Leadership

Avoid these two leadership styles


After working with a lot of different organizations over my career, I've learned that many people who run the executive suites and boardrooms are sick puppies. Emotionally and mentally, they are unhealthy.

Although there's no research that I've come across, my estimate is that many large corporations have people in very senior positions who are clearly not normal.

Now, as you, yourself, have probably figured out by now, a lot of individuals move up the organization chart because they're prepared to do what others will not. They show the decision-makers that they deserve to be promoted because they'll do things like: work 80-hour weeks, forego vacations, travel away from home routinely, take crappy jobs no one else could succeed in, and generally give the corporate bosses anything they ever asked of them.

As a leadership coach, I don't applaud or encourage this behavior. But if it works for them and doesn't hurt others, then so be it.

But some people in C-level or top executive roles do hurt others. And, making matters worse, their behavior and style is often copied by less-senior execs who think that they're modeling "appropriate" management style. In doing this, these copycats usually hurt themselves (both physically and emotionally) and often short-circuit their careers.

As a rule of thumb, modeling the successful behaviors used by the bosses is a pretty worthwhile move. That's because when one behaves as if they share the same values and style as the decision-makers, they often get promoted more quickly. The decision-makers assumed that the time required to develop these individuals will be less than for other managers who don't act the same as the bosses. The old adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," still pays off.

But what if the boss is a sicko? What if (s)he has a style, which, although it gets results, is not healthy for the long-term success of the company or those involved? In those situations, by modeling the boss, these folks are creating a company-wide culture as toxic as the guy or gal they're using for a style model. I'm talking specifically about bosses who are either narcissists or psychopaths.

Avoid these folks as much as possible. Do not use them as role models even if they appear to be successful and happy. If you don't take this advice, ultimately, it will hurt you.

But how can you recognize these people who may have good titles but unhealthy style? Here are a couple of tips from Paul Babiak, PhD and co-other of the book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work" to help you recognize them:

1. Psychopaths - "exhibit a strong charisma, charm, and sense of self worth. Many folks are attracted to these types because they are so charming, only to discover conning, manipulation, and deceit." When you discover that they are deceivers, move away as soon as you can. These people don't have the same emotions that you and I share. They will eat their young.

2. Narcissists - "in love with themselves, they believe everything revolves around them. Selfish, demanding and self absorbed, deep down they often have a lack of self-confidence and can't take criticism well." Although they're not cannibals, their unhealthy style usually results in a crash and burn outcome. But they'll blame you or someone else because they can't even contemplate that the reason for a failure is them. So you go down.

If you want to move ahead organizationally but think that you're in a company managed by either of these personality types; you've got to make a conscious decision regarding how much you are prepared to change your style to match theirs.

If you are prepared to act and manage like they do, recognize it will ultimately change the person you are. Otherwise you won't make it. If you are not prepared to change, then accept the fact that you need to get out while you are still clear headed.

And finally, accept that you won't succeed if you try to show a more enlightened style in this culture. But you may lose your true self if you're there long enough.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

30 comments
ridethewave22morrow
ridethewave22morrow

This word does apply here, but there is a more specific term - "sociopath" - that is more specific than psychopath, as psychopath is actually a bit more general of a word than the usage in this article suggests.

steve.weber.ctr
steve.weber.ctr

Worked for a psycho named Forgach in the Navy. Logged in some 130 hour weeks, in an old steam plant sailing through the tropics. Took me a long time to recover. Finally came up with a way to deal with it - I made up a definition for a forgach - that is what you are left with after you have been circumsized with a chain saw.

Shriks
Shriks

my manager has grown in position and responsibilities in leaps and bounds over the last 2 years. it is single, works 24x7 I am not sure how it spends its time outside of work but it seems to be the star attraction - yes it is good at its work, sharp to grasp, it seems - amongst the upper management but not so at its peer and lower level its boss, unofficially says that it has no people management skills, but it is a glib talker and has a very pressing tone when it talks, and cuts people off when they talk - so it seems to be the star amongst the upper mgmt but the upper mgmt itself cuts a very sorry figure when i see their interactions and i think my manager is taking full advantage of their limited abilities... it's coming to be 2 yrs for me now and not long after that here

jeff.smith
jeff.smith

We each have a style that works best for us. Someone mentioned servant leadership.... for this to truely work, the leader must be a servant at heart. So it's not up to an article to say that some behaviors are bad because even a well educated narcissists has redeeming qualities. Those are the qualities of understanding and running business. No one is perfect, including the author. Its up to your and I to imitate the people who's morals and business idea's are in line with our own. If your boss isn't the person you want to follow, you have control over your career.... change positions, jobs, companies.... find the job that fits YOU!

