This leadership style can be a killer

Managers who don't "fit in" properly. What if the real problem is the organization's leader, and not the manager?

Ever wondered about your "fit" in an organization?  Perhaps you've been troubled by the ethics - or the lack of ethics - at your place of employment?  If so, give some thought to the following definition taken from

Path.o.log.ical - adjective; caused by or evidencing a mentally disturbed condition: for example a pathological liar, 2. dealing with diseases: a pathological casebook.

There are pathological people in many places, doing many things every day. In some instances, they don't really cause a lot of harm or damage except to themselves. But if they have a role with power, they can exact a demanding toll on individual people as well as entire organizations.

Pathological leaders create pathological environments. One of the ways they accomplish that is by rewarding others with thoughts and behaviors similar to their own.  Such characteristics often involving lying, a winner-takes-all approach, a lack of regard for the human impact of their actions, selfishness and grandiosity.

Before establishing Business Success, in the earlier part of my career, I worked in an organization that was run by a pathological CEO.  I didn't know that he was at the time, but I did know that I didn't like him or respect how he operated.  And, because I feared that I'd have to change (become more like him) in order to succeed in that environment; I got out as soon as I could.  Afterwards, when I had moved into a healthier place, I was soon struck by just how cynical I had become earlier.  Changing employers probably saved my health (mental and physical), my marriage, and perhaps my soul.  I was lucky that I'd moved away from that pathological boss and environment.  Some friends who stayed there were in some cases destroyed before they were ultimately fired.  Their careers were in tatters.

Since then, I've come across many pathological leaders.  There is no easy and quick way to spot them.  They come in many sizes, shapes and forms - both genders, and all ages.  But I have found that, pretty often, they show similar management approaches.  If you're wondering if the place you work may have a pathological boss, ask yourself if you see any (or all) of these: 1. There's nothing wrong with this place that more of me couldn't fix. This is the hero complex, where the person is so confident that (s)he know exactly what is required and the others in the company are bozos.  When in a role of absolute power, this boss is dangerous and may be inclined to a winner take all approach to every decision and action.  He or she will nuke those in their way - even if they were once loyal to each other. 2. Keep the troops worried about their jobs and they'll work much harder. This approach is predicated on their belief that "happy workers are lazy workers."  The smarter ones may talk the talk about such things as benefit programs or employee morale, but behind closed doors, or over a couple of drinks, they're likely to show their true colors.  They have little respect for others who haven't reached the same level of "success" as they have, and those people are treated accordingly. 3. Always surprise your team by doing the unexpected. Pathological leaders often go out of their way to ensure that nobody can read them. These types fundamentally believe that predictability in any matter is a sign of weakness. They love to sprout warrior homilies (Quotations of Karl von Clausewitz is a fave) and love the idea that competitors are the enemy, to be defeated at all costs. I've found that can be a signal that they are prepared to be just as tough internally too. 4. PR is important for the company, (as long as it's all about me). Under the guise of building awareness and interest in their organization or its products; the boss will go out of his/her way to gain personal exposure in industry or even general media.  They may not be obvious about their lust for glory.  In many cases you may hear them say things like, "I hate doing this press stuff but it's a part of the job."  But watch how they react when another person in the organization, or a competitor gets some good publicity - that's a giveaway. 5. Management by fiat, with a clear threat. Although many are smooth about how they direct the place, in their hearts, pathological leaders are all about "I know what needs to be done. You just do what I tell you. Or else accept the consequences."  But making an easy "read" about their style a bit harder is that they can go the other way too. They may be very generous with promotions and raises in some cases.  Unfortunately, those people are usually suck-ups and brown-nosers and the business or organization ends up with a bunch of people who behave in similar but not-very-healthy ways. Not great for the success of the company or anyone else who is trying to do a good job.

If any of these sound too close to home, it may be time to dust of the resume.

Here's to your future!



John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, 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...

Editor's Picks