Psychology of Leadership – Disordered Leadership, the Dark Triad and the Big Five Personality

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” written during 2014/15 and published in January 2017:

Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives

Personality, the Big Five Factors, the Dark Triad and Disordered Leadership

Why is the personality of leaders important?

It is extraordinary the number of organisations who go to great lengths to devise laudable Values Statements, communicate and inculcate these Core Values with their employees, then undo all this admirable and appropriate work by (unwittingly) appointing amongst the most inappropriate, irresponsible and covertly unethical and destructive people in society to manage and lead them, with quite inevitable and indeed entirely predictable consequences.

Yet time and time again all such entities, apparently in every nation and quite likely in every sector of global society, continue to choose the wrong type of people to lead and manage them, sometimes even the most unsuitable and irresponsible possible, those with a Personality Disorder, knowledge of which would appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Many non-psychologists are naturally unaware what to look for, especially how to identify those who may differ from the norm and ultimately transpire to be quite “destructive” by nature, while simultaneously under-appreciating the many quite evident merits in those who may not flaunt their own abilities yet transpire to be highly responsible, talented and “constructive”.

Some “Disordered Leaders” may even be a “viability liability”.

Even after their organisation has collapsed, with many peoples lives adversely affected, these emotionally deficient, labile, remorseless, tactless and fearless individuals still fail to see what they may have done wrong.

Those lacking a sense of wrong may indeed have something wrong with them.

They blame everyone and everything else for their many failings, seek praise but struggle to encourage others even when most warranted, instead persistently disparage and criticise yet cannot cope when criticised.

They hold deep grudges against anyone who ever offended them and prefer conflict to cooperation, disharmony to harmony and themselves to others, thriving on both covert and overt troublemaking and negativity.

Somehow they fail to appreciate that when they engage in humiliation and character assassination of those they should be encouraging, they fail to pass the most basic test expected of leaders – motivating a group of people to co-operate towards achieving common goals.

No matter how well they try to hide their true cold and mean traits, so focussed are they on themselves and inconsiderate of the interests and needs of others, that when their self-interest or pride is in any way challenged they can behave quite rashly and impulsively, inconsiderate of the consequences for other people, the entity they (mis) lead and (extraordinarily), even themselves.

At the end of the day though it isn’t all about them, although they persist in believing that it is, even after being removed from the positions of power they craved but inevitably failed to use for the purposes intended.

Yet we continue to trust the most irresponsible and untrustworthy people possible with positions of responsibility, with quite predictable consequences.

Why? And what can we do about this?

Throughout human history society seems to have mistaken confidence, charm, arrogance and apparent intelligence, displayed by way of eloquent “talk of integrity”, for strength of character, and misinterpreted intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike bullies may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Talking the talk is no substitute for actually being capable of walking the walk. Those “charming liars” who suffer a deep disconnect between their talk, deeds and reality, confuse fact and fiction, struggle to differentiate between right and wrong, seem more interested in themselves than others, thrive on humiliation and see humility as weakness and ruthlessness as strength, should no longer be seen as strong and effective leaders, rather weak, childlike and ineffective.

When other people consider “there seems to be something wrong here but we’re not quite sure what this may be” they may well be dealing with someone with one or a combination of the various Personality Disorders.

At its most basic, much of the “business ethics” debate discusses why fundamentally good people do something wrong, usually under some form of pressure.

However unfair, unethical and even quite cruel acts can also be performed by people who may themselves be fundamentally bad, doing what comes most naturally to them, causing harm to others, from which they can derive a morbid kind of pleasure, especially when they diminish others and promote themselves, but who have developed a well-practiced expertise at portraying themselves as being good people.

Most of the time.

Then someone crosses their path or challenges their self-interest when their true nature and covert characteristics may be exposed. Their thinly veiled lack of concern for others, camouflaged emotional poverty, hidden hatreds, cloaked or even absent conscience and other previously concealed attributes and clandestine traits are no longer obscured by their charming veneer and disguised by their “mask of normality” which often consists of some combination of what I refer to as their ICE characteristics – “Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence” – which goes some way towards hiding their fundamentally ice-cold nature which permits them not only to be “ruth-less”, meaning “sympathy-free”, but even derive their own happiness from making others unhappy, if not downright miserable, which they may even perceive to be a “success.”

Yet we continue to appoint, elect and select such people for supervisory, managerial and even leadership roles throughout global society.

Surely discouraging, fearful and even distressing environments are a severe indictment on management of such organisations?

So why do some leaders appear more encouraging, welcoming, cooperative and conscientious than others?

Why do we associate aggression rather than agreeableness with strength of character?

We need to better appreciate that intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which actually prevent our minds from thinking positively and creatively.

Yet we trust far too many (untrustworthy and irresponsible) people with responsibility for other people in groups who regularly and sometimes routinely  rather than exceptionally engage in various forms of aggressive and intimidatory behaviour.

Which makes one wonder why we trust the lives and emotions of other people to those who cannot even successfully manage their own emotions?

Neuroscientists explain that when people are satisfied, content and indeed happy, they avail of one set of brain regions which allows them to be at their best and most creative, seeking cooperation and wanting to fully engage, while when they are scared, fearful or unhappy, they avail of a different and rival set of brain regions (only one of which can appear to be active at any given time) more likely to bring out the worst in them, the response triggered when they are disrespected rather than encouraged by others.

Hence the importance of leaders and managers behaving in a predominantly positive manner – cajoling, encouraging, motivating and even inspiring those they have responsibility for, even when they have not quite performed to their potential, which those with ample “emotional intelligence” are often very well equipped to both realise and practice.

Extraordinarily those who put-down, humiliate, disrespect and bully others can somehow be associated with “strength” rather than “weakness” of both leadership and character, perhaps even a “PERSONALITY DISORDER”.

Yet too many who select and elect people to seniority of position in all branches of society are somehow attracted to those who initially give the impression of being “Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent”, even if they transpire to be ICE-cold emotionally.

“Disordered Leaders”  (definition proposed later) have a particular expertise at hiding their true self-centredness behind the “mask of normality” they habitually wear… until their self-interest or pride or both is in any way threatened, when their mask can be instantly dropped to reveal their true inner-coldness and quite ruth-less persona, meaning devoid of any sympathy or compassion for others and indeed lack of any genuine interest in anyone or anything other than themselves.

Yet these are the people that global society continues to select or elect to its most responsible positions and indeed would appear to have done so throughout human history.

Just like one of their deepest cognitive deficiencies, do we not seem to learn from our prior mistakes?

How many more corporate collapses, skulduggeries, conflicts within and between organisations and even wars between nations do we need before we see through the lies, deceit and deceptions of the charmingly unscrupulous and instead choose leaders who possess the right personality for the task at hand?

Those who know that “there is no right way to do a wrong thing”?

There is an expression from the world of finance, especially advocated by professional accountants, being experienced business advisors, that “turnover is vanity, but profit is sanity”.

The wonderful world we share may benefit from differentiating between vanity and sanity, being less attracted by the claims of the vain in favour of the greater merits of the sane, even if less apparently thrilling or exciting and ultimately are more modest than proud.

For Leadership and Management to further evolve, it requires those whose expertise includes motivation, not humiliation, encouragement not discouragement, respect not disrespect, inclusion not exclusion, collaboration not conflict and long-term vision, not short-sighted myopia, preferably with a demonstrably greater interest in the entity and people being led than themselves.

For businesses, other types of organisations and even nations to evolve, they need to be led and managed by the right people, with a genuine concern for the task, interest in the people involved, desire to make sensible and rational progress and possessing the variety of talents required for the role, notably the most appropriately conscientious, honest and responsibly “constructive” personality.

People of integrity.

Society needs to appreciate how to identify what this body of research refers to as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership” and deny then the positions of power they are incapable of using for the purposes intended, which they will inevitably misuse including for personal advantage and abuse even further when their position of authority may be threatened.

If only we knew how to identify those with the most appropriate personality possible for our most responsible roles, indeed for any position of responsibility in society, those this research refers to as “Constructive Leaders”, who can be trusted to responsibly act as supervisors, team leaders, managers and leaders of organisations and nations, especially when they are capable of showing a genuine interest in and concern for the people and entity they lead and act accordingly, by demonstrably prioritising their interests and needs and those of the entity at large, notably when these may conflict with their own, which builds trust and enhances reputation.

Those whose primary interest is their self-interest just do not have the right personality to lead the areas of global society they are trusted with responsibility for in the sensible and considerate direction which will leave the entity, organisation, state or nation in a better position when they depart then when they arrived.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value if none of it is emotional, as humility beats humiliation any time, any place, anywhere and in any situation.

Leadership involves encouragement not discouragement and bringing out the best rather than worst in the people they lead, if they are to collectively, collaboratively and constructively achieve the goals the entity was formed to satisfy, not the self-centred whims of “Disordered Leaders”.

This is especially so of those who seem to thrive on disagreement, dissent and conflict while preferring disharmony and even chaos to harmonious, sensible and rational progress, utopian goals which too many organisations, employees, nations and citizens throughout global society are alas denied when they make the avoidable mistake of hiring, promoting, selecting or electing the wrong type of person or people to provide the “Constructive Leadership” they ultimately are incapable of.

The vast majority of people are unfortunately far too susceptible to the charm, manipulation and deceit closely associated with the “Cluster B” or “Dark Triad” grouping of personality disorders, being amongst the most convincing and indeed “successful” liars ever born.

Being so focussed on themselves and lacking empathy, guilt, remorse, fear, ethics, morals, interest in others or indeed warm emotions and many of the factors which collectively contribute to possessing an “active consistence”, satisfying their self-interest becomes their primary goal in life.

Consequently they take advantage of and manipulate both situations and people to satisfy their insatiable need to (at its most basic) “get their own way” and “win at all costs”.

Being extraordinarily self-centred, cold, calculating and deeply impulsive, they are quite unconcerned with the implications of their utterances, decisions and actions or any adverse consequences for either other people or the organisation which made the mistake of employing or promoting them.

This error is frequently recognised far too late, when they then (again predictably) go to great lengths to maintain the position of power which such unreliable and untrustworthy people should never have been trusted with in the first place.

This makes it all the more imperative that others, notably decision-makers and those who select people for seniority of position or indeed any managerial role across global society, learn how to more readily identify this minority of society and deny them the positions of power which they crave but ultimately and quite inevitably and predictably can only abuse.

While too few “Disordered Leaders” will ever be required to receive psychological assistance despite the damage they can do to other people and organisations, indeed to the very fabric of society, specific diagnoses with one or a combination of recognised Personality Disorders including Borderline (BPD), Narcissistic (NPD), Histrionic (HPD), Antisocial (ASPD), Paranoid, Sadistic, Neurotic or Psychopathy, also evident in behaviour described as Machiavellian or Malignant Narcissism, or in extremis Psychotic or Schizophrenic, is of course particularly relevant to mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists (medical doctors who specialise in mental welfare) and psychologists.

Diagnosis with one or perhaps more of the recognised Personality Disorders guides professional consideration of the matter, including treatment.

Yet the primary requirement for everyone else without their specialised training and experience is to recognise that those who seem to be behaving unusually or making perverse decisions and treating other people with deep disrespect may not actually be “normal”, may be “different” and hence need to be treated quite differently from others if they are not to be permitted to continue causing harm and havoc for both people and institutions.

People with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life”, so one of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the world that everyone else inhabits.

Trying to deal with such “different” people “normally” may transpire to be an exercise in utter futility and indeed quite ineffectual, especially given the deep disconnect between what they say, what they commit to doing and what they subsequently do, or don’t or won’t do, unless also likely to satisfy their primary interest – their self-interest – given that their approach to many situations appears to be to instantly and perhaps impulsively consider “what’s in it for me?”

Until this is recognised – and indeed they themselves are recognised as being different from the norm – any progress in dealing with the myriad of problems they both pose and create is highly unlikely.

As Prof Robert D Hare describes in his influential book “Without Conscience”, many of their “successes” in life are at the expense of others.

This may either be their goal or simply just not their concern as they leave a trail of havoc and destruction behind them, far too often moving from one job to another, only to repeat their troublemaking in another environment.

Because “Disordered Leaders” who (mal) practice “Destructive Leadership” do inhabit a different world, the rest of the world would benefit from appreciating the importance of being able to identify them, to deny them the opportunity of damaging the world in which many others, including “Constructive Leaders”, do their best to live in collaboratively and harmoniously, in the company of many other decent, kind and encouraging people, with a genuine interest in both other people and whatever they may be interested in.

Given the quite extraordinary disconnect between their words, deeds, actions and reactions, not one word they utter can be believed, no matter how apparently earnest their delivery. As they are well capable of “doing the opposite” of what they undertook or promised a short while earlier, one of the most apt pieces of advice in dealing with this cohort of people is to “first believe the opposite” of what they say or assert, until independently verified, as this may transpire to be closer to the truth or reality of the natter, given that their sense of reality may differ from that of almost everyone involved in whatever the situation may be.

My fellow Dubliner Oscar Wilde, while attending a very boring dinner, was asked by the hostess whether he was enjoying himself. He replied “madam, it is about the only thing I am enjoying”.

As well as dinner guests, Oscar could also have been referring to the best and worst of society’s leaders when he observed that: “some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”.

As we say in Ireland: “Ní neart go cur le chéile” or we are only strong when we work together.

What is personality?

Personality describes individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It is who we are and what makes us different from other people.

Personality refers to people’s overall predispositions to display certain behavioural and attitudinal patterns. For example, some people are very outgoing and talkative while others are reserved and speak much less often.

Personality embraces moods, attitudes and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people. It includes behavioural characteristics, both inherent and acquired, that distinguish one person from another and that can be observed in people’s relations to the environment and to social groups.

Personality has been defined in many ways, but as a psychological concept two main meanings have evolved. The first pertains to the consistent differences that exist between people: in this sense, the study of personality focuses on classifying and explaining relatively stable human psychological characteristics. The second meaning emphasises those qualities that make all people alike and that distinguish the psychological human from other species; it directs the personality theorist to search for those regularities among all people that define the nature of man as well as the factors that influence the course of lives.

This duality may help explain the two directions that personality studies have taken: on the one hand, the study of ever more specific qualities in people and, on the other, the search for the organised totality of psychological functions that emphasises the interplay between organic and psychological events within people and those social and biological events that surround them.

The study of personality can be said to have its origins in the fundamental idea that people are distinguished by their characteristic individual patterns of behaviour—the distinctive ways in which they walk, talk, furnish their living quarters, or express their urges.

Whatever the behaviour, personality researchers examine how people differ in the ways they express themselves and attempt to determine the causes of these differences.

Although other fields of psychology examine many of the same functions and processes, such as attention, thinking, or motivation, the personality researcher places emphasis on how these different processes fit together and become integrated to give each person a distinctive identity, or personality.

The systematic psychological study of personality emerged from a number of different sources, including psychiatric case studies that focused on lives in distress, from philosophy, which explores the nature of humanity and from physiology, anthropology and social psychology.

The systematic study of personality as a recognisable and separate discipline within psychology could be said to have begun in the 1930s with the publication in the USA of two textbooks, Psychology of Personality (1937) by Ross Stagner and Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (1937) by Gordon W. Allport, followed by Henry A. Murray’s Explorations in Personality (1938), which contained a set of experimental and clinical studies and by Gardner Murphy’s integrative and comprehensive text, Personality: A Biosocial Approach to Origins and Structure (1947). Yet personality research can also trace its ancestry to the ancient Greeks, who proposed a sort of biochemical theory of personality” (Britannica).

Personality has also been described as: “the enduring configuration of characteristics and behaviour that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities and emotional patterns. Personality is generally viewed as a complex, dynamic integration or totality shaped by many forces, including hereditary and constitutional tendencies; physical maturation; early training; identification with significant individuals and groups; culturally conditioned values and roles; and critical experiences and relationships. Various theories explain the structure and development of personality in different ways, but all agree that personality helps determine behaviour” (American Psychological Association or APA).

For decades, psychologists along with other social scientists sought to determine if humans universally exhibit identifiable clusters of personality traits. Applying factor analysis to questions about personality traits to large samples of people throughout the world has brought researchers to an affirmative conclusion. Specifically, at the highest order of generality, there appear to be five major personality dimensions which have come to be known as the Big Five.

In alphabetical order, the Big Five are: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional stability, Extraversion and Openness to experiences (Goldberg 1993; John & Srivastava 1999; McCrae & Costa 1999; Gurven et al. 2013). Emotional stability is also sometimes referred to as its opposite: Neuroticism.

While the other four are predominantly healthy factors, Neuroticism is the most disturbing element or dimension of the five-factor personality model and the related Big Five personality model, characterised by a chronic level of emotional instability and proneness to psychological distress.

Neuroticism is the state of being neurotic or a proneness to neurosis, any one of a variety of mental disorders characterised by significant anxiety or other distressing emotional symptoms, such as persistent and irrational fears, obsessive thoughts, compulsive acts, dissociative states and somatic and depressive reactions.

Compared with the more extreme Psychosis, the symptoms of Neurosis do not involve gross personality disorganisation, total lack of insight, or loss of contact with reality, but are nevertheless not traits which society would benefit from when present in its leaders.

In psychoanalysis, “neuroses” are generally viewed as exaggerated, unconscious methods of coping with internal conflicts and the anxiety they produce. Most of the disorders that used to be called neuroses are now classified as anxiety disorders. (APA)

The order by which the Big Five factors are described often depends on the matter being researched and the consequent correlation between the various factors, but they are also frequently displayed by way of the acronym OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness & Neuroticism.

A very brief introductory outline of the factors before discussing them in more detail is:

Openness to Experience: People who score high on measures of openness to experience usually have a strong aesthetic sense and a desire to try new things even if doing so involves some risk (McCrae 1987).

Conscientiousness: Individuals who make the greatest efforts to be organised and diligent in doing whatever projects they undertake as well as possible are said to be conscientious.

Extraversion: Individuals who are extraverted tend to be energetic and outgoing particularly in the presence of others. The opposite of extraversion is introversion.

Agreeableness refers to the tendency to concur with others, especially others high in authority.

Neuroticism: Emotional stability (the opposite of neuroticism) is a fundamental personality trait that has to do with being even-tempered, particularly in the face of challenges and threats. Traits that tend to be associated with emotional instability are frequent feelings of anxiety and lack of self-confidence.

The Dark Triad 

Before we discuss Personality Disorders in general and “Cluster B” and the related “Dark Triad” in particular, we should perhaps consider “what is normal”?

