Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

George E. Reed, PhD, Chair; Fred J. Galloway, EdD, Member; Robert Jeffrey Jackson, PhD, Member


administrators, cadets, employee cynicism, leader effectiveness, Leadership studies, managers, organizational cynicism, Psychology and leadership courses, toxic leadership styles, United States Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO)


Employee cynicism within organizations has become a well-cited topic in the last several years (Caldwell, 2007; Chaloupka, 2001; Kanter & Mirvis, 1989). Within multiple industries, organizational leaders have claimed that cynicism is a factor in employee burnout, emotional exhaustion, and turnover, and that it directly and adversely affects organizational citizenship behavior, commitment, and organization effectiveness (Abraham, 2000; Anderson & Bateman, 1997; Bedeian, 2007). Despite such claims, very little empirical research has been done on the antecedents of employee cynicism, and the influence of leadership behavior on employee cynicism. This study attempted to fill gaps in the research by examining the relationship between perceived toxic leadership behaviors, leader effectiveness and organizational cynicism. Using descriptive and inferential approaches, this study analyzed data from three separate scales: Cynical Attitudes Toward College Scale, Toxic Leadership Scale, and the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Data from these scales, along with demographic data from the participants, were collected through an online survey from 285 cadets enrolled in psychology and leadership courses at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO between February and May 2013. Results suggest that a relationship exists between toxic leadership styles and cynicism in an organization. Specifically, the study found strong evidence to suggest that Academy cadets who perceive their commanding officer to have higher levels of toxicity on any of the five dimensions: abusive supervision, authoritarian leadership, narcissism, self-promotion, and unpredictability, tend to be more cynical about their organization. In addition, of the five toxic leadership dimensions, self-promotion was the best predictor of organizational cynicism. Finally, contrary to expectation, study results found no evidence to suggest that effective leadership moderates the relationship between organizational cynicism and toxic leadership. The findings in this study offer empirical evidence in a unique military context that perceived toxic leadership styles may be critical antecedents in the formation of organizational cynicism. Given the pernicious impact of cynicism, implications from this study suggest that managers and administrators of organizations should purposefully examine the leadership development, training and opportunities presented to its people in order to stem the tide of undesirable (toxic) behavior among its leadership.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies