Ethics is an important aspect of the life of any society because its consideration allows people to act in complex situations every day, bringing as little harm to others as possible. Such cases often involve medical issues because health care practitioners are obliged to suit the humanitarian needs of their patients, their relatives, and other stakeholders, which sometimes conflicts with the options of treatment or regulations. However, the sphere of ethics is applied in a significantly broader perspective, and one of the aspects that involve it is leadership and followership. Due to the structure of human society, in their workplaces, family life, hobbies, and so on, people enter the relationship with each other, becoming those who lead and those who follow. Leaders and followers may be formal or informal, but their choices sometimes involve solving ethical issues in the cases when outcomes consider the lives of their counterparts. This paper investigates the aspects of destructive leadership and followership by analyzing the corresponding models of the characters in the films The Truman Show and Arbitrage. Although both pictures involve different types of leader-follower relationships, they discuss serious ethical problems associated with the issue, and their accurate ethical analysis allows developing strategies to avoid these harmful practices. The performed research is useful for specialists in ethics in all fields because it reviews the aspects of leadership and followership in a broad ethical context, thus offering productive solutions to the stated problems.
Summary of the Films
Although The Truman Show and Arbitrage are two motion pictures from different periods of movie-making and genres, they raise similar ethical questions by discussing the reasons and outcomes of destructive leadership and the problem of followership. The first one is a fantastic drama that presents the life of Truman Burbank, a live television show superstar, who is not aware of the fact that he has been filmed since his birth (Rudin & Weir, 1998). In this film, the executive producer of the show, Christof, is depicted as God who has created Truman’s life and who tries to act as a kind and just person but fails because of narcissism and destructive leadership practices. The second film, Arbitrage, is a thriller drama that depicts a destructive leadership perspective through the eyes of Robert Miller, a businessman who arranges a fraud to avoid financial problems and imprisonment. Initially, Miller is depicted as a respectable man and a wonderful father and husband who has outstanding leadership qualities, and he is a trustful person overall (Bickford & Jarecki, 2012). However, it turns out that his risky business and family life are built on cheating, which saves him from the closest approaching problems but significantly increases their danger from a long-term perspective. Although Miller is lucky to manage his individual and the company’s troubles, his followers have a strong desire to leave him, whereas he is about to lose his daughter.
The Problem of Destructive Leadership
The phenomenon of leadership, as an individual’s role among many others, is mostly associated with positive aspects that allow inspiring one’s followers, motivating them to reach specific personal or collective aims. Scholars claim that it is difficult to give a single comprehensive description of this term because it embraces various leadership styles and qualities such as team engagement, goal achievement, organization, planning, coordination, and others (Elwell & Elikofer, 2015). However, in any case, the fact that defines leadership is that leaders engage in a specific relationship with followers for achieving short- or long-term goals for their enterprises and organizations. In the majority of the cases of such interaction, leaders practice positive behaviors, empowering their followers and improving their single and collective efficacy. The benefit of this approach has been proven experimentally by the exposure of the fact that positive leadership behaviors “predict context-specific and context-free well-being of the followers” (Kelloway, Weigand, Mckee, & Das, 2012) after their exposure to abusive leadership. At the same time, there are leaders who practice destructive behaviors and achieve success at least during a specific period of being in charge of the organization or department. Such cases are discussed in the films The Truman Show and Arbitrage by depicting the leadership characteristics of Christof and Robert Miller respectively. The analysis of their behavior demonstrates that their approach to leadership is slightly different, which by no means makes it positive for their followers.
Both destructive leaders, Christof and Miller, manifest indicators of having narcissism, and it is aggravated by a God complex, which makes the communication of the followers with them almost unbearable. Thus, in the case with Christof, the director of a television show believes that he is the creator of Truman’s world, claiming that he attempts to save Truman from the risky and dangerous modern world (Rudin & Weir, 1998). His personality is full of uncompromising narcissism, where his will should face no criticism, but it should be accepted as a benefit because he knows what is best. He cheats the countless spectators of the show around the world by stating that Truman is as close to him as a child, but is ready to kill this child. His major interest is revenues generated by the investors and partners, which is why he uses ‘godlike’ acting as a mask, but in actual life, he pressures his employees tremendously. Using them as tools for reaching financial goals, Christof ruins Truman’s budding relationship with his true love and creates a dangerous storm, almost killing Truman and intimidating him to refuse to quit the show (Rudin & Weir, 1998). In this film, a destructive leader poses himself as an icon of an altruistic person being selfish and cruel in actions that are hidden from the camera. Some scholars claim that narcissistic intentions are one of the causes of leadership because leaders have to feed their need for “power and prestige”, which is why many leaders are narcissistic (Stein, 2013). However, there is a borderline that distinguishes good narcissistic leaders from bad ones, where the first group of leaders does not abuse their followers, and the second one uses it as a critical component. As a result, there are the two groups of narcissistic leaders, constructive and reactive respectively, but even though they differ in character, “narcissistic leaders may be incubating problems that only become manifest at a later stage” (Stein, 2013). The example of Robert Miller in the film Arbitrage is the best demonstration of this aspect because the constant lie of the protagonist accumulates the problems and harms his followers.
In Arbitrage, the narcissistic personality and destructive leadership model of Robert Miller are revealed in the best way through his final dialogue with his daughter. During this conversation, he reveals the origin of the problems but states that he is the uncompromised ruler of the enterprise, where his daughter is only a servant, not a partner (Bickford & Jarecki, 2012). In fact, Miller uses a wide range of tools that can be attributed to destructive leadership. Among them are intimidation, lie, excuses, uncompromising delegation of the problems to the followers without explanation, and others. In this sense, Miller is more skilled than Christof, and from time to time, he is even considered more attractive because he attempts to compensate for his flaws. However, he measures this compensation by his individual system of values, which is money, and it is admitted by one of his troubled followers, Jimmy, who gets the money for saving Miller from the charge of involuntary manslaughter (Bickford & Jarecki, 2012). Therefore, Robert Miller seems to have no humanitarian values since he sees everyone as a tool used for the needs of his enterprise.
Both Christof and Miller are dark leaders that ‘cast shadows’ on their followers and demonstrate various types of destructive leadership behavior. The similar aspect of their leadership models is that they are pro-organizational because they value the life of their enterprises more than the needs of their followers and other stakeholders (Burke & Cooper, 2010). At the same time, the degree of their anti-subordinate behavior differs because Christof is even ready to kill a follower, whereas Miller sponsors his followers in order to reclaim his faults. Thus, Christof’s model is more of abusive and brutal supervision, whereas Miller’s approach to leadership is authoritarian, flawed, and health-endangering, with both of them being toxic, charismatic and narcissistic (Burke & Cooper, 2010). Both individuals practice toxic leadership behavior in a variety of ways when communicating with their followers. This type of leadership is defined as “destructive, disturbing, and dysfunctional acts of supervision that spread among members of the workforce” (Mehta, S., & Maheshwari, 2014). Among the characteristics of toxic leadership, experts name intimidation, bullying, manipulating, micromanaging, arrogance, and unethical behavior in general (Webster, Brough, & Daly, 2014). It significantly pressures the followers and accumulates a great degree of discomfort, which can be observed in both motion pictures. For instance, in Arbitrage, there are numerous indicators to show that followers of toxic leaders experience psychological distress, emotional harm, and physical health problems (Webster, Brough, & Daly, 2014). For example, both Brooke and her mother have arguments with Miller, after which the first woman attempts fighting her stress by physical exercising and the second one starts suffering from insomnia. More than that, some of Miller’s workers and associates express the desire to quit the enterprise because they are tired and they wish to have a quiet and peaceful life (Bickford & Jarecki, 2012). Thus, Miller’s employees are pressured so much that they demonstrate the indicators of burnout, approving the fact that destructive leadership behavior is a mediator of the follower’s burnout (Leiter, Bakker, & Maslach, 2014).
Disregarding the fact that the enterprise of the protagonist in Arbitrage was saved, in both films, leadership practices were dysfunctional because they caused individual troubles to diverse followers. For example, in The Truman Show, the major problem is the problem of free will, which is among the fundamental issues of numerous sciences (Searle, 2007). In this film, Truman is free to choose, but his freedom of choice is limited by the frames given by Christof, which is why his true love is excluded from the show, and this harms him emotionally and mentally (Rudin & Weir, 1998). Claiming that he cares for Truman, Christof takes away one of the basic human rights, which is the right to choose freely and decide what is best for him, thus putting his followers in a completely disadvantaged and dependent position. Similarly, saving Jimmy from his criminal past and having no contact with him since that case, Miller feels free to call Jimmy at the midnight and get him into trouble that leads to long-term imprisonment. Consequently, neither Christof nor Miller values the lives and destinies of his followers because both men have the goal of saving their organizations. Both individuals harm their followers by encouraging them to “pursue goals that contravene the legitimate interests of the organization and/or employing a leadership style that involves the use of harmful methods of influence with followers, regardless of justifications for such behavior” (Krasikova, Green, & Lebreton, 2013). At the same time, although the followers observe such behavior, almost no one of them resists the will of the leader, which is why there is a need in considering the role of the followers of a destructive leader.
The Followers of the Destructive Leaders
In the leader-follower dichotomy, the component of the follower is of the same importance as the leader because leaders can implement their strategies only if they have a subject of influence. The cooperation of leaders and followers impacts any transformative change (Everett, 2016), which is why followers represent a critical component of this dichotomy. Various leadership theories, such as authentic, transformational, inclusive, servant, and others, give special attention to the role of followers as validators of an organizational process. Moreover, scholars admit that disregard the role of the followers leads to misleading leadership practices that harm organizations (Hollander, 2012). In this respect, experts note that the definition of a follower as an individual who obeys orders is irrelevant due to complex ethical components and other aspects that distinguish conventional followership from its other types (Ryan & Currie, 2014). The analyzed films confirm that this borderline in the behavior of the followers exists and directly affects the leader and the organization. It is possible to satisfy the needs of followers in tangible and intangible ways that include support, fairness, and making them “being heard” (Hollander, 2012), but none of these tools are used by Christof and Miller. Both destructive leaders fail to implement these strategies correctly, relying mostly on autocracy and intimidation. In this sense, both organizational structures in The Truman Show and Arbitrage are linear and vertical-oriented, with only the leader on top as he uses his power to regulate his followers. It is evident from both films that such a relationship is counterproductive and it harms the organization because some of the followers do not agree with the leader and confront him. An interesting fact in this respect is that although Miller practices counterproductive leadership, which is not associated with organizational performance and goal-achievement (Thom-Otuya, 2012), he skillfully picks problem-solving followers to manage both organizational and personal issues.
In this sense, the examples from the films demonstrate the effect of toxic leadership on the properties of a group. It is experimentally proved that toxic leadership has a direct negative effect on group cohesion by deteriorating group productivity, group-organizational-trust, and commitment (Schmidt, 2014). These outcomes are mostly exposed in The Truman Show, where the predominant part of the followers observed the show and acted in it, with some individuals attempting to assist the protagonist. For instance, Truman’s beloved woman, Lauren or “Sylvia”, reached him several times and warned about the show, and some members of the former cast crew attempted to break into the show and spoil it as well (Rudin & Weir, 1998). In Arbitrage, such troubled followers are Miller’s daughter and wife, as they are tired of his lies, and they seriously oppose him, trying to cut his finances. These followers drastically differ from others, who are mostly passive, and hey either actively support their leaders or recognize completing their orders as organizational commitment. Experts subdivide these roles into “lost souls”, “bystanders”, “opportunists”. “acolytes”, and “authoritarians” (Thoroughgood, Padilla, Hunter, & Tate, 2012). Thus, the biggest part of the followers in The Truman Show is opportunists and bystanders because they have their job and daily duties, and they easily follow various manipulations. In Arbitrage, the followers mostly subdivide into “bystanding”, opportunistic, and authoritarian ones because they recognize the authority of Miller and either actively assist him or assist after feeling the emotional pressure. In this sense, the followers, who keep calm and obey the leader, are characterized as having a “positive role for followers”, whereas actively resisting followers are “rude” (Mohamadzadeh, Mortazavi, Lagzian, & Rahimnia, 2015). At the same time, in the case non-conformist and “rude” followers resist the actions of unethical and destructive leaders, their actions should be justified as to correct. Although they seem to be not committed to the organization, they are committed for the greater good of society, which is higher than the needs of a toxic leader or an organization. In both films, the organizations caused social harm, with the gigantic movie studio in The Truman Show being a prison for the protagonist and a hedge fund in Arbitrage being an object of fraud. Consequently, disobedient followers were more ethically concerned, and their actions could be justified as humanity-committed as opposed to organizational-committed. The positive effect of these followers on the organization is that they demonstrate the leaders that they can cast a shadow and harm the followers but also develop a more ethical behavior. In this sense, the actions of the non-conforming followers are value-oriented, which is positive for the organizations in a long-time perspective (Eisenbei? & Brodbeck, 2013).