The American Psychological Association define NORMALITY as “a broad concept that is roughly the equivalent of mental health. Although there are no absolutes and there is considerable cultural variation, some flexible psychological and behavioural criteria can be suggested:

  1. freedom from incapacitating internal conflicts;
  2. the capacity to think and act in an organised and reasonably effective manner;
  3. the ability to cope with the ordinary demands and problems of life;
  4. freedom from extreme emotional distress, such as anxiety, despondency and persistent upset; and
  5. the absence of clear-cut symptoms of mental disorder, such as obsessions, phobias, confusion and disorientation.”

The Dark Triad (DT) is a collection of three interrelated, malevolent personality constructs: Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism with the common denominator of disagreeableness. (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

Dark Triad research has grown exponentially in recent decades, with much of the literature focusing on establishing the profiles of socially aversive personalities. Studies investigating the Dark Triad with other personality traits have suggested that all the three relate to low honesty and low agreeableness.

This suggests that the core of the Dark Triad lies in dishonesty, coldness and manipulation.

Narcissism appears to be “brightest” of the dark traits, with an extraverted approach-oriented attitude to life.

Psychopathy especially relates to low empathy and emotional intelligence, which could facilitate exploitation of others.

Psychopathy and Narcissism relate to higher risk-taking and impulsivity, whereas individuals high in Machiavellianism have a more cautious approach to life.

The exploitative, selfish nature of those high in the Dark Triad has led to theories trying to explain the existence of these traits from evolutionary perspective. One of the most commonly applied theories are the LHT, which posits that these traits are adaptive in the context of “fast strategies”. The Dark Triad traits could also facilitate a “Cheater Strategy”, which could be adaptive in extracting resources from the environment by the means of using others.

According to “Life History Theory” (LHT), fast life strategists are those who, possibly as a consequence of an unpredictable environment experienced during their childhood, favour behaviours that require minimal investment but offer fast gratification (Buss, 2015). Evidence shows that they tend to prefer risk-taking behaviour (Griskevicius et al., 2011).

Though DT research focuses on the simultaneous assessment of the DT constructs, each DT construct has its own independent literature base, with a core of some form of narcissism. For instance, while all psychopaths are narcissists, only a minority of narcissists would meet the psychopathy criteria such as the PCL-R associated with Prof Robert D Hare.

Narcissism has significant literature in both social and clinical research domains and is represented by Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) within the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; APA, 2013), which only partially deals with the related but even more challenging disorder of Psychopathy..

Research on Narcissism has identified two dimensions: Grandiose and Vulnerable (Miller, Hoffman, et al., 2011; Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). Nearly all of DT research on narcissism has focused on the grandiose dimension, though different DT measures of narcissism contain differing amounts of grandiose and vulnerable content (e.g., Maples, Lamkin, & Miller, 2014).

Grandiosely narcissistic individuals are characterised by exhibitionism, lack of humility/modesty and interpersonal dominance, whereas vulnerably narcissistic individuals are characterised by negative affect, distrust, selfishness and a need for attention and recognition (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003; Miller, Price, Gentile, Lynam, & Campbell, 2012).

Psychopath, being derived from psyche (mind) and pathos (disease), in effect refers to “mental illness”. Psychopathy is not only often and perhaps understandably misunderstood, but is also frequently confused with  “anti-social personality disorder” and “sociopathy”, a term for many interchangeable with “psychopathy”.

Sociopath, Hare suggests, is the term preferred by clinicians, researchers and many sociologists and criminologists who believe the syndrome is “forged entirely by social forces and early experiences” (or nurture).

Psychopath is preferred by clinicians and researchers who believe that “psychological, biological and genetic factors ALSO contribute to development of the syndrome” (or nature AND nurture).

Antisocial Personality Disorder is described by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by way of a long list of both antisocial and criminal behaviours to assist diagnosis.

These though may not be as applicable to those who engage in more covertly dishonest, deceitful, manipulative or impulsive and emotionally damaging (cruel and self-satisfying) behaviour in business or political life, inconsiderate of the harmful consequences for others (and such is their impulsivity, even themselves).

Indeed damaging others emotionally, including by way of character assassination (often not only falsely but delusionally), may actually be their goal and be more typical of psychopathy, even if if their behaviour is not overtly anti-social. Some are too clever for that.

Hare explains that when the DSM was initially released it was assumed that the average clinical psychologist was not expected to be able to reliably assess personality traits such as empathy, egocentricity and guilt and as a consequence diagnosis was based on what clinicians could more readily assess: objective, socially deviant behaviour.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) thus predominantly refers to a cluster of criminal and antisocial behaviours whereas the far more stringent Psychopathy is defined by a cluster of BOTH adverse personality traits including impulsivity and a profound lack of empathy, warm emotions and any semblance of guilt/remorse (essentially a lack of conscience) AND more apparent socially deviant behaviours.

The Dark Triad and Interpersonal Callousness

The members of the Dark Triad have much in common (Jonason, Kavanagh, Webster, & Fitzgerald, 2011; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Their similarities may derive from a common interpersonal callousness with research (Douglas, Bore, & Munro, 2012; Jones & Figueredo, 2013; Jones & Paulhus, 2011) suggesting that manipulation and callousness accounted for the associations among the facet scores of the psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism scales and impulsivity also with psychopathy and narcissism.

This common feature involving a common underlying deficit in empathy helps explain why they share a reputation as socially aversive (Rauthmann, 2012; Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012). All dark triad personalities were associated with deficits in affective empathy, but showed little evidence of impairment in cognitive empathy, with primary (factor one) psychopathy the main predictor of empathic deficits within the dark triad. Callousness (lack of empathy) leads inevitably to the tendency to manipulate others.

In other cases, the Dark Triad members exhibit markedly different behaviour:

Ego-promoting outcomes (e.g., relentless bragging) are best predicted by narcissism; those involving reckless antisocial behaviour (e.g., vandalism) are best predicted by psychopathy; and long-term scheming (e.g., elaborate fraud) are best predicted by Machiavellianism (Furnham et al., 2013) who query “if the Dark Triad members are not interchangeable, then why are they always positively correlated – regardless of the instrument used to measure them? One possibility is a common underlying element (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Among the strongest candidates are disagreeableness, honesty-humility, social exploitativeness, lack of empathy (callousness) and interpersonal antagonism.”

In essence, the literature suggests that:
(a) ego-enhancement goals drive narcissistic behaviour, whereas instrumental goals drive Machiavellian and psychopathic behaviour;
(b) Machiavellianism differs from psychopathy with respect to impulsivity;
(c) all three have a callous core that engenders manipulation of others (Jones & Paulhus, 2011a).

The Dark Triad and the Big 5 Personality Traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness & Neuroticism (OCEAN)

All three traits of the Dark Triad are negatively associated with Big 5 Agreeableness (cf., Wu & LeBreton, 2011), largely due to their socially noxious nature (cf., Kowalski, 2001; Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

Machiavellianism and Psychopathy are negatively related to Conscientiousness.

Narcissism and Psychopathy are positively associated with Openness and Extraversion (Digman, 1997).

Narcissism and Machiavellianism are positively associated with Neuroticism, but Psychopathy is negatively related (cf., Wu & LeBreton, 2011).

These patterns are somewhat coarse and perhaps less than informative. Metaanalysis has revealed a more fine-grained set of inter-relationships between the Big Five and the Dark Triad (O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, & McDaniel, 2012).

That is, Narcissism is aligned with low Agreeableness and high Extraversion—which is consistent with dominant, noncommunal motives (Horowitz et al., 2006).

Machiavellianism is primarily aligned with low Agreeableness.

Psychopathy is aligned with low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness. An agreeable person is unlikely to be elevated on the Dark Triad. These findings do not mean that, for instance, a person low in Agreeableness is high on any Dark Triad characteristic, just that people high on the Dark Triad are usually disagreeable.

One High Profile Example of The Dark Triad of Personality: a “Disordered Leader”

Examination of former US President Donald Trump’s public figure in the light of the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) certainly suggests striking similarities between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) diagnosis and Trump’s persona.

  1. According to DSM-V, individuals who have a NPD diagnosis are characterised, among other things, by grandiosity, attention seeking, unawareness of one’s own motivations and excessive attunement to reactions of others (but only if perceived as relevant to self).
  2. By analysing the speech content and Twitter behaviour of Mr. Trump, researchers have come to the conclusion that his communication is grandiose, simplistic, impulsive and uncivil (Ahmadian, Azarshahi, & Paulhus, 2017; Ott, 2017).
  3. Trump’s tweets are characterised by lavish statements about his achievements, coupled by vicious attacks toward anyone who dares to criticise him, or his administration.
  4. The fragile nature of Trump’s ego (typical to vulnerable narcissism) is reflected in the large number of offending remarks directed toward others.
  5. The New York Times maintains a list of people, companies and places that Trump has insulted since becoming a president. These insults paint a picture of a person who is impulsive, aggressive and easily offended. Trump’s communication style suggests features that are common in patients who have received a NPD diagnosis.

Although generally viewed as maladaptive, narcissism has been linked to success in areas such as leadership i (Brunell et al., 2008; Harms, Spain, & Hannah, 2011), job interviews (Paulhus, Westlake, Calvez, & Harms, 2013)iv, show business (Young & Pinsky, 2006) and initial interactions with others (Paulhus, 1998).

However, the construct of narcissism has proved to be multidimensional, with both adaptive and maladaptive elements (e.g., Back et al., 2013)viii who in differentiating between “narcissistic admiration and rivalry” argue that “Narcissism seems to be related to contradictory processes and consequences: Narcissists’ charisma and self-assuredness can give them tremendous energy that fascinates others, yet their aggressiveness and lack of empathy hinder their progress and turn many people off.”

Foremost among these is the distinction between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism (Pincus & Roche, 2011).

Among current politicians, few would dispute that Donald Trump is a paragon of grandiosity. His self-promotional style has built a high pro- file in both show business (the television show, The Apprentice) and the financial world.

However, the question remains whether grandiosity helps or hinders political success.

Previous research has shown that historian-rated narcissism is associated with charismatic leadership, overall performance and creativity among U.S. presidents (Deluga, 1997).

However, a study clarified that result by showing that U.S. presidents exhibit high levels of grandiose but not vulnerable narcissism (Watts et al., 2013).

Positive or negative?

Self-esteem is healthy and one of the ingredients of a happy and successful life, certainly in terms of developing pleasant and mutually satisfying relationships. In moderation it contributes to self-confidence, creativity, innovation, vision, boldness, assertive, courage and when combined with a genuine interest in other people, their interests and needs and the desire to positively influence and motivate them to be the best they can be, it is not only beneficial but necessary.

How can someone inspire others to be at their best if they don’t have a healthy degree of confidence in themselves and their own abilities? When also combined with the humility or modesty not to feel the need to flaunt their abilities or boast about their achievements, confident people can be great company, no matter the walk in life. In group situations they can prove to be a positive and constructive influence.

Perhaps that is why the American Psychological Association defines self-esteem as “the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive. It reflects a person’s physical self-image, view of his or her accomplishments and capabilities, and values and perceived success in living up to them, as well as the ways in which others view and respond to that person.

The more positive the cumulative perception of these qualities and characteristics, the higher one’s self-esteem. A reasonably high degree of self-esteem is considered an important ingredient of mental health, whereas low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are common depressive symptoms.”i

Like much else in life, the phrase “everything in moderation” and not to excess may be as apt when it comes to the positive and negative impact of people’s personality on the lives of others.

Ironically or extraordinarily those whose confidence on the surface seems so great that others describe them as arrogant, so “full of themselves” that they promote themselves feel the need to diminish and disparage other people, psychologists believe may actually lack self-esteem, or have such a low opinion of themselves that they need other people to make them feel confident, including by way of treating them badly.

In stark contrast to the healthy and positive ramifications of “a reasonably high degree of self-esteem”, the APA define “narcissism” very briefly and in a mere five words as “excessive self-love or egocentrism”.ii

So when does healthy self-esteem become excessive and unhealthy self-love?”

The APA define describe “secondary narcissism” as the “self-love that develops later in life, after the original “infantile primary narcissism”, and occurs when the libido (the general life force that provides energy for all types of activities) is withdrawn from “objects” and centred on the self.” iii iv

While “object” in personality terms often means “other people”, it can have a broader meaning. An object or a “stimulus object” is “a thing, person, or condition that elicits a response or is the focal target of attention, perception or some other process; the “other” [can be] any person or symbolic representation of a person that is not the self and toward whom behaviour, cognitions or affects are directed”.v

While many people are relatively self-less with their emotions directed at or satisfied by other people, others are more self-centred.

Despite (or perhaps augmented by) a decade studying and researching psychology and neuroscience, especially to the degree it impacts on decision-making, my mind (hopefully not due to a “cognitive bias”) still reverts to the personal description by which I have mentally evaluated those I have observed make for healthy or unhealthy relations and good or bad supervisors, managers and leaders of other people:

  1. GIVERS are “more interested in others than themselves”, while
  2. TAKERS are “more interested in themselves than others.”

So the ability to show a genuine interest in other people and act accordingly is important when trusted with responsibility for other people, with “interest” also being one of the key aspects of the formative discipline of “positive psychology” and the related personality of those my research describes as “Constructive Leaders”.

Positive Psychology is described as “a field of psychological theory and research that focuses on the psychological states (e.g., contentment, joy), individual traits or character strengths (e.g., intimacy, integrity, altruism, wisdom), and social institutions that enhance subjective well-being and make life most worth living.”

While the term may have been used originally by Abraham Maslow, best known for his hierarchy of needs, its more modern pioneers and advocates include Martin E. P. Seligman and Barbara Fredrickson.

The mission of positive psychology is to understand and foster the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Fredrickson’s “broaden-and-build theory” posits that “experiences of positive emotions broaden people’s momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources… The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.”(Fredrickson, 2001)

This broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998) states that certain discrete positive emotions—including joy, interest, contentment, pride, love, gratitude, serenity, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe —“although phenomenologically distinct, all share the ability to broaden people’s momentary thought action repertoires and build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources.”

As far as leadership is concerned, and indeed managing any group of people no matter the context, people expect their leader to be interested in them and to be generally encouraging towards them, indeed to be predominantly positive and constructive.

At its most basic, people expect their manager and leader to be predominantly encouraging and put them in a good mood rand inspire them to “produce their best”, rather than be discouraging and demotivational and consequently put them in a bad mood, in which they may feel less inspired or motivated to perform their role towards the limits of their ability and endeavour.

Research suggests that there may be “ two states in which a person, dyad, team or organisation may find themselves when engaging in the creation of a personal or shared vision: the positive emotional attractor (PEA) and the negative emotional attractor (NEA).

These two primary states are strange attractors, each characterised by three dimensions:
1. positive versus negative emotional arousal;
2. hormonal arousal notably endocrine arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system versus sympathetic nervous system; and
3. neurological activation (Boyatzis, 2008) of the default mode network versus the task positive network.

Boyatzis, Rochford and Taylor (2015) argue that arousing the PEA or positive emotional attractor is critical when creating or affirming a personal vision (i.e., sense of one’s purpose and ideal self).

In essence, people need to be spending far more time in a good mood or experiencing positive emotions than in a bad mood or experiencing negative emotions if they are to be capable of initiating or responding to change or performing closer to their potential.

The task then of the manager or leader should then be predominantly positive and encouraging, yet far too many are not, making people’s working lives more difficult and challenging than necessary and indeed than if they were managed or led by someone who was predominantly encouraging and positive by nature (Boyatzis et al, 2012) 

Too much negativity can detract from the ability to inspire and sustain outstanding leadership (Boyatzis, 2013).

While business school students who have not yet experienced the workplace can be of the opinion that ruth-less-ness (an absence of compassion) has a valid role to play in business management and can even be associated with business “success”, research suggests that managing and coaching people with compassion can “inspire health, well-being and development in organisations.” (Boyatzis et al, 2013).

In creating a personal or group vision, research recommends “getting oneself, a team, or organisation in the PEA (positive emotional attractor) before working on the vision.

Arousing the appropriate neural and hormonal states is important so that emotional contagion can help spread the PEA state and also to build a stock of PEA in order to buffer the NEA (negative emotional attractor) that may occur later in the visioning process as a person moves from vision to action. Examples of how to arouse the PEA include discussing the purpose of the organisation, shared dreams or prospection of what one might become in the future, as well as discussing PEA components, like core values. Additionally, at the individual level, gratitude exercises are a powerful and fast way to evoke positive emotion and arouse the PEA.”

This confirms a matter I observed throughout my career in industry and commented on in my first published article. When discussing “Corporate Change” and in advocating praising good work, however trivial, giving credit where due and apologising when wrong, I suggested that “well done and sorry don’t cost much to say… except perhaps if pride is temporarily hurt”(Clarke, 1997).

What I failed to appreciate at the time was why some people regularly engaged in gratitude exercises and often inspired those they led, while for others any form of praise or encouragement seemed to pose them a great (and deep) problem, with their own “pride” seeming to pose a barrier to their ability to recognise that anyone other than themselves was even capable of performing well.

Many well known people including former national leaders have commented in their public speaking that “optimists make opportunities of their difficulties, while pessimists make difficulties of their opportunities”.

This observation alone suggests the importance of ensuring that those with a generally positive and encouraging disposition are employed in roles in which they can use their skills and personality to “make opportunities out of difficulties” and engage the talents of those they have responsibility to cooperate towards dealing with whatever the challenges of difficulties may be.

Yet there are far too many employed in responsible roles whose very negativity and other aspects of their personality results in they failing to see when they are “making difficulties out of opportunities”, especially when they believe only they have the ability to solve difficulties (including those they may insufficiently appreciate that they created themselves) and no-one else matters, contributing to they seeming to derive some form of pleasure from making other people feel worse.

We could or should perhaps ask the question: “how does that person make you feel when you have just been in their company?” Better or worse? Encouraged, uplifted and motivated or discouraged, demotivated and even humiliated?

Self-centred people with no real interest in other people can fake such an interest when it suits them, but when it doesn’t their true selfishness can be evident, ultimately contributing in extreme to what I describe as “Destructive Leadership” as practiced by “Disordered Leaders”.

Psychologists refer to extremes of self-centredness as “egocentrism” or “egocentricity”, described as:
1. the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns, and outcomes rather than those of others.
2. the tendency to perceive the situation from one’s own perspective
3. believing that others see things from the same point of view as oneself and that events will elicit the same thoughts, feelings and behaviour in others as in oneself.

Contrary to common expectations of strong, dominant leaders also being self-centred and proud (characteristics typically associated with “takers”), research suggests that those “givers” who also display humility should most certainly not be associated in any shape or form with weakness.

Jim Collins and his team examined many companies to find those which went from ‘Good to Great’ and their research found that all such companies, in contrast to less successful ‘comparison companies’ in the same industry, had what they describe as ‘Level 5 leadership during the pivotal transition years’.

Citing five leadership levels, Collins notes that:

“Level 5′ leaders who ‘build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will’ also ‘channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed they are incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves…

They set up their successors for success in the next generation, where others set up their successors for failure… They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions… They attribute success to factors other than themselves, yet when things go poorly, blame themselves and take full responsibility… They display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.

In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.” (Collins, 2001) xvii

Persuading those more interested in themselves to focus their primary attention on the group at large can pose an enormous challenge to their colleagues, as self-centred people often fail to recognise themselves as being selfish, even when alerted to the trait.

If Abraham Lincoln was right to remark that: “human action can be modified to some extent but human nature cannot be changed” (Lincoln, 1860),xviii
great caution should therefore be shown before appointing “takers” to leadership positions, irrespective of their other talents, lest their personal agendas and inability to empathise with colleagues or show remorse for their actions should lead their firms down a slippery ethical path.

The same cannot be said about “givers”. Organisations are far more likely to be successful when leaders are selected who display a ‘paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will’, who ‘channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company’ and whose ‘ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves’.

When people in senior positions display the level of humility to downplay their own involvement in achievements and praise the role of others, provide encouragement to their colleagues or admit to their own errors and visibly forgive colleagues for their failings, others throughout the organisation are more likely to follow suit. Such organisations ‘live and learn’ from decisions which transpire to be mistakes and are not subsequently prevented from taking courageous decisions when in due course they are required. People trust such leaders and ‘genuine teamwork’ can be particularly evident in their organisations.

There is no humility in humiliation nor humiliation in humility.

Undoubtedly people better respond to leaders who show a greater interest in others than themselves, well capable of predominantly bringing joy and the other positive emotions to the group they lead.

Of course being a “giver” alone does not make a great leader; many other characteristics are also required, but a core and genuine interest in the people being led, described as “interest” by the field of positive psychology, is more likely to encourage the required response than when the leader is a taker “more interested in self than others”.

Yet there are far too many people in senior roles who routinely discourage and demotivate those they are supposed to be encouraging and motivating.

No paper or article on leadership has ever described this critical role in society as the “art of demotivating a group of people to act against achieving a common goal” and yet this is what can happen far too frequently when the wrong type of person is selected or elected to leadership roles, especially takers “more interested in themselves than others”.

Perhaps being“emotionally labile” (or moody) themselves, they consequently force their subordinates to not only spend far too much time experiencing negative rather than positive emotions, but also in turn activating the wrong hormones and the less effective brain regions (Boyatzis, 2012, 2013).

Neuroscientific Research

While there must be something wrong with those lacking a sense of wrong, there must also be something quite wrong with those who derive personal pleasure from making others feel worse, especially when their when their “libido is centred on the self.”

So what is actually happening positively or negatively in the minds, brains, emotions and bodies of people who are either respected or disrespected by constructive or destructive managers and leaders?

When people are made to feel good or bad, experience positive or negative feelings, what is actually happening in their brains?

As it transpires advances in neuroscience techniques over the last generation or so have allowed researchers to form the opinion that different brain regions and indeed collections and connections between brain regions referred to as “systems” are either activated, deactivated or remain inactive during experiences with people who make them feel good or bad.

From studies which asked business executives to recall experiences with “Constructive Leaders”, one finding was that our “mirror neuron networks” seem to be activated when recalling satisfactory experiences with “Constructive Leaders” and deactivated or suppressed when recalling less favourable experiences with “Destructive Leaders”.

Mirror neurons were first discovered when macaque monkeys were shown humans or other monkeys performing motor tasks, such as using their hands to do something. An unexpected finding was that certain brain regions were activated not only when the monkeys performed the task, but also when they saw others doing the same thing.

Humans were then also found to activate certain brain regions when watching someone else perform a goal-directed action, which has led researchers to believe that something similar happens when people are perceiving the intentions of others and understanding the feelings of others and thus may be the foundation for empathy and communication.

Like many areas of neuroscience, damage to mirror neurons may help inform why some people with specific disabilities struggle with communication, so could even explain why some managers are ineffective, especially in their inability to properly understand and communicate with those they are supposed to be leading.

So Constructive Leaders with the ability to inspire others seem to be capable of activating the mirror neurons of those they lead, while those who fail to inspire or maybe even terrify them, Destructive Leaders, do not.

Another finding is that emotions are contagious, both positive and negative, which allows for social interaction.

By way of a process of behavioural mimicry, people are able to pick up not only others behaviour, which they can then replicate or repeat.

However people are also able to pick up the emotions of others by way of a process called emotional contagion. For instance our ability to sense the good or bad mood or sadness or joy of another is an extremely quick split-second automatic reaction by way of our von Economo or spindle cell neurons which contribute to the ability of people to transmit and receive emotions.

The extension of this, especially in groups, is social contagion which doesn’t just pick up on the behaviour and emotions of others but also when these change. So when others see someone change their behaviour, such as giving up cigarettes, they are capable of changing their own as a result.

Emotional contagion is constantly happening, such as in a (less inspirational) meeting when one person yawns or folds their arms, others may quickly do the same.

This has an impact on management and leadership. With followers watching their leader more closely than the leader is capable of watching the larger group of followers, what the leader says or does is more likely to be contagious amongst the group than what any one follower may say or do.

Emotional Contagion is therefore fundamental to building or rebuilding successful relationships and is thus one of the key ingredients of more effective leadership, given that those we describe as “Constructive Leaders” are not only “in tune” with their own emotions but are also capable of sensing and responding appropriately to the emotions of others.

This also supports one of the main arguments of this research, which is that emotionally shallow “Disordered Leaders” cannot or should not be trusted with the responsibility for the lives and emotions of those they are tasked with leading, when they may be unable to manage even their own emotions.

This is especially if they are “emotionally labile” or moody, blowing hot and cold and forcing followers to be constantly “walking on eggshells” in their presence.

In such instances it is the followers who need to be particularly emotionally aware, to keep the leader and indeed entire group on an even-keel, given the inability or mental deficiency of the leader to be aware of their own and the emotions of those they lead.

In these situations, “managing upwards” may never be more required or indeed more challenging and it is the “hemodynamic sympathetic systems” of the followers which need to be activated, especially when their leader may be incapable of sympathy.

There are two brain systems that seem to act like a see-saw, one up when the other is down and vice versa.

One is the “Task Positive Network” (TPN) which is the part of the brain that allows us to focus on attention-demanding tasks and engage in analysis and problem solving

The downside of the activation of the TPN is that our capacity to be creative and engage in social interaction is diminished. This is because the see-saw effect means activation of the “task positive network” seems to operate in parallel with the deactivation of the “Default Mode Network” (DMN).

When people engage in social tasks, such as being kind, helping others or seeking help, they activate the Social Network (SN) which is a part of the Default Mode Network (DMN) in their brain. This set of connected regions enables people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

The Default Mode Network (DMN), also known as the Default Network or Default State Network, like the Task Positive Network, is a network of brain regions which interact and are highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks, including being negatively correlated with the Task Positive Network.

It is known as the Default Mode Network because it activates “by default” when someone is not involved in a task, not focused on the outside world and the person is relaxing and their brain is at “wakeful rest”, such as when daydreaming and mind-wandering.

One part of it is also known as the Social Network, as it can be activated when someone is thinking about themselves, thinking about someone else, remembering instances from the past and considering the future.

While sometimes referred to as the Task Negative Network, being de-activated when people are occupied with attention-demanding tasks and more associated with involuntary actions, it can be activated during other types of goal-oriented and more autobiographical tasks and social working memory.

The “Task Positive” and “Social/Default” networks are, by and large, independent and suppress each other. Yet everyone, especially experts, managers and leaders, need to be able to use both the Task Positive and Social/Default Networks to be effective at setting and achieving goals, social interaction and people management as well as creativity and not only imagining the future but also taking steps to ensure the group gets there.

Two other systems are the “Sympathetic Nervous System” which is quite the opposite of the “Parasympathetic Nervous System”, both parts of the “Autonomic Nervous System” which release various hormones and neurotransmitters depending on whether experiences are pleasant or unpleasant and positive or negative.

Despite its name, the Sympathetic Nervous System or SNS is actually the body’s “fight or flight” response to stressful situations, whether trivial or severe. We may not realise it but we actually experience minor stressful situations during a day including when someone or something annoys us or we are facing a task we would rather not do and may tend to defer, due to procrastination, or can’t make our mind up what to given a variety of choices.

Indeed we can change from one state to another in under a second, with our brain responding before we are even aware that it and our body are about to react to the situation.

The fight or flight response or the “Sympathetic Nervous System” actually involves activation of the “Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal Axis”, amongst which involves secretion of three endocrines, notably Epinephrine, Norepinephrine and Cortisol.

Epinephrine and Norepinephrine are both hormones and neurotransmitters, acting as vasoconstrictors.

“Vaso” means blood vessel and “Vasoconstriction” refers to the narrowing or constriction of the blood vessels, which can stabilise or raise blood pressure, reduce loss of body heat in cold temperatures, send more nutrients and oxygen to organs that need them, protect the body against blood and fluid loss and generally control how blood is distributed through the body.

Vasoconstriction reduces the volume or space inside affected blood vessels, so blood flow is also reduced. At the same time, the resistance or force of blood flow is raised, which causes higher blood pressure.