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

For a senior executive in a company led by one of these styles it often comes down to a decision about not only yourself but the people you brought into the company and others working for you. I have been at a company where my managers could not understand why I told them I expected them to work a reasonable amount of time, take their vacations and "get a life" outside of the office. Of the 9 managers I had when I started 5 years ago there are only 2 remaining. The others found it too confusing after having taken the abuse described above from my predecessor for 15+ years. The two remaining had struggled but are good people who wanted to do the best thing for themselves and the company. I, on the other hand, have found that I need regular doses of reality from professional organizations and other senior executives outside of the company from my past reminding me of who I am and what type of manager I always wanted to be when I started. It is a slippery slope to work in a company with even one senior executive with a personality described above, much less a company where most of the executives model their behavior after the CEO who enjoys both of the traits described above. I know I will not change the culture of my company. But I cannot abandon my staff that has worked so hard to change the culture in our department. Am I a sucker or what?

faiyazd
faiyazd

There is one more type - "Sadist", who enjoy being cruel.

mikifin
mikifin

One of the reasons that many companies off-shore is that they can get away with this type of abuse in other companies.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Unfortunately, there's a couple of high profile people who meet these descriptions. The woman running for the office of President of the United States clearly falls within the description of the first, with her husband falling partially in the second category. Like one of Raymond Feist's characters remarks, "Evil lies at the extreme of Chaos or the extreme of Order, good lies in the balance." Psychopaths and narcisists are at both extremes, they promote chaos with their arbitraryness and demand order that conforms to their vision only. Servant Leadership is an ideal when applied to everyone; from their bosses to the lowest of their subordinates. But servant leadership can also degenerate into a service before everyone else problem. The servant needs to establish boundaries and be able to say, "No"; else they will eventually end up working those 100+ hr weeks and having their people working there with them.

homesjc
homesjc

The industrial sociopath is alive and well and a common enough species. For your own health and well being at least find out about how they operate and you will find that the fault is in reality not with you. If encountered, steer well clear, and help workmates, friends etc to recover. Plenty written about that species. Unfortunately the species is often promoted well above their "Peter level???. got the scars to show the grand kids. John of Aust.

yourtreat2
yourtreat2

A healthy bit of information which few care about, and do their utmost to attempt to create their own personal mental block, so as to avoid ever thinking of, caring about, and generally giving a rat's a## about. (BTW. Thanks. Personally, it was refreshing to find the exceedingly rare none a**-kissing and (as society would prefer not to have it), sane individual, particularly within a profession in which the abundant lack of any social skills or graces not only "goes a long way", and is virtually a requirement for not only management, but those whom would seek to manage others.) While the profession is in no way unique in that those whom succeed are expected to embody basic anti-social personality traits, as a Psychology graduate, and very long-time Professional in what is currently often referred to as "IT" (and other similar abbreviations for what was known as "DP", I too, can personally attest to having worked within many large and small Firms, during my 26 years in DP, and would only "sum up" this lengthy comment by saying "Well done", regardless of it falling upon the deaf ears of those whom refuse to recognize it, but are entrenched in embodying these anti-social traits which they "enjoy" (absolutely no pun being intended).

bdskp
bdskp

I wish more managers/executives would take the "Servant Leadership" stance, which is defined one way as: "Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, Servant Leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. At heart, the individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power. The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement." Imagine working for a company where the managers embraced this. Imagine BEING a manager and embracing this. Watch productivity and employee happiness go through the roof. Just my opinion.

timsmith
timsmith

does "it puts the lotion in the basket"?

cjshelby
cjshelby

when you state that we all have different styles. No two people are alike. The real down side is that the folks described in the article will never, never admit that they are the problem. I've worked for one individual whom I have refered to as "The Antichrist". Thought his you-know-what didn't stink. This person would even go to the extreme of entrapping subordinates in an attempt to prove that they were inferior to him. The other problem is those people who will not stick up for themselves. Like George McFly in back to the future, they "can't handle confrontations" to coin a phrase. I watched numerous technicians work in my organization for a short time and then jump ship when they saw the size of the rats they had to deal with. I myself had too much time invested when "Damien" came along to simply (as some suggest) change jobs. It worked out eventually, and I took an oath to myself to never again tolerate the insanity of an individual like that again.

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

do the right thing. But I'm sure you will find success. I believe in kama... what goes around, comes around. Yup, hang in there.

chad_forte
chad_forte

I say that because you mentioned your employees a few times. I can tell from your post that you're trying to find a balance between the upper levels and those you manage. That is what a good manager does, and I would be happy working for a person like you. Hang in there, find a better place to work if you can, and appreciate the fact that your subordinates like working for you.

Mr L
Mr L

Did we really need a mini-diatribe and accusations of "psychopath" and "narcissist" tossed at a politician and a spouse in order to further a commentary on management styles within the workplace? Save your politics for an appropriate blogsphere.

AlphaW
AlphaW

As a manager I try to balance collaboration and expectations with getting things done on time. It is not servant leadership, but it is not all top down either, I try to be a mentor more than just another "boss". Some team members do better than others when you show them some trust, namely the ones that can work independently. Overall though our department seems to be much more productive than the rest of the company, and we do not have a lot of infighting. The important thing is that the people that work for me can tell me if I am going down the wrong path with a project. They often do, and I do not hold it against them.