Moreover, the actions of Miller’s wife indicate another issue that is harmful to destructive leadership, and it is self-destructive influences. Experts confirm that some adverse-acting corporate leaders demonstrate the indicators of corporate psychopathy, which involves large-scale frauds and other criminal issues (Boddy, 2016). Moreover, this example of Miller demonstrates that he seeks solutions for solving his problems, but he abuses the followers, using the absence of resistance behavior as an indicator of mutual agreement. Sometimes, the followers even admire him, although he has just bullied them, which is why the followers seem to be hypnotized by the charisma of a corporate psychopath due to his brave behavior. This fact confirms the theoretical background that toxic leaders tend to present the unethical goals as virtuous rather than vicious ones, which misleads the followers (Haslam, Reicher, Millard, & Mcdonald, 2014). However, he has no choice of other decisions because of being trapped by his own lies, which the predominant part of the followers fails to explore. As a result, dark side leadership also harms the leaders because of the accumulated pressure and ethical disparities (Spain, Harms, & Wood, 2016) that are observed by some of the non-conforming followers who attempt to assist the leader. In this respect, scholars recognize that some followers experience problems of balancing between loyalty to their superiors and ethical conduct (Reed, 2015). Thus, in both movies, the majority of them recognize and admire the talent of their toxic leaders, which shows the theory in action. Partially, this may be the result of the fact that these leaders seem to demonstrate behavior that originally “is not intended to be harmful” (Peus, Braun, & Frey, 2012). As a consequence, there is a probability that the major part of the passive and committed followers continues to believe in the initial state of things, although they have become drastically different. In contrast, non-conforming followers represent a power that can balance the leaders’ actions and make them more ethically correct and just. The problem invalidating this positive change is that the enterprises in films have been built on lies, which is why it is impossible to fix them. In the case of Arbitrage, a destructive leader has the closest partner and a friend, who seems to be the most knowledgeable person with many contacts, which allows the leader to solve even the most critical situations. Apparently, Miller’s relationship with this follower is the most productive one, and it does not involve the aspect of toxicity due to the fact that the association of friendship and leader-followership dichotomy is beneficial for the leader, the followers, and the organization (Laustsen & Petersen, 2015). Therefore, it would be possible to avoid problems in leadership and followership if both leaders in the films practiced a more friendly relationship even though remaining toxic. However, narcissism and a God complex do not allow validating this change. Consequently, The Truman Show and Arbitrage demonstrate a complex harmful impact of destructive leadership on various levels, ranging from the individual and his family to enterprise and business relations.
Summarizing the presented information, the films The Truman Show and Arbitrage are excellent examples of destructive leadership behavior that harms the followers and leaders themselves. In both motion pictures, the protagonists are the toxic leaders with narcissism, a God complex, and authoritarian features in their leadership behavior. This behavior is drastically counterproductive because it puts their enterprises at risk and harms diverse stakeholders. The predominant part of these stakeholders is the followers who bear conformist features and continue serving their leaders despite being the witnesses of unethical behavior. Thus, in The Truman Show, the protagonist is a victim of Christof, the creator of the show who recognizes himself as the creator of Truman’s life as well, thus restricting his freedom of choice. Similarly, in Arbitrage, Miller put the lives of his various followers at risk when feeding his selfish needs and attempting to cover up a previously organized financial crime. Therefore, both films actualize theoretical knowledge about destructive leadership and show their real-life effect, which harms followers and leaders themselves because of their individual and professional flaws.