Shock is the body’s response to emergency conditions which all cause low blood pressure.

The body’s first response is to protect the brain, heart and lungs by narrowing the blood vessels in the hands, feet, and limbs. This emergency vasoconstriction temporarily raises blood pressure and keeps blood flowing to the organs most needed for life.i

As blood pressure goes up, so to does the pulse rate and breathing starts to become more shallow.

Epinephrine is pulling blood from capillaries, fingertips, nose, ears and extremities, to go to the large muscle groups in the arms so the body is better prepared to fight.

Norepinephrine sends blood to the large muscle groups in the legs the body can run away from trouble, or flight.

However blood is also being pulled from capillaries in the brain, so during this build up of stress, people don’t have access to all of their neural networks.

At the same time cortisol steroids are going into the blood stream which has a variety of effects. While it is the body’s natural anti inflammatory tool, which can keep the body going when experiencing pain and helps convert fat cells to glucose to be available for energy when most needed, it also has detrimental effects. It lowers the immune system so the body is more prone to disease and also inhibits neurogenesis which is the growth of new neural tissue.

This means that when people are under more regular stress, which they can be in the workplace, not only are they not at their best but they may be under a degree of cognitive, perceptual and emotional impairment.

Their peripheral vision is greatly diminished from the more normal 180 to 270 degrees to as low as 30 degrees. Not only will they be less capable of “thinking straight” and their capacity for creativity and idea-generation diminished, but when exposed to new ideas or any form of change they are more likely to react with rejection rather than acceptance, which they may be more willing to consider when they are more “open-minded”.

Yet far too many workplaces involve far greater levels of stress than necessary, which this research strongly argues is totally counterproductive, especially when the stress is a result of the behaviour of “destructive” and especially “disordered” leaders, who are more likely to trigger the body’s “Sympathetic Nervous System” starting with the amygdala within a split second of the adverse situation, before our conscious thought is even aware of the situation.

The amygdalae (right and left) are usually associated with emotion, behaviour and the processing of fear, but also seem to play a role in orchestrating emotional responses to both positive and negative stimuli and forming memories of both. Nevertheless significant activation of the amygdala together with other brain regions, especially those in the limbic system, are more associated with fear and negative emotions, which should not be the goal of anyone in managerial or leadership roles in any branch of society.

Of course difficult situations arise in business and organisational life, but the role of managers and leaders is to manage these calmly, effectively, astutely, constructively and productively, not create them themselves to the detriment of not only everyone else involved but ultimately potentially the success or even viability of the organisation itself.
Without regular and periodic positive “renewal” experiences, chronic stress can contribute to deteriorating personal performance in whatever area of life the stress is created.

In stark contrast, “Constructive Leaders” are far more likely to trigger the body’s “Parasympathetic Nervous System” with far more positive effects arising from their far more affirmatory leadership.

Indeed renewal of the body especially after stressful situations is activated by the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is the neural hormonal endocrine activation that allows the body to rebuild itself.

This one goes through, as all do, your amygdala, but it often hits the orbital frontal cortex, part of the nucleus accumbens and very often a stimulation of the vagus nerve. As this circuit starts to hit other parts of the brain, a different set of hormones are being secreted into the bloodstream, mainly oxytocin in women and vasopressin in men.

Stimulation of the vagus nerve and secretion of oxytocin and vasopressin means they act as “vasodilators” and do the opposite to what epinephrin/norepinephrine does. What they are doing is opening up the blood vessels, so as a consequence people feel warmer, blood pressure and pulse rate drop, breathing slows down and becomes deeper and the immune system returns to its fullest capability.

Bodily including mental renewal from activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System results in people feeling more elated and the body rebuilding itself neurologically, with the possible growth of new neural tissue (neurogenesis), engaging the immune system (becoming healthier) and people becoming more open to new ideas, emotions, other people (especially if they are different) and new possibilities, learning, adaptation and change.

Research suggests that it is in this arena of arousal and activation, that people are at their cognitive best and, being at their most creative and feeling joyful and amused, can undertake the most complex activities, perform at their best and approach achieving their potential.

Consequently it should go without saying that managers who are generally positive should be hired or promoted over those who can tend more towards any from of consistent rather than occasional negativity.

Research has shown that four key experiences activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System – mindfulness, hope, compassion and playfulness. These four experiences are the same ones that produce or enhance “resonant” relationships known to be built by “Constructive Leaders”.

Constructive Leaders are mindful, meaning they appear to be authentic, transparent, genuine and act with integrity.While kind leaders are more likely to make people feel relaxed rather than stressed and by way of including them and seeking their opinions on a matter trigger their thoughtfulness, the kind of activities that invoke the experience of Mindfulness also include meditation, yoga, tai chi, consistent physical exercise in moderation and prayer if people are praying to a loving God (not a vengeful or blaming one which tends to trigger stress rather than calm and hence the Sympathetic Nervous System).

So if people pray to a loving God, it activates the renewal system and if they pray to a vengeful God, it actually activates the stress response.

As well as being treated with respect by a considerate manager or leader, Compassion can arise from being in a loving relationship; having pets you can pet (like dogs, cats, hamsters or horses, not fish), volunteering and helping those less fortunate, helping friends and family members, especially elderly or disabled.

Constructive Leaders are more capable of inspiring people, creating a positive vision about the future and by generally making people feel included and wanted and reminding them of the purpose or vision of the organisation, arousing context, meaning and hope.

Hope can also arise by thinking and talking with others about a future dream, personal or shared, and being generally hopeful about the future.

Playfulness arises from people laughing with others which reinforces my long-standing belief that workplaces should be fun places to be and that people should always be able to look forward to coming in to work, although this is not nearly as common a situation as it should be. When people do not look forward to coming in to work and the highlight of their day is going home, this should always be due to the many difficult situations which can arise, not poor relationships caused by the “selfish, difficult and proud” people this discusses nor the adverse and even combative organisational cultures they can unnecessarily create.

Effective leaders know when to introduce humour even to challenging situations as this is more likely to make people feel relaxed than stressed, with the concomitant positive rather than negative bodily and emotional impact which arises from their Constructive Leadership which helps people find solutions to whatever problems the group may be facing.

So if organisations and indeed any group from a family unit to a multinational corporation or financial institution need “Constructive Leaders” to put people in a generally good mode rather than Destructive Leaders to perhaps inadvertently, or even worse deliberately, put people in a bad mood, what exactly do we mean by good and bad moods?

Boyatzis and his colleagues and co-researchers describe these as the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA).

The Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) involves being:
1. being in Parasympathetic Nervous System arousal; feeling positive and hope, thinking about the future, dreams and possibilities;
2. being optimistic, focusing on one’s strengths;
3. being excited about trying something new, experimenting; and
4. being in resonant, positive, considerate relationships, which this research associates with “Constructive Leaders”.

The Negative Emotional Attractor (PEA) involves:
1. being in Sympathetic Nervous System arousal; feeling negative and fearful; thinking about the past or present, expectations of others and problems;
2. being pessimistic and focusing on one’s weaknesses;
3. feeling obliged to do things you “should” or are “expected by others” to do, rather than being encouraged and are looking forward to do;
4. being in dissonant, negative, uncaring and perhaps even cruel relationships, which this research associates with “Destructive Leaders”.

We need the NEA to survive and the PEA to thrive.

Research suggests that other people who notice that someone else is in the NEA can attempt to create a “tipping point” and move a person into the PEA by arousing hope, compassion, mindfulness or playfulness.

In most organisations or systems, multiple levels of resonant or “constructive” leadership is needed for sustained, desired change, which tends to start in the PEA and is unlikely to happen if people are in the NEA. To sustain learning or change efforts, it is likely that those involved have to spend 3-6 times more time in the PEA than time spent in the NEA, to compensate for the belief that negative emotions are stronger than positive.

Experiencing gratitude to others and caring is the experience of compassion, more naturally practiced by Constructive Leaders, can be the moments of renewal which bring people into the Positive Emotional Attractor and the arousal associated with the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

So within an organisation, resonant, “constructive” leaders help to create a sense of purpose, hope, compassion, caring, mindfulness, being attentive and even playfulness which can tend to “bring out the best” in people and help them want to strive to fulfil their own potential, something which Constructive Leaders are far more likely to notice than “destructive” and especially “disordered” leaders who may not even be interested in other people at all and may even derive pleasure from making them feel inferior, useless and miserable, spending inordinate lengths of time in the Negative Emotional Attracter and regularly activating the Sympathetic Nervous System, which has been shown to be detrimental to people’s physical, mental and emotional health.

Yet society often appoints such people to managerial and even leadership roles for which they are utterly and fundamentally not equipped.

Neuroscience – Rival Brain Networks

Constructive Leaders care about others, beyond empathy or understanding. Indeed they deeply care and want other people to feel good about themselves.

At its most basic, while Constructive Leaders feel good from making others feel good, “Disordered Leaders” can get their kicks and feel good from making others feel bad.

This alone should disqualify them from being considered for managerial or leadership roles, not just in business but indeed throughout society.

So when we refer to good and bad moods we could be referring to what Boyatzis and his co-researchers refer to as the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA).

These two “primary states” are “strange attracters” or the opposites of each other, each characterised by three dimensions:
(1) positive versus negative emotional arousal;
(2) endocrine arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system versus sympathetic nervous system; and
(3) neurological activation of the default mode network versus the task positive network.

