Of psychopathic leaders, failing organisations-Part 1

In my previous instalment on the 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 balances sort of relationship that are supposed to exist between these centres of power in organisational leadership and management.

People Management Issues,Robert Mandeya

But when I read the Gullivers’ saga where senior management is suing board members of “impropriety” in the management of corporate affairs, I am left wondering what really was the nature of relationship between these two centres of power at Gullivers? I will not get into the intricacies of this story seeing as it is that it is still a matter before the courts and I might transgress into subjudice issues.

However, when I was puzzling over the Gullivers drama, I stumbled on an article 7 Things Rich People and Psychopaths Have In Common, by Morgan Quinn. In the article she reviews multiple studies on psychopathic behaviours.

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:

1. 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?

2.
Does exhibiting one of the specific behaviours listed indicate a person is a psychopathic leader or are multiple repeated behaviours required?

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

4.
Can a poor leader unwittingly demonstrate some of the psychopathic behaviours?

5.
Is it realistic to think that “good leadership techniques” can be practiced consistently in extremely difficult situations?

6. 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 would leave it to the readers to ponder and reflect on them, but suffice it 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 behaviours 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 behaviours of psychopaths as they are exemplified by different authors. In this instalment, I will begin with Lack of empathy as behaviour number One;

1. Lack of empathy

Psychopaths cannot understand the feelings and experiences of other
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 organiasation. 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, 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. — mandeyarobert@yahoo.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.The views contained herein are personal views.

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