Leadership – the Personality or “Dispositional Attribution” of Leaders


“Givers” in leadership positions could not be more completely and fundamentally different from their “taker” counterparts.

While the positivity of givers spreads confidence, encourages collaboration, prioritises teamwork and co-operation, results in harmony and inspires followers to perform nearer to their potential and genuinely look forward to coming in to work, the negativity of takers as leaders is more likely to spread fear, hostility, disharmony, conflict and blame and result in too many people acting primarily as individuals, protecting their own patch and seeking to compete with colleagues, being uninspired and underperforming nowhere near their true potential, who much prefer leaving than coming in to work – precisely the opposite outcome from that expected of leaders.

Yet society continues to choose such (possibly disordered) people for senior positions, despite their track record throughout history being abysmal. Just like one of their greatest cognitive inabilities, do we never seem to learn?

In the short video link below, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan addresses the key question whether leadership is all about the individual leaders themselves – as leadership is perceived by takers (being more interested in themselves than others) who he describes as “macho” – or the welfare of the people they are tasked with serving – as leadership is perceived by givers (being more interested in others than themselves)?

“Leadership is not about the individual. When you have macho leaders who believe they have to shine and it has to be all about them, forgetting that what is required is the welfare of society and the people they serve”.

When leaders respect other people, treat them fairly and behave selflessly with integrity, showing a genuine interest in everyone else involved, sometimes referred to as “stakeholders”, the critical quality of trust is more likely to be developed, enhanced and remain healthy.

But when their focus is primarily and innately on themselves, there may well always be trouble around the corner, with trust and even reputation amongst the many casualties of their disrespect and resulting mis-management, erroneously described as their “leadership” of businesses, organisations and even nations.

In addition to their other leadership qualities, the personality of leaders can contribute significantly to the manner by which they lead, the example they set and in due course the culture of the entity or organisation they guide, with a concomitant effect or impact on the lives of those they have a responsibility to lead – and serve.  Not all leaders though perceive serving others to be their role and a key element in their job description…

Those givers, being “more interested in others than themselves”, who may be more warm-hearted, generous, kind, unselfish, just, forgiving, modest, enthusiastic, perhaps with a pleasant demeanour, maybe a sense of humour, capable at laughing at themselves, who praise and encourage others and consistently display integrity, who ultimately put themselves last and others first, may actually have the last laugh at the selfish, difficult, proud and contrary, as it may also transpire that is the enthusiastic, positive and unselfish not the self-centred, negative and destructive who may be the happiest in society and spread their cheerful bonhomie amongst those they lead and share their lives with!

In stark contrast, when leaders treat people unfairly and disrespect them, behave selfishly and without integrity, showing little real interest in any of the other people involved, relationships will be challenged and trust may be a victim. Unfortunately, like elsewhere in life, some leaders don’t seem capable of learning their lessons (perhaps because of their sense of infallibility, they don’t believe they make mistakes) so keep behaving in the manner which prioritises their own ego and personal interests while disrespecting and even demeaning others, which can seem to give them a great personal thrill which we misinterpret as being “strong leadership” rather than what it really is – intimidation and bullying.

Strong leaders appreciate that they achieve a great deal more from praise, encouragement, tact and inclusion as they recognise that exclusion, criticism, discouragement, rebuke and humiliation are all totally counterproductive, yet we elect people to managerial roles who innately behave in such a rude and crude manner, best referred to as “intimidatory leadership”, if such behaviour even warrants being described as “leadership” at all.

Those takers, being “more interested in themselves than others”, who are proud, selfish, difficult, mean-hearted and unjust, lack integrity, who criticise and discourage others yet cannot take criticism themselves, hold grudges, who promote themselves and their achievements and belittle those of others, who put themselves first and others last, perhaps cold and humour-less, may also transpire to be the least satisfied with the many wonders of life, having to damage the emotions of others to derive satisfaction from relationships.

At least if their attributes have resulted in their becoming wealthy, honestly or dishonestly, they may be miserable in comfort.

When they develop a sense of entitlement whereby they believe others owe them something just because they have achieved a level of position and influence, thinking they are more important than those they lead, they fail to appreciate that respect is earned when behaviour and attitudes warrants it, not when respect is demanded and expected.