Research (Boyatzis, 2008) suggests there are “two psycho-physiological states, the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), each characterised by three dimensions:
1. positive versus negative emotional arousal,
2. hormonal arousal; and
3. neurological activation .

There are two brain systems that seem to act like a see-saw, one up when the other is down and vice versa.

One is the “Task Positive Network” (TPN) which is the part of the brain that allows us to focus on attention-demanding tasks and engage in analysis and problem solving

The downside of the activation of the TPN is that our capacity to be creative and engage in social interaction is diminished. This is because the see-saw effect means activation of the “task positive network” seems to operate in parallel with the deactivation of the “Default Mode Network” (DMN).

When people engage in social tasks, such as being kind, helping others or seeking help, they activate the Social Network (SN) which is a part of the Default Mode Network (DMN) in their brain. This set of connected regions enables people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

The Default Mode Network (DMN), also known as the Default Network or Default State Network, like the Task Positive Network, is a network brain regions which interact and are highly correlated with each other and distinct from other networks, including being negatively correlated with the Task Positive Network.

It is known as the Default Mode Network because it activates “by default” when someone is not involved in a task, not focused on the outside world and the person is relaxing and their brain is at “wakeful rest”, such as when daydreaming and mind-wandering.

One part of it is also known as the Social Network, as it can be activated when someone is thinking about themselves, thinking about someone else, remembering instances from the past and considering the future.

While sometimes referred to as the Task Negative Network, being de-activated when people are occupied with attention-demanding tasks and more associated with involuntary actions, it can be activated during other types of goal-oriented and more autobiographical tasks and social working memory.

The “Task Positive” and “Social/Default” networks are, by and large, independent and suppress each other. Yet everyone, especially experts, managers and leaders, need to be able to use both the Task Positive and Social/Default Networks to be effective at setting and achieving goals, social interaction and people management as well as creativity and not only imagining the future but also taking steps to ensure the group gets there.

Effective leaders form a bond and connection with followers which ineffective leaders do not and some cannot. They put you in a good mood, the “Positive Emotional Attractor” or PEA.

People may not remember every word uttered by a leader they respect and admire, but they do remember how they made them feel – good rather than bad.

They are seen as being authentic, with high integrity, and so genuine that when people leave their office they somehow feel uplifted, appreciated and maybe even inspired.

They are trustworthy and caring and use the purpose or vision of the organisation rather than just facts and figures as the context for explaining what needs to be done and why.

They help people feel included and a valuable part of the group and team by way of what Boyatzis refers to as hope, mindfulness and compassion, which he says is not in the Western sense or even the Buddhist sense of feeling for one in pain, but being more open and almost out of Confucian philosophy of benevolence, meaning opening yourself up to and caring for someone, whether they’re in pain or they’re enjoyed, or they’re trying to grow and develop.

This appears to be very similar to psychologist Heinz Kohut’s description of empathy as “the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.”

While effective leaders have empathy, they go beyond just understanding other people, rather actually not only caring about them, but also doing something about it. As Boyatzis says, “with that combination, what happens is you feel a part of a group, a team, a unit, and when you feel that somebody cares about you, you respond and you don’t want to let them down, and you care back.”

This happens when leaders show an interest in those they follow and is unlikely or less likely to happen when Disordered Leaders show little genuine interest in other people (except when it suits them or their mood, being “emotionally labile”). Indeed with their extraordinary degree of self-interest being such that their minds appear to be naturally and innately self-focussed rather than others-focussed, any degree of interest they do show in anyone except themselves is likely to be temporary, insincere, false and quite shallow, just like their own emotional depth.

Yet time and time again such people are chosen for leadership roles for which they are fundamentally ill-equipped.

This is especially so for those we describe as “Disordered Leaders”, especially those who go so far beyond merely being ineffective that they actually (secretly or overtly) seem to like disharmony in its many forms, thriving on disagreement and dissent and taking pleasure from making other people feel bad, given that the followers are there to serve the leader not vice versa, the leader is far more important than the followers, and other people exist to be used as pawns in the games they play, as ultimately the only people they care about – or can care about – is themselves.



Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. Since 1968, the American Psychiatric Association has listed narcissism in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders.

“Narcissism is characterised by traits such as dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity and low empathy. There is growing evidence that individuals with these characteristics often emerge as leaders, and that narcissistic CEOs may make more impulsive and risky decisions.”

“Narcissism is more likely to relate to reactive aggression in circumstances where the narcissistic egos or goals are under threat.”

Narcissism as sometimes referred to as egoism and previously as megalomania, or “an unnaturally strong wish for power and control, or the belief that you are very much more important and powerful than you really are”.

Narcissism particularly relates to a tendency to behave in a predominantly self-centred fashion, far more concerned about self than the interests and needs of other people. But it is far more than mere arrogance. Narcissism or megalo-mania involves intense feelings of grandiosity or a mania for great or grandiose performance.

In addition to the separately identifiable “Grandiose-Manipulative” (GM) and “Daring-Impulsive” (DI) traits apparent in narcissistic (and psychopathic) individuals, the cold hearted and ruth-less (sympathy-free) or “Callous-Unemotional” (CU) trait refers to an absence of any genuine concern for the feelings and needs of others, viewed as little more than objects for manipulation.

Grandiosity being such a visible trait with many narcissists, some researchers have even suggested terming narcissism as Grandiose-Manipulativeness instead (Bergstrøm & Farrington 2018)”.

“Narcissism is a well-studied concept in clinical, forensic, and personality literature. Individuals high in narcissism are vain and grandiose. They have a heightened sense of entitlement, thinking that they deserve more than others because they are better than anybody else.

The term “narcissism” derives from the story of Narcissus in Greek mythology, depicting Narcissus, a young man, who fell in love with his own reflection after seeing it in water. I

In the psychological context, the concept became popular with the psychoanalytical movement and the publication of Sigmund Freud’s essay “On Narcissism” in 1914.

“There has been a growing interest in how narcissistic leaders affect the organisations that they lead (as observed by O’Reilly et al, 2013 vii e.g., Maccoby, 2007; Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). viii ix x

Research has suggested that narcissistic leaders—typically characterised by dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity and low empathy—can both positively and negatively influence organisations.

On the positive side, narcissists are more likely to be seen as inspirational, succeed in situations that call for change, and be a force for creativity (Deluga, 1997; Gupta & Spangler, 2012; Maccoby, 2007). xi xii xiii

On the negative side, narcissistic leaders have been shown to be more likely to violate integrity standards (e.g., Blickle, Schlegel, Fassbender, & Klein, 2006; O’Connor, Mumford, Clifton, Gessner, & Connelly, 1995). xiv xv

Narcissistic leaders have unhappy employees and create destructive workplaces (Blair, Hoffman, & Helland, 2008), and inhibit the exchange of information within organisations (Nevicka, De Hoogh, Van Vianen, Beersma, & McIlwain, 2011). xvi xvii

While provocative, most of the empirical research on narcissism has been conducted using student samples. There is, however, some interesting theorising about how narcissism among senior managers might affect organisations (e.g., Campbell, Hoffman, Campbell, & Marchisio, 2011; Padilla et al., 2007).xviii

Rosenthal and Pittinsky (2006: 617), for example, note that “narcissists have the charisma and vision that are vital to effective leadership,” but that these leaders are also prone to bullying subordinates, violating ethical standards, and making risky decisions. xix

Campbell and colleagues (Campbell et al., 2011) hypothesize that narcissistic leaders may succeed in the short term, but over time, they “destroy the systems that they and others depend on to survive and thrive”. Despite these mixed findings, there is strong evidence that people who are more narcissistic are more likely to emerge as leaders precisely because of their dominance and grandiosity” (Brunell et al., 2008).

According to Campbell and colleagues (2011), it is useful to consider narcissism from three different points of view—the self, the interpersonal and the strategies for self-regulation.

  1. The self-view of narcissistic individuals is characterised by feeling unique and special. Their self-view relates to a sense of entitlement and a will to have power over others.
  2. Because of the uniqueness of the self, the interpersonal relationships of high narcissists are characterised by low empathy for others. Narcissists use other people as a tool for achieving their goals, resulting in shallow and exploitative interpersonal relationships.
  3. Narcissistic individuals use strategies for maintaining their grandiose self-views. They seek attention and praise, ride on other people’s achievements and put themselves at the centre of everything. When these strategies fail, narcissistic individuals may react with aggression and vengeance. When successful, narcissists thrive and may even achieve great goals in life.

Narcissism has been conceptualised over the years in many different ways, depending partially on the instruments used to measure it. For For instance one prevailing view is that there are two, distinctive types of narcissism: grandiose and vulnerable (e.g., Miller et al., 2011).

  1. Individuals who are high on grandiose narcissism have elevated self-esteem, and aggressive, forceful, and dominant interpersonal styles.
  2. Those who are high on vulnerable narcissism feel insecure and inadequate, and try to mask it from themselves and the rest of the world by faking grandiosity.

Those who have the features of domineering grandiose narcissism fare better than vulnerable narcissists.

Indeed, aspects of narcissism relate to leadership, charisma and a willingness to dominate, which could lead to (at least) temporary career success. For instance, studies on achievements of US presidents have indicated that those who are perceived as having traits of grandiose (but not vulnerable) narcissism have successful profiles in terms of crisis management, popularity and number of initiatives (Watts et al., 2013). However, the authors also warned about the double-edged sword of narcissism, as the same presidents also engaged in detrimental unethical decision making.

