentially means bad leadership which hurts the military organization under that leader’s supervision. Although it need not cause an actual disruption to the mission, it could.

Allegations of “toxic” or “counterproductive” leadership are problematic for several reasons. For one thing, they are highly subjective, leading to the possibility that someone may make an allegation of misconduct because of how they FEEL about their leadership, and not because of what actually happened. The climate in the contemporary military is to cater to what people allege as their hurt feelings and sensibilities. Allegations of toxic or counterproductive leadership are also difficult to assess because they involve actions that may have been acceptable in the past or even common practice. Despite cultural acceptance of jokes and banter, complaints to the Inspector General’s office or certain responses on command climate surveys can lead to formal investigations.

Because of the broad definitions of “toxic” and “counterproductive” leadership, commanders and leaders now face the specter of a finding of misconduct from a command investigation. These findings can make a permanent impact on the future of a leader’s military career, particularly for field grade officers… even if no adverse action is taken by the command.

Just as with criminal accusations, an allegation of toxic or counterproductive leadership should be taken seriously. Because of the serious potential consequences, it is best to take a proactive mindset and treat the matter like being accused of a crime. Military command investigations tend to make the person facing allegations feel less stress because it is separate and apart from a law enforcement investigation. In these times, with less due process and rights, military administrative measures can be almost as lethal to a career.

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