When they spread malicious and untrue rumours about others, sometimes called a distortion campaign or character assassination, they fail to appreciate that others can see through their lies and any respect they had will be diminished further, especially when they are found out and just change their story with no bother at all, nor any guilt or remorse for their words and deeds.

In time other people realise, especially when their recollection of situations and events differs from their own, that they can confuse fact and fiction in the manner that they want to recall matters or be perceived by others, even if this bears little or no resemblance to reality. When they seem to genuinely believe their own lies and misinterpretations, they cause great difficulty in group situations and cannot be trusted to supervise, manage or lead other people.

Those who have to deal with such difficult people, whether in an organisational or other context, who also have to deal with the consequences of the havoc which can arise from their extremely self-centred behaviour, may recognise that an alternative approach from their leaders can be more appropriate and successful – humility!

Of course even people of the finest possible character are capable of doing wrong, especially under pressure (including or especially from manipulative takers), but they are also well capable of recognising wrongdoing and taking appropriate steps to make rectification and reparation.

The ability to recognise the necessity to apologise and always do so, not only when required but also occasionally when not, as well as rectifying prior errors and striving not to repeat them, does not appear to be prevalent amongst those who prefer trouble to peace, competition to co-operation and themselves to others.

Would society, including business, not be far better off if somehow we realised that everyone else would be the winner if we no longer appointed those more naturally devious, ruthless and perhaps sadistic people who can derive great pleasure not from being kind but actually unkind and even cruel to others, to positions of influence and power, no matter their other talents and degree of charm?

The more difficult people in business and indeed society can be slow to learn from their mistakes, perhaps may even be incapable of learning their lessons from their prior experiences. Being so excessively and innately self-focussed, their shallow emotions may prevent them appreciating that their intimidation and  maltreatment of others can be extremely counterproductive in a group situation.

One of the frequent lessons of history has been that those who abuse power, lose power. It is only a matter of time, sometimes brief and on occasions lengthy, especially when they make maintenance of power their priority rather than using it astutely to benefit those they lead.

Is leadership about conviction or conformity? An adherence to the status quo or the vision and courage required to challenge and break the mould? Sitting on the fence or daring to be different? Covering up or owning up? Moving backwards or forwards? Denying the undeniable or anticipating the future? Is it about seeking personal fame (or infamy) or dedication to the mission? Is it about conflict or harmony? Coercion or persuasion? Ordering or asking? Being rude and crude or tactful and diplomatic? Being disloyal or loyal? Breeding distrust or trust? Never praising and being openly critical or engaging in public praise and private criticism? Being competitive or cooperative? Having to win at all costs or seeking a fair compromise? Having a fixed mind or being open to learn and seek new experiences? Favouring the majority or protecting the minority? Practicing exclusion or inclusion? Being difficult and proud or modest and humble? Is it about taking credit or giving credit? Is it about me or we?

Astute leaders recognise that everyone is different and people need to be dealt with differently. Perhaps what is now known as “emotional intelligence” is needed to appreciate these differences and what is likely to work best with each of the wide variety of people and personalities which make up any team, as well as the wisdom of knowing how to deal with the dynamic of the team as a group in the variety of situations they may face.

The Dalai Lama sums up the empathy required to successfully manage people in any arena in just two words: “be kind”.

At the end of the day leaders with compassion for and an interest in others achieve far more because their people respond by showing an interest in their leaders and what they are striving to achieve for their organisation. They really do try to produce their best when they are sufficiently inspired to do so and feel that their contribution (including ideas on how to do things better – a secret in many organisations) is genuinely appreciated and indeed valued. Inclusion opens doors which exclusion closes.

But the leader or manager who is primarily focused on himself or herself may never appreciate such matters, whatever the arena, business, political, sporting or indeed any walk of life.

Rather than alleviating suffering in organisations and society, such people in praising and promoting themselves and demeaning and belittling others, in effect people of no real concern to them, are far more likely to increase not only the misery of those who have to work with or for them but perhaps also suffering in society, although perhaps incapable of appreciating or experiencing this for themselves, even when explained to them, instantly dismissing all criticism and apportioning blame for their failings to others.

