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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Dark Leadership in 1 Kings (Academic)

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Dark Leadership in 1 Kings

Negative leadership is not merely positive leadership moving in a different direction. Rather, it is as comprehensive in its scope as positive leadership with various kinds of negative leaders employing various negative techniques to achieve various negative outcomes. Milosevic et al. have identified several different types of “dark leadership” including destructive, abusive, ineffective, and toxic leadership. All of the kings of Israel and Judah exhibit one or more of these dark leadership types to some degree. Merida reminds us that “the story of Kings shows us that every human leader has limitations.” Some examples of negative leadership traits in 1 Kings include King Rehoboam’s abusive leadership style, King Jeroboam’s toxic leadership style, and King Ahab’s ineffective leadership style.

King Rehoboam’s Abusive Leadership

Milosevic et al. describe abusive leadership as “display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, not including physical contact.” King Rehoboam meets this criteria based on his actions in 1 Kings 12. The nation of Israel asked for Rehoboam to lighten the burden of their financial support of the kingdom. After consulting with the elders and young men, Rehoboam told his subjects that he would add to their burden instead of reducing it and that he would beat them with scourges instead of whips (1 Kings 12:14-15, NKJV). This threat was abusive leadership because it was “intended to inflict harm for personal gain.”

Xia et al. state that victims of abusive leadership “tend to act unfavorably toward the organization” by “withdrawing organizational citizenship behaviors.” They also noted that “individuals have the tendency to attempt to restore their own autonomy by withdrawing their efforts and engagement at work when they encounter threatening situations.” Following Rehoboam’s threats, Israel withdrew their organizational citizenship by withdrawing to their tents and restored their own autonomy by separating from Judah, rejecting Rehoboam as king, and naming Jeroboam as the first king of a divided Israel. Their behaviors align with those Xia et al. identified as responses to abusive leadership.

King Jeroboam’s Toxic Leadership

Toxic leadership includes “efforts to separate people and limit productive interactions” in an attempt to “interfere with other’s ability to perform work.” Additionally, “toxic leaders are concerned with position of control and act to protect that position.” King Jeroboam exemplifies toxic leadership in his actions to keep his subjects, the northern kingdom of Israel, separated from their fellow Hebrews in Judah. Jeroboam goes through great lengths to keep Israel and Judah separated to maintain his own position of control (1 Kings 12:27). In fact, Jeroboam created his own similar (albeit false) religion including making golden calves as objects of worship, building shrines as locations of worship, established a non-Levite priesthood to facilitate worship, and ordained a religious holiday as a time for worship (1 Kings 12:28-33) to keep Israel separated from Judah and preserve his own power.

Webster et al. found that 76% of respondents identified manipulative behavior as a toxic leadership trait and cited creating conflict and use of deception among other examples of this manipulative behavior. Jeroboam created conflict by keeping Israel separate from Judah. He also attempted to deceive his subjects by establishing a false religion for them when he knew the truth about how to worship God. Through these actions, he manipulated his subjects for his own self-interest and consequently employed a toxic leadership style.

Earley states that toxic leaders prioritize results above and at the expense of everything else. In the case of Jeroboam, he placed his personal goal of remaining in power over and at the expense of Israel’s spiritual health and his personal relationship with God.

King Ahab’s Ineffective Leadership

The final example of dark leadership in 1 Kings in King Ahab’s ineffective leadership. The term ‘ineffective’ may seem inadequate when considering all Ahab’s evil deeds, but much of his wickedness happened on a personal level while he was quite weak as a leader. Merida describes Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, as the one who “wore the pants in the house” and 1 Kings 16:34 mentions Hiel of Bethel rebuilding Jericho, but King Ahab himself is merely present and passive during most of his reign. In fact, there is little, if any, strong leadership from King Ahab aside from 1 Kings 20, where Ahab briefly finds the courage to lead, and this seems to have happened near the latter part of his reign. Thus, Ahab very much fulfills Milosevic et al.’s description of the ineffective leader as one “who, although still occupying the leadership position, tend[s] to avoid making decisions and taking responsibility for the work.”

Itri & Lawson (2016) identify 13 characteristics common to ineffective leaders and several of these are present during King Ahab’s reign. Specifically, Ahab passed judgment, refused to admit personal failure, was unable to manage disruptive staff members, and lacked insight. These behaviors are evident throughout his reign, but are most notable in his interactions with the prophet Elijah and his wife Jezebel. With regard to Elijah, Ahab judged him to be a troublemaker and viewed him as the source of the kingdom’s problems (1 Kings 13:17). In this passing of judgment, Ahab also refused to admit his personal failures as the king who was leading Israel into destruction. In his dealings with Jezebel, Ahab was unable to manage her leadership and lacked the insight to understand just how wicked she was and how this wickedness darkened his reign. These characteristics further solidify Ahab’s status as an ineffective leader.

In conclusion, these dark leadership styles Kings Rehoboam, Jeroboam, and Ahab respectively, but they were certainly not alone as all the kings had their own problems. Their problematic reigns serves as reminder of human weakness and point to the need for a perfect, eternal King—Jesus.


Earley, P. (2016). Global trends and challenges for school leaders: Keeping the focus on learning. Journal of Educational, Cultural and Psychological Studies, 14, 21-33.

Holy Bible, New King James Version. (2020). Thomas Nelson (Original work published 1982).

Itri, J. N. & Lawson, L. M. (2016). Ineffective leadership. Journal of the American College of Radiology, 13(7), 849-855.

Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.

Milosevic, I., Maric, S., & Lončar, D. (2020). Defeating the toxic boss: The nature of toxic leadership and the role of followers. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 27(2), 117–137.

Webster, V., Brough, P., & Daly, K. (2016). Fight, flight, or freeze: Common responses for follower coping with toxic leadership. Stress & Health, 32(4), 346-354.

Xia, Y., Zhang, L., & Li, M. (2019). Abusive leadership and helping behavior: Capability or mood, which matters? Current Psychology, 38(1), 50-58.


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