Tag Archives: the dark side

Leadership – the dark side 

Businessman Psychopaths, Narcissists and now Machiavellian types, somewhere in an office near you, or maybe even running your business,according to Holly Andrews and Jan Francis-Smythe, writing in the May 2010 issue of Professional Manager.

In an earlier post on sociopaths and narcissists; “Leadership – do you have what it takes? I drew attention to some US research on Narcissistic types by Shnure about their impact in organisations. Now Andrews and Francis-Smythe, at the University of Worcester, see these personality types as even more of a potential threat in the current economic climate.

Describing these extreme personality types which make up the “dark side triad“: narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance – “It’s all about me“; psychopaths are also ego-centric and lack empathy; Machiavellian types also  manipulate others for their own purpose, shows there is some overlap but all essentially exploit others in some way.

Narcissists can be charming and even psychopaths have superficial charm which gets them into positions of power. So the authors set out some suggestions to help organisations cope with these extreme personality types starting at the recruitment stage. They also point out that they are not making clinical diagnoses even though they are using some terms found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders.

410WJzBZ-tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The article includes a list of references but if you are interested in this topic I recommend Why CEOs fail: the 11 behaviours that can derail your climb to the top and how to manage them” by Dotlich, Cairo et al. This is based on research and the work of Robert Hogan who developed a psychometric questionnaire to measure these “dark side” factors and should be essential reading for all HR managers and would-be company directors.

Adrian Furnham’s closing keynote address at the 2010 ABP conference focused on CEO derailment. Apart from toxic personalities he suggested that there also need to be a group of people happy to follow them and a supportive culture. An idea echoed by Ali Kennedy in the weekend newspapers who said that politicians were essentially “sociopaths with good intentions” working in a “psychologically corrosive atmosphere“.

From a coach’s perspective these can be difficult clients to say the least. Lacking in key areas of emotional intelligence they can be charming but don’t like to be challenged.

Helping them to be more self-aware and understand others is a start but their goal is likely to be even better at what they do (exploiting others) which poses an ethical dilemma. (It is a bit like providing social skills training to psychopaths: counter-productive if it means they just get better at fooling people).

So how successful are psychopaths at work? Researchers in America trying to find psychopaths who were successful in life asked their colleagues in the American Psychological Association who specialised in Psychology and Law if they recognised any amongst their clients or acquaintances.

51OAaYUszbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_-1Hare’s definition of psychopaths is;”‘social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life … completely lacking in conscience and feeling for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.’ (His assessment checklist is commonly used to determine if someone is a psychopath and is described in Jon Ronson’s book “The Psychopath Test”.

They received replies from over a hundred people and asked them to describe these “psychopaths” and complete a diagnostic tool for that person (creating a remote profile). They concluded that there was evidence to suggest there were such people as “successful psychopaths” (not sure if unsuccessful psychopaths were just those in prison or who hadn’t been caught yet).

The key difference between successful and standard psychopaths seemed to be in conscientiousness as the individuals described by the survey respondents were the same as prototypical psychopaths in all regards except they lacked the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence and instead scored highly on competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.

For more information go to Hunting Successful Psychopaths.

Post first published in 2010

Leadership – do you have what it takes?

LeaderNow is as good a time as ever to think about leadership, something sadly missing some might say in government and banking.

Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.

Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure’s  research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale’.

She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.

“Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said. On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.

Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth

“Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.

Schnure said  leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.

And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic“, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of  “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The Times “It’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.

“The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”

So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:

  1. Seeing the bigger picture
  2. Understanding that talk is work
  3. Giving time and space to others
  4. Going through performance
  5. Putting “we” before “me”

Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010

And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader 10Ways2bALeader

First published 8 April 2010

The downside of excellence

High performing leaders can undermine themselves by being afraid of showing their weaknesses.

Many smart professionals don’t do as well as expected and plateau in their careers because they get anxious about their performance which impedes their progress.

That’s according to Thomas J & Sarah DeLong in an article called “The Paradox of Excellence”  (HBR of June 2011). The Harvard professor and his psychiatrist daughter say many high performers would rather do the wrong things well than do the right things badly. Because they are used to success they may shy away from really testing opportunities because they carry risk or require new skills and would rather preserve their image.

High achievers are often independent-minded and don’t easily ask for help and people may tell them what they think they want to hear anyway. So the trick is to have a good support network that will give you honest and constructive feedback.

We know leaders often move on before they experience failure so are not prepared for it and don’t  learn from it –  cynics might say they move on before they are found out. The DeLongs suggest that you need to  expose yourself to new learning experiences that make you feel uncertain or even incompetent and to remember these are temporary feelings and can lead to greater professional ability. That all sounds admirable but I wonder if that is really possible when share values seem to rule corporate decision-making?

