Leadership

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 Dictionary.com:

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 Coach.net, 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

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...

19 comments
rsbrux
rsbrux

If you want to convince me you've overcome your cynincism, you'll need to come up with a few more reponse options to your poll!

miscviewer555
miscviewer555

article is crap, not related to IT, its related to management and psychology, not complete , out of context, info inaccurate, research ASPD for 5 or 10 years before talking on the subject or leave it to the psychologists.

pfarrjam
pfarrjam

This is a good post, and I have to admit to all concerned that I'm in a company where they actively attempt to prevent this behavior. I say it absolutely is about leadership because it's really about bad leadership, or more correctly the superior application of management and politics. I come from a background of 13 years in the active duty Air Force and 5 years in the Air Force Reserves, and from that experience I learned what true leadership looks and feels like. I can't say I've always experienced good leadership, but at least we all knew the standard for leadership and could spot a good leader when we met them. Now that I've been in the corporate sector for over 11 years I can also say I've seen many examples of both good and bad managers. I draw a specific distinction between leaders and managers and ask others to do the same. Managers focus on "things" and leaders focus on "people". Managers want things to run and work better through measurement and control, and leaders want people to work better to acheive growth, mastery, and fulfillment. Using management techniques on people creates the situation described here - devaluation, frustration, mistrust, and complacency. The unfortunate bad news is management skills are easy for most people because the quantification and dehumanization is easy to do. True leadership is difficult, and that is why we see so few true leaders in the corporate world. I've struggled in my company to reconcile my inner leadership training and needs with the political CYA mentality of my superiors (who are supposed to be leaders), and my teams are likewise challenged in an environment where ad-hoc management and ambiguity are the norm. My response has been to apply my leadership skills to the betterment of my team and strive to be a center of excellence in the midst of a maelstrom of mediocrity. So far the results have been good, and I'm letting the results of my team speak for themselves. My boss doesn't like that I regularly challenge him, his authority, and his assumptions but what can he do when I'm saving money, delivering results, and basically making him look good? It sounds like many of you have settled for the status quo and accepted the situation, either letting yourself be cowed by the pressure or just walking away in frustration only to take up another job with much the same personalities and disorders. When will you take charge of the situation and learn to effectively manage up? Those pathological leaders only have as much influence over you as you give them, and you are the only person responsible for taking a job at the crappy companies you work for. Pathological leaders prey on victims, so don't be a victim.

dbecker
dbecker

This is about mental disorders: Specifically, narcissism, psychopaths and sociopaths. It is not managment or leadership. It is about abnormal psychology and distorted perceptions. And from the previous observations, corporations, institutions of higher learning and government agencies want this kind of person running things. This is not news. Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert Hare related that many corporate officers they interviewed *wanted* psychopaths to work for them because it was just the sort of person to get the work done for them. [And the authors noted that the corporate managers wanting psychopaths were fools and didn't know enough about the topic.] The conventional wisdom of those writing and speaking about leadership and management blithely ignore the realities of the grossly inappropriate behavior of the aggressively arrogant. They begin with the premise that people want to do what's best for the organization in the first place without even acknowledging the depth and breadth of destructive self-interest. Dr. Albert Einstein observed that you have to use a higher plane to resolve a problem than the one that got you into a problem in the first place. Dr. Phil's declaration that emotions got you into the problem and you have to use emotions to get yourself out of the problem is clearly wrong, and he contradicts himself by going on to explain about how logic and self-discipline are the only way to get yourself out of the emotional problems that you created for yourself. What we should be able to agree on is that such people are fundamentally psychologically and spiritually sick. Furthermore, they don't see themselves as the center of the problems they create. They are oblivious. For example, on the Dr. Phil show, a husband was a total control freak jerk -- it was obvious to his wife and children all along and to the audience, but he had no clue. By the end of the exercise, he had a vague notion that something was wrong with him and said he wanted to change, but it was also clear that the road to change was certainly not clear to him and was probably not the path he would ultimately take. Our society, as pointed out, rewards jerks in positions of power. To those above them, and in many cases, their peers, they are the epitome of what management should be. They are perceived to get results. Their subbordinates -- not so much. They see the reality behind the manufactured fantasy that the lazy are all to quick to embrace. There are several approaches to this problem for those suffering under this regime. The first most obvious, and the one most offered here, is find another environment and hope like anything it will be marginally less dysfunctional. Another approach, and the one offered in "Snakes in Suits", is to hunker down, do your job, document everything and pretty much stay out of sight. The problem with this scared rabbit approach is that if you come to the notice of the panderer of self as center of the Universe, there will be no escape for you. You will be the mouse in a privately entertaining miserable cat and mouse game. The collateral result is your slipping away into insanity. Then there is the approach that I take: Divine Intervention. To me, faith is the only answer. Vengeance is God's -- He will repay -- with a flair for the dramatic. My experience is generally these come not out but by prayer and fasting, and sometimes not even then. I think of it as the natural selection to clear out the shallow end of the spiritual gene pool. Be warned in any event: Experience suggests that your options are limited and if you are expecting empowerment by revolt or stealth, you should be aware that you are dealing with a superior power and a very warped and oft superior intellect of a perverse sort. Do take care. And do keep documentation. And remember, as far as your peers are concerned, you are on your own because they aren't going to risk their own self interest.