While they thrive on praise, they find it difficult to encourage others. Incapable of coping with criticism, they relish finding fault in others. They can be very opinionated, yet rarely seek opinions. Quick to offer advice, they cannot take it. They expect loyalty, but are incapable of returning it. Only capable of loyalty to themselves, they can be disloyal to even their most loyal supporters. They desire support, yet cannot be supportive. They demand respect, but deny it to others.

Their necessity to win means they dislike compromise and prefer win-lose to win-win. When challenged they become challenging. 

Incapable of being patient or tactful, such qualities and many more may be most required in those unfortunate to work with or for them, perturbed by their apparently bizarre but in due course entirely predictable behaviour.

Power hungry and expert at control, deceit and masking their true inner coldness with surface level charm, their greatest deception can be the talent they display at concealing their actual inner traits and acting normal – most of the time.

Until someone crosses their path when the mask they habitually wear is dropped to reveal their true nature, more likely to seek revenge than compromise or peace.

The critical point to appreciate is that as they perceive things differently and behave differently, they must be recognised by others as being quite different and hence dealt with very differently. Business, politics, government, organisations and indeed society will be safer when they are denied the opportunity to misuse the power they are mistakenly trusted with.

As such people can often be hidden throughout society, given their ability as consummate actors to act normal much of the time and hide their actual inner coldness and perhaps darkness, do those with sufficient experience of their behaviour, who can identify them and understand their absolutely extraordinary and exceptionally self-centred motivations, totally inconsiderate of the interests and needs of others, indeed those who they have an insatiable need  to control and if necessary defeat, have a responsibility to alert others and indeed warn society what traits to look for so that many more people too can learn how to unmask them? Preferably before they are appointed to positions of influence and power and before others live to regret doing so?

When will we collectively learn to only appoint fundamentally responsible people to positions of responsibility in society, people whose brilliance is real rather than a figment of their very vivid imagination?

Not people who demand respect but whose behaviour does not warrant it?

Not people whose insatiable requirement to win means they disrespect others and prefer competition to co-operation?

Not people who prefer doing the opposite of what others want or advise?

Not people who prefer being disruptive than constructive?  

Not people who prefer troublemaking to team-building?

Not people more interested in themselves than others? Not people who in essence are cold rather than warm, yet are well capable of masking their true inner coldness, most of the time, until challenged when their true self surfaces?

Yet whose confidence, charm, arrogance and intimidation throughout history we seem to have mistakenly associated with strength of character and leadership ability… when in reality they possess neither?

Why do we trust such fundamentally disordered people who thrive on criticism rather than praise and intimidation rather than encouragement with responsibility for the lives and feelings of others… when they may be incapable of adequately managing even their own emotions?

Should those who prefer to discourage, manipulate and even be cruel to other people, whose general behaviour disturbs the natural calm of any grouping and causes other people emotional upset, or those who more naturally seek to encourage, cheer up, calm down and perhaps inspire other people to produce their best be chosen for leadership roles?

If we associate mis-management with poor management, should we associate mal-leadership with the behaviour inevitably displayed by fundamentally disordered people holding leadership roles, even if they manage to act normally and disguise their true traits – much of the time?

Until someone challenges them or poses an obstacle to their getting their own way when their lack of concern for either other people or their organisation will become readily apparent, displaying consistent irresponsibility and being well capable of acting against the common good and doing so with emotional impunity.

The kind of behaviour which leads more conscientious coworkers to consider having to SPEAK UP internally although they know they may well be ostracised for doing so and even report malpractices outside their own organisation, despite potential personal retribution, a situation which has been referred to as THE WHISTLEBLOWER’S DILEMMA.

For some of life’s TAKERS, they can be viewed as COLD and perhaps RUTHLESS by others who begin to know them better, because their fundamental lack of warm emotions means to them other people are merely OBJECTS, viewed as dispassionately as a car or phone or any other POSSESSION. So when WINNING is particularly important to them, the constraints which would hold others back from being particularly cruel or vindictive to other people just do not exist. They can even seem to thrive on trouble and it is their coworkers who have to be the peacemakers.

