HomeBusiness DigestInterrogating the souls of psychopathic leaders

Interrogating the souls of psychopathic leaders

In my previous instalment on “Importance of CEO’s and Board members” I explored the complementary role each must play to the other. Specifically, I was concerned about the checks and balance sort of relation that is supposed to exist between these centres of power in organisational leadership and management.

Robert Mandeya

But when I read the Gullivers saga where senior management is suing board members for “impropriety” in the management of corporate affairs, l was left wondering what sort of relationship between the two centres of power had. I will not get into the intricacies of this story given that it is still a matter before the courts and therefore is sub-judice.

However, when I was grappling with the Gullivers drama, I stumbled on an article the “titled 7 Things Rich People and Psychopaths Have In Common”, by Morgan Quinn. In the article, she reviews multiple studies on psychopathic behaviour.

In the research, Quinn cites fictitious leadership examples drawn from multiple real life examples.
These examples are placed in the setting of a new leader who assumed control of an organisation with the intent of changing its direction.

The following pertinent leadership questions arise from her research:
Is there a difference between strong (even tough) leadership required to change an organisation and psychopathic behaviour? If so, how can one tell if he or she crosses the line?

Does exhibiting one of the specific behaviours listed indicate a person is a psychopathic leader or is multiple repeated behaviour required?

Are some behaviours more destructive to organisations and staff than others?

Can a poor leader unwittingly demonstrate some of the psychopathic behaviour?

Is it realistic to think that “good leadership techniques” can be practiced consistently in extremely difficult situations?

Does the distinction between great or tough or lousy or even psychopathic leadership reside solely in the “eye of the beholder?”

I will not proffer any answers to these questions but will leave it to the readers to ponder and reflect on them, but suffice to say that these are not easy distinctions to make.

Some leaders may be troubled that some of the actions described below describe actions they have taken in the past. Make your own assessment of this fictitious leader: legitimate leadership behaviour during trying times or psychopathic actions?

Definition of psychopaths

In one article, “Snakes In Suits” by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, “Psychopaths often share the same goals as many others: money, power, material goods and influence. The difference is the psychopath views any means, (even harmful, cruel or illegal actions), as justified if it achieves the desired end.”

For the purpose of space, I shall touch on behaviour of psychopaths as they are exemplified by different authors. In this instalment I will begin with lack of empathy as behaviour number one;

Lack of Empathy
Psychopaths cannot understand the feelings and experiences of others
They tend to value social connections with people who offer them the most value.
An Example:
In an organisation that was very successful (it had one of the best brands in its market), a respected leader was replaced in a palace coupe.

Despite the previous success of the organisation, the replacement (hand selected by the board chair) immediately discredited the success and talent of the previous leader and leadership team. According to the new leader, remaining leaders and professional staff did not meet minimum talent qualifications required. This was also the view of the board chair. New talent was needed (with friends or acquaintances of the leader being hired).

The new leader’s entire focus was on the board chair, the chair’s spouse and a few select board members. Feedback from staff on proposed actions was discounted if it ran contrary to the direction received from above.

The president huddled with the board chair on a regular basis to plan strategy and action and to discuss individuals in the organisation. As a result, staff saw the new president as a puppet, not a leader. The staff lived in a state of constant surprise (and turmoil) over what would come next.

The leader would regularly ask staff (below the direct report level) for their opinions. (Leaders were constantly irritated by what they felt was bypassing the chain of command). He welcomed and encouraged honesty but was known to mock staff responses to his inner circle when the conversations with them were recounted.

On several instances, the president initiated personnel actions against staff that were on Family Medical Leave Act causing an on-going battle with the HR director.Does this sound familiar? I will leave this to the court of public jury.

Feel free to offer your own opinion on the above example. In my next Instalment, I will touch on yet another example of psychopathic leadership- “Egotism,” as given by experts on the subject.

Mandeya is a senior executive training consultant and communication in management advisor, a personal coach in leadership and professional development with the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on mandeyarobert@yahoo.com or mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

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