They also identify behaviours that can help you succeed but also get in the way. They say classic high achievers are:

  • driven to get results – but may be so involved that they don’t let colleagues know what they are doing and think helping others is a waste of time
  • doers- they believe nobody else can do things as well as they. They make poor delegators and may micromanage
  • highly motivated – but because they take all aspects of their job seriously may not distinguish between what is urgent and what is important
  • need positive feedback – they care what others think but may obsess over criticism
  • competitive – but may be obsessed with comparisons with others leading to a sense of insufficiency
  • passionate about work – but intense highs can be followed by crippling lows
  • safe risk takers – they won’t damage the company by risky moves but may shy away from the unknown and miss opportunities
  • guilt-ridden – they are driven to produce but no matter what they accomplish may feel they aren’t doing enough
The DeLongs are describing leaders and professionals who are behaving more cautiously then they should and thereby hampering their careers. On the opposite side of the coin there are those who over-do their strengths and begin to demonstrate the dark side of their personalities, often with devastating results for themselves and people around them.
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And they are not the first to suggest that leaders should show their weaknesses. Goffee and Morgan made the same point, also in HBR, in 2000 although they cautioned that leaders should do so selectively.
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Queen Bees – victims or oppressors?

Queen Bees (QBs) are women in senior positions who boast about their own masculine attributes whilst putting down their female subordinates.

Some people believe that QBs cause as many problems as sexist men and are just as likely to cause gender inequality in the workplace.

A Dutch team has challenged that assertion and thinks that sexist workplaces are a breeding ground for QBs, that they are a consequence not a cause of sexism at work.

We can probably all think about women who came across as tough as nails – I saw a few around the NHS in my time there –  and those of you with long enough memories may be thinking of Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir – said to be “the toughest man” in the Israeli cabinet at the time.

Bella Derks and her team interviewed 94 senior women in a rage of organisations in the Netherlands and found that those who showed the hallmarks of being QBs all recalled suffering sexism and prejudice in their careers and also identified less with other women.

Derks thinks that women in those situations have two options: either strengthen their ties with other women or distance themselves from their femininity.  She is basically saying that it is the sexist culture which forces some women to make a choice and become QBs.

The research methodology means that you can’t be sure whether a sexist culture forces women to renounce their femininity and become QBs or whether being a QB makes it more likely that you will recall being the subject of sexism. The researchers think the latter unlikely and believe that it is more likely that QBs would play down the presence of gender discrimination.

But why would they? Wouldn’t they be proud to have overcome discrimination? And surely not all of them would become QBs anyway. And what about the ones who took the other option to get closer to other women? Isn’t it more likely that there is a predisposition to behave in this way, an aspect of their personality?

If Derks and her colleagues are right however it suggests that appointing token women into sexist cultures will backfire as they are more likely to become QBs thereby making it worse for their female subordinates. (Maybe that’s why most people prefer working for men).

The researchers say for women to become inspiring role models who have positive attitudes about the potential of female subordinates companies would have to ensure that; “women can achieve career success without having to forgo their gender identification”

In other words behave like women and don’t try to outdo the men by being more masculine. There is evidence that when women play to their strengths they are really trusted and respected in organisations

Updated 25 July 2011: Eleanor Mills in the Sunday Times has picked up on a piece Derk published last week in Psychological Science in which she explains that QBs are bitchy because they do it to survive.

Derk says; “This isn’t just about women it’s a classic group behaviour. If you are  a member of a group which is undervalued in the wider culture you can pursue your own ambitions by distancing yourself from that group”. In the case of QBs they do it by identifying with the dominant men and by running down other women.

Or as Derk puts it; “QBs advance their careers through emphasising their masculine characteristics, expressing gender-stereotypical views of other women and denying g the existence of gender bias” and “QB behaviour leads successful women to distance themselves from other women reducing the likelihood that they will improve opportunities for other women or be seen as role models.”

The rest of Mills piece is about the lack of women at the top ie only 13.9% in FTSE100 although she concedes that women are well represented at what she calls the “marzipan layer” just below. And the building up of a critical mass as more women get on boards she thinks will do away with QB behaviour.

I still think that there are elements of QB behaviour which reflect personality traits and predispositions. Under pressure dark side behaviours will emerge and women are more prone to suffering ill-health when stressed.

My most read business posts in 2010

Writing a business blog means that you are competing in a busy arena against some very big organisations and expert writers.

And everyone has an opinion about their company or boss don’t they?.

So it’s gratifying that so many of you have read my posts and also taken the trouble to add comments or e-mail me.

These were the most read of my posts in 2010.

No 5 (actually there were 4 sharing 4th spot)

Leaders, charisma and NVC

We had plenty of examples of leaders who were less than charismatic in 2010 but does it matter?

Female CEOs still trusted more than males

Whilst most people prefer to work for male bosses, even females, it  seems the recession has brought out the best in women CEOs.

PR=Protecting Reputations

And there were lots of reputations that needed protecting – just think BP!

Stressful Days are here again

A re-blog from EI4U where it was the second most read post. So unfortunately stress is back on the agenda. Resilient leadership needs to be the order of the day.

No 3: Leadership – the Dark Side

And talking of leadership – we all love reading about psychopaths but dealing with them at work is a different kettle of fish.

No 2: What kind of manager are you?

A bit of light-heartedness from the Chartered Management Institute but people like to know these things (but being compared with Posh Spice?).

And No 1 by a big margin: It doesn’t pay to be too nice

So no more Mr Nice Guy!

But best wishes to all of you for a happy and prosperous 2011

Lies, damned lies

Goebbels famously said in 1941:” The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness.

The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous”. And so the BIG LIE idea, 16 years after Hitler had first used the term in Mein Kampf, passed into popular usage.

I thought of this when I read about Stephen Wilce. He was, until exposed by TV journalists, New Zealand’s Chief Defence Scientist and had a high security clearance and access to highly sensitive information.

According to his CV he had been in both MI5 and MI6, played international rugby for Wales, swam for England in the Commonwealth games, competed in the bobsleigh in the Winter Olympics, been a member of the New Zealand yacht squadron, fought alongside Prince Andrew in the Falklands and Gulf wars, been decorated for bravery, and had an honorary PhD from Cambridge university.

He did have an MBA, had been in the Royal Navy, had competed in bobsleigh events, and had worked as a bar manager at the Americas Cup but everything else was pure fantasy. It sounds funny but how embarrassing after all the security vettings and selection processes.

So while Wilce was clearly a fantasist, research tells us that people in positions of power are better liars.

Dana Carney, at Columbia University Graduate School of Business carried out research to see if it made a difference if you had more power. The research subjects were divided into bosses, with bigger offices and more power eg they could assign salaries, and employees. Half of each group were then asked, via computer instructions, to steal a hundred-dollar note then lie about it later when interviewed.

The subjects were then measured on 5 variables associated with lying:

  1. accelerated speech – liars utter more syllables at a higher pitch and repeat words and sentences more
  2. shoulder shrugs – liars shrug more when trying to suppress the lie
  3. cortisol – liars’ saliva contains a higher concentration of the stress hormone
  4. eyes – liars’ pupils dilate
  5. mouth – liars press their lips together and involuntarily smirk when they think they’ve got away with it

Only the low-power liars could be seen to be lying. High-power liars were indistinguishable from non-liars. A sense of power seems to buffer people from the stress of lying and increases their ability to deceive others. As most people can’t detect liars better than chance unless specially trained it suggests most people in a position of power can get away with it. Perhaps they are in positions of power because they are good liars. (See “Leadership – the dark side“)

Occasionally of  course powerful people get caught out lying. MPs are a case in point and many lost their seats following the expenses scandal exposed by the press. More significantly perhaps, former Labour Minister Phil Woollas has been found guilty of contravening an old statute that prohibits “false statements” against a rival’s “character or conduct”. He accused his Lib Dem opponent of cosying up to Islamic militants (this was particularly sensitive in a town that had been the centre of race riots previously). His appeal against the decision – which means the election will be re-run – continues.

Another aspect of the research was about power posture compared with low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out.

Alpha males – Everything is their fault

Whether it’s football or business alpha males are taking a kicking.

The French have already blamed the Premier League for turning their players into “over-paid egos” and Michael Ballack made a similar point before the game against Germany saying English players had to lose their egos and their narcissistic “me, me, me” attitude for the sake of the team.

In The Times(1/7/010) Germany’s twice-scoring Mueller is reported as saying “alpha males cost England”. He said the alpha male culture has destroyed team camaraderie and there is a surfeit of leaders (witness Terry’s failed coup d’etat). “… there are so many alpha males and you don’t just need chiefs you also need indians. Are the players willing to go the extra mile for their team-mates?” he asks. And in the same newspaper the French have described their team as; “rotten, spoilt, brats”.

And who can disagree. The sight of England players being molly-coddled with their top of the range earphones, game boys and special sleep pillows as they arrived, then being shepherded back in black glass vehicles like visiting VIPs to avoid meeting the public rather than as a shamed national team. At least the French made their team fly back second class!

18 months ago Management Today featured a couple of interesting articles. Baroness Kingsmill (some may think her a slice short of a full loaf of course) predicts the end for Alpha Males ie “people who think work-life balance is for wimps and women”  and who are “insulated by their egos,,, have no self-awareness” and “see feedback as a personal attack”.

In other words sociopathic and without emotional intelligence.

On a similar note in the same journal Emma de Vita bemoans the testosterone fuelled culture in the city and suggests women could fix things “pooper scoopers in hand”. Amongst her polemic she makes some interesting points about leadership styles and cites some research at London Business School that found that having a 50-50 gender balance produced more effective, stable and innovative teams; a finding that the Norwegian government  put into practice in January.

In Norway all public companies are required by law to have 40% of females on the board and Spain has given companies 10 years to follow suit. France is currently considering a 40% quota as well an increase from the current 10% (similar to that in the UK). See: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/865053/