Yet society continues to elect such people to seniority of position in its organisations nd entities, before their inability to appreciate other people and manage them accordingly is full realised. Incapable of coping with criticism, they thrive on criticism and rarely praise, loyalty only to themselves they can be disloyal even to their most loyal supporters. They demand respect but cannot give it to others. People “walk on eggshells” in their presence, lest they overreact even to innocuous words and trivial situations. So how can those incapable of managing even their own emotions be excepted to be responsible for those of others.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world may be of little real value if none of it is emotional.

Developed through emotional attachment with other people, EMPATHY is our ability to recognise, feel and respond to the needs and concerns of other people. Should that not be one of the primary prerequisites for leaders, especially of people?


In the short video link below, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan answers the key question whether leadership is all about the individual leaders themselves – as leadership is perceived by takers (being more interested in themselves than others) who he describes as “macho” – or the welfare of the people they are tasked with serving – as leadership is perceived by givers (being more interested in others than themselves)?

“Leadership is not about the individual. When you have macho leaders who believe they have to shine and it has to be all about them, forgetting that what is required is the welfare of society and the people they serve”.

The core qualities which leaders should preferably possess include those which Annan’s own family associate with Kofi as having been a warm and compassionate person, with an abundance of empathy, the ability to experience and respond to the emotions of others, which contributed to his undoubted passion for wanting to alleviate suffering in society.

Should we not prefer such selfless and considerate people who like Annan “radiate genuine kindness” as leaders of organisations and nations in society,  qualities more associated with givers, rather than self-centred people, takers with little genuine interest in other people at all?

Should we not be denying takers – more innately interested in themselves than others – the power they crave but are far more likely to misuse and abuse, benefitting themselves and their cliques rather than those they are tasked with serving as “leaders”?

Unfortunately too many businesses, other organisations in society and especially their long-suffering people have to try and cope as best they can with the entirely predictable downsides arising from self-centred and “disordered leadership”.

Proper understanding of the true nature and impact of people with personality disorders when engaged at any level of business, or indeed any aspect of organisational life, incapable of fully sharing in the emotions of others, incapable of showing an interest in other people, incapable of assessing matters from the perspective of other stakeholders, incapable of adequately evaluating risk, incapable of reasoning reasonably and responsibly let alone morally, should prohibit them from holding positions of responsibility.

Yet we continue to appoint such people to managerial and even leadership roles in society, before we realise what a mistake this has been and appreciate what a gargantuan challenge it can be to replace such difficult and challenging people, whose primary goal becomes maintenance of power rather then using it astutely for the benefit of those they were erroneously chosen to lead, to the detriment of everyone but themselves and their submissive, subservient and obsequious cronies.

A group intimidated into only doing what the dominant leader wants is unlikely to evolve, especially when “getting their own way” is very important to their leader. If people are afraid to “speak up” and uninspired to suggest a variety of alternative ideas or courses of action, how likely is more visionary progress? At the end of the day disordered leaders demotivate and discourage people from producing their best. They may even want to bring out the worst in others as they try to turn people against each other rather than engender co-operation and teamwork. While many people “succeed” by developing people and building trusting relationships, others seem to thrive at damaging relationships and destroying trust, both perhaps inconsequential to them with their primary focus being innately on themselves.

Would business, politics, government, NGOs, charities, clubs, associations and indeed all other areas of society not only operate more progressively, efficiently and less counterproductively, balancing the interests of many stakeholders and considerate of the key roles of trust and reputation, but also be safer for all involved if we somehow learned from the many mistakes of the past and instead of selecting self-centred and ultimately emotionally shallow takers, especially those lacking many “incredibly important” talents including the ability to rationalise risk and learn from prior experience (especially their own mistakes), consideration for and genuine interest in other people, empathy, compassion and other warm emotions, guilt, remorse and even conscience, more frequently chose givers –more interested in others than themselves as our leaders?

Kofi Annan on Macho Leaders – BBC Tribute 180818

This subject matter is further explored in a Chapter in a Springer book Perspectives on Philosophy of Management and Business Ethics entitled “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives” published in January 2017:

Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives