sociopath

Leadership – the dark side

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CNV00004_1You’ll find 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.

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 needs 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.

Hare’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.

51OAaYUszbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_-1His 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 on Sganda

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Leadership – do you have what it takes?

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Research 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 TimesIt’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

First posted on SGANDA

Cuddle a banker? You’re joking…

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giving_hug_pc_1600_wht_3332It’s been suggested by accountants PwC and the London Business School that we shouldn’t scold ‘bad boy bankers’ but treat them like babies and give them the equivalent of a cuddle (Sunday Times today).

The study says threats of punishment for bad behaviour are counter-productive when trying to improve ethical standards. Instead praising good performance and good behaviour is much more effective.

The research also says that competition is damaging and bankers are twice as likely to behave unethically when they feel anxious about competing with colleagues. Then they are more likely to cut corners and make mistakes. Or just cheat perhaps?

The research among 2,500 bankers, insurance companies and wealth management firms which suggests that the key to changing behaviour and improving ethical standards is praise rather than retribution is just wrong-headed in my view.

Some of these ‘bad boy bankers’ at the top of companies are sociopaths and narcissists and praising them will only feed their belief that they are always right.

But you might expect people from financial services to say that (even if one of the PwC team is said to be a behavioural science specialist). Given that banks are reported to have paid out over $200 billion dollars in fines since 2008 but no banker has been convicted of fraud or theft I wonder what cloud these researchers are sitting on.

The report says regulators and financial services leaders should focus on the positive outcomes of good performance – and I’d like to see a definition of that – instead of the negative behaviours they want to stamp out. But where is the evidence that it will work? Is it just the bankers etc being surveyed saying “be nice to us and we’ll behave better‘? Given the outlandish financial rewards financial services seems to offer do you think they are motivated by anything other than money?

After the fiascos of recent years most people would be happy to see bankers and similar financial sector workers taken down a peg or two, not least in respect of their ridiculous bonus levels. The bottom line is that we don’t trust them to behave honourably.

Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

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women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verbal communication.

This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Unless you are a sociopath everyone is capable of being empathic. There is even some research evidence that we possess a mirror neurone which plays a part in empathy and learning by imitation.

It may also explain the phenomenon of postural echo where two people in rapport with each other may unconsciously synchronise their movements.

There is also other evidence that may be a genetic component to empathy. Researchers in the US have discovered that people who inherit a particular version of oxytocin receptor, the bonding hormone, score significantly higher on tests of empathy, and react less strongly to stressful stimuli.

They point out that people who score lower can still be caring and empathetic individuals, and people can learn to develop more empathy. For example, people who read well-written novels are able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and that helps them to understand others’ perspectives.

And researchers at Strathclyde University found that children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. See “What doesn’t kill you, makes you”.

Students today, however, are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times. “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy.

Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems. At one point it seemed that emotional intelligence was at last being taken seriously in the last labour government.

In The Times at that time, an article about cabinet resignations said that Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell were given; “prominent communication roles to provide emotional intelligence and, according to aides, address Mr Brown’s communication weaknesses”. That those attempts failed is now history.

BTW If you want to check out how good you are reading NVC go to this BBC site

First posted on SGANDA in 2010