PoppaTab
PoppaTab

I worked for a company where the owner fit #2 (possible pun). He was only happy when everyone had a fear reaction when they had to deal with him. I stayed there 3 years out of stubbornness. The company top and bottom lines had a steady down turn each year and failed a few years after I left. His father owned the company and he took over after his father's death. The father was well respected and the son was always a punk who could only get respect from fear. He was a real case.

Foggier
Foggier

We (and by "we" I mean at least the media-perceived "we") idolize these leaders! The Donald Trumps! If one feels one is "executive material" one usually has the "self confidence" (read "ego") to be just one of this type of executive. "Ruthless" might be a good description. And guess what? They move up, become the CEO thru politics and intimidation (thereby setting the standard), get the big money and prestige--and become the idols of the wanna-bes. I'm afraid it is a self-pertetuating, incestuous situation. Executives promote people like themselves (they are, after all, obviously the best--look where they are!). I don't know what is taught in business schools, but if leadership or management is taught, it is either a "pat" course or simply disregarded. Certainly the people I'm discussing would disregard it as irrelevant. I don't know how, in the real world of business, one can survive without an ego that supersedes "book-learned" management/leadership. It's like politics: you cannot avoid interacting with others of your ilk, and you MUST play the game to get anything done.

MumpsGuy
MumpsGuy

Seen it, and the guy is still a class 1 jerk! Glad I'm out of that company.

alonge
alonge

does that suppose to mean that theere are no leadership in IT industry? In as much as there is an organization, either IT or others, and there are leaders, these behaviorial patterns do manifest. So, the article is never a crap, it is very much related to IT, its related not only to management and psychology, complete , not out of context, info accurate,

ThePoster
ThePoster

Pfarrjam, You sound like the kind of leader I would want to work for. You also sound very lucky, too. I have both seen and been the target of retaliation by management that didn't take kindly to such challenging. I have seen bogus cases built against good people. I have seen projects and departments jeopardized or sunk because management felt the need to root out 'malcontent' leaders such as yourself. One has to be willing to fall on the sword if one is going to challenge management. That, and/or be ready to fight as dirty as they do to protect one's self.

kldosman
kldosman

I have a similar with a pre military person who managed the organization by sever direct commands , I was in a very bad mode all the time , some of my colleagues had diseases as a result , and after I left , the company failed few years ago .

KarlBloom
KarlBloom

This reminds me of the old mangement style known as theory X in some ways. It is mangement by fear approach. I've worked in some places like this longer than I wanted to because "I need the job" and could not find work near by. Bottom line you have to be able to live with yourself after a days work and go home happy and be wanting to get up the next day and do it again. Why? Because it is your passion and you like being there.

melekali
melekali

...management by fiat is being a 'yes' man.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Fiat=dictate. Like a royal decree - we are going to do it this way. James

jck
jck

It's having meetings in small, cramped Italian 2-door sports coupes? :^0

xcav8r369
xcav8r369

were SOP. Seriously, coming from someone who worked as a contractor for over 20 electronics companies and who has worked directly for 14 construction/trucking companies..... I've never met or worked for anyone who WASN'T self-important and who DIDN'T surrounded themselves with their suck-up drones. It's NEVER about how well or how hard you work or even who does the best or the most work. It's always about how well you can kiss up and who ****s the most ***. I deal with it as long as I can stand it and then move on. As someone above posted - it's not something that will ever change. It self replicates.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

not heard it being used before - live & learn.

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

When I was stationed in Sicily back in the late 70's I bought a FIAT 500.. When I got to work I just folded it up and put in my pocket and went inside. No kidding.. that car was so small I could pick the front or back of it OFF the ground and move it. I would say ANY Meeting in a FIAT would be a "Close Encounter of the Weird Kind" LOL.. sorry.. couldnt help the humor. :)

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