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

yup, I totally agree with the collaboration approach. My ex-boss used it and I'm glad I had the chance to learn it from her. This is the approach I apply for my team, and I feel it is good as it encourages accountability and passion. Also, we are able to learn as a team, by sharing our knowldege and strengths with each other. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the done thing in my company - taking instructions and just doing appears to be standard practice... yes, of course, with that comes the unnecessary and endless overtime...

edematteo
edematteo

I agree with and have practiced the servant leadership style of management and it does have dramatic positive results on the overall attitude of those you manage. However, you also need to keep a sharp eye out for certain team members who can take advantage of the servanthood of others. Those are the future phychopath execs and you need to weed them out as fast as possible. They are a cancer to your organization.

Brazen1
Brazen1

Servant Leadership does have dramatic results. I've worked under it and practiced it first hand (never as a "boss" but in community leadership roles). Unfortunately, the people with an attitude for Servant Leadership are rare and even rarer that those people get promoted into management in a company.

Intellect Arsenal
Intellect Arsenal

True confessions time: I worked in an organization that endorsed these behaviors (and worse) following the long-awaited IPO, and I happily joined in. The results: - My 100+ hour weeks, often working (in management) for up to three days at a time without meals or visiting my home and family just 20 miles up the road. No, I am not kidding. - Team morale at an all-time low, though productivity remained high due to the very real dedication of the folks on the team - My divorce - My two ulcers in six months - A heart attack in my early thirties, despite otherwise good health and minimal excess weight - My (voluntary) departure from the very well-compensated position in the company, then leaving the company altogether, due to what used to be called a "nervous breakdown" and is now called an "adjustment disorder" - My eventual complete failure as a contributing member of society, at least for a time. Were it not for the unsolicited actions of my family, I would have become homeless and probably dead by my own hand. - The death by suicide of a member of my former team. So there you have it, and a true story at that. Through my corporate position and in my greed, I destroyed nearly everything of value to me, nearly took my life, and had a hand in the loss of a coworker. This is business become psychosis, and average people become monsters. This is the blood on my hands.

tuomo
tuomo

I'm not amazed that these types of people exist but that they are allowed to exist. In my long career in IT I have personally seen two large corporations literally going down after such persons were hired and given the power. And computer history is full of other examples. Another example, one of my friends got a CEO position in a global company which was if not (yet totally) failing but not going anywhere even they had good products, etc. In three months he figured out the problem, most of current management were there not for company, customers or employees but for themselves. Replace them - since five years they have been growing %20+ a year, getting more new customers, old customers returning and people in company, world wide, are voting it to be the best company to work. So, yes bad "leadership" exists, why they are allowed to exist is a mystery to me but the reality is, you can't fight them from down, they must be dealt from up. And don't even think to move with them, they have been there longer, obviously have the company support and if they even think you as a competitor you will be gone, and a bad way, try to get a recommendation from that company - forget it!

timsmith
timsmith

thank you, thank you, thank you ... for putting yet another (probably Republican) "e-heckler" in their place - - that crap doesn't belong here.

chad_forte
chad_forte

I've spent most of my career as a subordinate, but I've also had project management positions. My style was to relieve my workers of the pressure and administrative crap so they could focus on their duties. What I found is that management was more interested in what I was doing to "control" them, an what I could do to get more work out of them (even though our success rate was top notch). Pretty disappointing.

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

It is indeed nice that our team feels open to share their ideas and views with us. I'm really proud of it, and I can't imagine working any other way with my team. Sad to say though, there are some folks (thank goodness not in my team) who do need to be told what to do and when to do it, or they'll be happy just to sit around doing absolutely nothing. I'm not sure what drives them at all. It's really frustrating as you need to follow-up with them every step of their tasks! Perhaps they have their reasons which is beyond my comprehension. But I suppose they are partially the reasons these slave drivers exist? So you're right... it's important to know which approch works best for the people around us, and strike a healthy balance.

dmurashige
dmurashige

They should mention stories like this in business school.

hcetrepus
hcetrepus

Thank you for sharing. That should be in a book or blog somewhere, if it isn't already.

jonsaint
jonsaint

During the installation of a brand new printed circuit manufacturing facility in the 1980s, the management was completely stressed out. Some of their children attempted suicide. It quickly became a badge of commitment among the top leadership and those parents were promoted. How sick is that? Here's an appropriate reference from this morning's press, although I doubt the accolade given IBM in it. From the press I've seen more people left its ranks last year than were laid off. And the sample Q&A after the 15 % pay cut instructed spokesmen to say the employees were not upset. http://www.forbes.com/2008/02/15/recession-workers-employers-oped-cx_dks_0218recession.html?partner=yahootix

Ivy Clark
Ivy Clark

wow, I thought this problem only exists in Asia. Yea, very disappointing and discouraging, especially when the team's performance is already top notch.