Narcissism has also been widely researched as a clinical construct, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Often, those who have been stamped with this label have committed a crime, and the mental illness label goes some way to explain why the individuals failed to comply with the societal norms of what is acceptable.

The Dark Triad research is not concerned about categorical illness labels, but is more focused on looking at traits such as narcissism as a continuum. Evolutionarily minded researchers view this continuum as adaptive, bringing potential reproductive success to those at the high end of narcissism dimension. The personality and the clinical literature take quite a different view on narcissism.

Although narcissism has been conceptualised as a fairly stable trait-like feature, there are interesting studies into the “narcissism epidemic,” a steady increase in narcissism across the generations in the past four or so decades.

According to Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell (2009), young college students especially in the United States score higher on narcissism measures than their predecessors did.

Indeed, some of this change has been rapid, occurring during a short period of time (e.g., 2002–2007), and is evident across different ethnic groups residing in the United States (Twenge & Foster, 2008).

The narcissism epidemic is apparent also in traditionally collectivist cultures, such as China (Cai, Kwan, & Sedikides, 2012). The reasons behind the narcissism epidemic are still debated, but some suggestions are the increase in consumerism, wealth, media, exposure to celebrities and social media use. Increase in selfishness and vanity are reflected in multiple aspects of life, including song lyrics, and literature.

However, it is good to note that there is also contradictory evidence for the epidemic. In a recent analysis of a large number of individuals from 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, Wetzel et al. (2017) demonstrated that these different cohorts may have understood the items in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) differently, and when this measurement nonequivalence was accounted for in statistical analyses, some aspects of narcissism (e.g., leadership, vanity, and entitlement) may even have decreased across these different generations. Thus the claims about the narcissism epidemic must be treated with caution.

Narcissism as a clinical construct is not without its controversies either. Some of the difficulties spawn from inconsistencies within and across the disciplines of clinical psychology, psychiatry, and social/personality psychology.

There are major disparities in how narcissism is defined, and subsequently, how it is measured in different studies. Most experts agree that narcissism has both pathological and normal expressions.

  1. “Normal” Narcissism is manifested by a healthy self-image and self-esteem, which does not fall apart when faced with threats to the self.
  2. “Pathological” Narcissism, in turn, is characterised by fragile self-image, which can easily crumble under criticism from others.

Theorists disagree about the relationship between normal and pathological narcissism. According to some, pathological and normal vary in a continuum, where pathological is just a more severe manifestation of the normal (e.g., Watson, 2005).

According to others, pathological and normal are distinctively different manifestations of narcissism, forming two separate dimensional personality traits (e.g., Pincus et al., 2009).


DSM-5 was published in 2013 after a decade of work by the APA’s Personality and Personality Disorder Work Group. They initially recommended the removal of NPD diagnosis from the diagnostic manual together with several other PD diagnoses, based on the desire to reduce the number of PD diagnoses and to decrease the comorbidity or overlap between the diagnoses.

However, after an outcry from several prominent personality disorder researchers (e.g., Miller et al., 2010), the working group decided to retain the NPD diagnosis in DSM-5 without any changes from the prior manual.

Hence the DSM-4 and DSM-5 Section II diagnosis of NPD states that there has to be a presence of

  1. a pervasive pattern of grandiosity,
  2. a need for admiration and
  3. a lack of empathy,

together with five or more of the following:

  1. grandiose sense of self-importance;
  2. preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;
  3. beliefs of being special and unique;
  4. requirements of excessive admiration;
  5. a sense of entitlement;
  6. interpersonal exploitation;
  7. lack of empathy;
  8. envy of others;
  9. arrogant and haughty behaviours or attitudes.

While the DSM is very much the diagnostic tool for mental health professionals in the USA, and of course beneficial for international clinicians and researchers, the global reference tool of all illnesses, including mental, is the ICD-11 from the World Health Organisation.

The “International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision” describes itself as “the global standard for diagnostic health information”.

The DSM and ICD aim to become closer over time and this convergence ambition is reflected in “both the Alternative DSM-5 Model for Personality Disorders (AMPD) and the chapter on personality disorders (PD) in the recent version of ICD-11 embody(ing) a shift from a categorical to a dimensional paradigm for the classification of Personality Disorders.”

“The “Alternative Model”, which was the product of the DSM-5 Personality and Personality Disorder Work Group, was approved by the DSM-5 Task Force and was intended for inclusion in Section II of DSM-5, “Diagnostic Criteria and Codes.”

However, the APA Board of Trustees voted to put the new model in Section III and to continue with the categories and criteria from DSM-IV for the personality disorders in DSM-5 Section II.”

Indeed Section III of DSM-5 is no longer an “appendix” but includes tools to enhance diagnosis, as well as models for an evolving DSM of the future.

DSM-5 Task Force Chair David Kupfer, MD, emphasised that Section III “is not a dumping ground for material that doesn’t belong in Section II. What we are trying to do here is provide tools and techniques that can enhance the clinical decision-making process” by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Section III of DSM-5 contains “some diagnostic categories that require further research and/or more time for clinicians to become acquainted with before being included in Section II, as well as usable tools that should enhance diagnosis of the conditions listed in Section II.”

Skodol et al (2015) describe the related four step AMPD assessment process as beginning “with an evaluation of impairments in four elements of personality functioning—identity, self-direction, empathy, and intimacy—that were identified in the existing clinical literature as core aspects of personality disorder that can be reliably assessed… measured in combination on a single 5-point scale of severity”, essentially from non-existent or mild to severe.

“The second step in the assessment of a personality disorder is an evaluation of pathological personality traits.

The Alternative Model describes pathological personality according to five personality trait domains—negative affectivity, detachment, antagonism, disinhibition, and psychoticism—which correspond to the pathological “poles” of the well-known and widely validated five-factor model of personality.

Each trait domain consists of three to six more specific personality trait “facets” (e.g., emotional lability in the negative affectivity domain; impulsivity in the disinhibition domain).”.

The DSM-5 (APA, 2013) Section III Alternative Model states that the “essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits” and for ALL personality disorders the impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are:

  1. relatively inflexible and pervasive or consistent across a broad range of personal and social situations;
  2. relatively stable across time (with onsets that can be traced back to at least adolescence or early adulthood);
  3. not better explained by another mental disorder;
  4. not solely attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication); and are
  5. not better understood as normal for an individual’s developmental stage or sociocultural environment.

To diagnose Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the DSM-5 Alternative Model requires the following criteria to be met:

A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
a. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
b. Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.


2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
a. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
b. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain


B. Pathological personality traits in the Antagonism domain, characterised by:
a. Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.
b. Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.

Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism

“Empirical interest in narcissism was incited from the addition of a form of maladjusted narcissism to the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-III; American Psychiatric Association, 1980) in its inclusion of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)”.

Dickinson and Pincus (2003) reported that the “DSM category was based mostly on the work of Kernberg (1975) who conceived grandiosity as the primary overt characteristic in narcissistic pathology” (pathology meaning “any departure from what is considered healthy or adaptive”). 

Since then “both contemporary theorists of narcissism (Akhtar & Thomson, 1982; Cooper, 1981, 1998; Kohut, 1971; Wink, 1996) and clinicians who specialise in personality pathology have delineated two different types of narcissistic characters (Gabbard, 1989, 1998; Gersten, 1991; Masterson, 1993; Røvik, 2001).

The first is a grandiose subtype, the personality reflected in the representation of NPD in the DSM, wherein narcissistic pathology is described as grandiose, arrogant, entitled, exploitative and envious.

The second subtype is regarded as a vulnerable narcissistic personality, which is described as overtly self-inhibited and modest but harbouring underlying grandiose expectations for oneself and others (Gabbard, 1989, 1998).”

Gabbard (1989) proposed that “oblivious” narcissists are “unaware of his or her impact on others, whereas the “hypervigilant” are acutely aware of others’ reactions… Between these two endpoints will be many narcissistic individuals who are much smoother socially and who possess a great deal of interpersonal charm.”

Heinz Kohut courageously challenged Freudian orthodoxy and the medical control of psychoanalysis in America. His influential book “The Analysis of the Self” became known not only for its innovative and “systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders” but his “self psychology model” considerably advanced both understanding and treatment not only of narcissism in particular but personality disorders in general.i

“According to Kohut’s self psychology model, narcissistic psychopathology is a result of parental lack of empathy during development. Consequently, the individual does not develop full capacity to regulate self esteem. The narcissistic adult, according to Kohut’s concepts, vacillates between an irrational overestimation of the self and irrational feelings of inferiority, and relies on others to regulate his self esteem and give him a sense of value.

In treatment, Kohut recommends helping the patient develop these missing functions. Kohut proposes that the therapist should empathically experience the world from the patient’s point of view (“temporary indwelling”) so that the patient feels understood…

Using Heinz Kohut’s self psychology model, the goal of therapy is to allow the patient to incorporate the missing self object functions that he needs into his internal psychic structure. Kohut calls this process transmuting internalisation.

In this sense, these patients’ psyches are “under construction” and therapy is a building time. In order to achieve this goal, a therapist does not just try to imagine what feelings a certain situation might evoke, but rather can feel what the patient felt in that situation. This has been referred to as “temporary indwelling.”

This empathy has been credited with being one of the vehicles for making lasting changes in therapy. Without it, the patient, whose self is too weak to tolerate more aggressive interpretation, would not benefit from therapy and in fact may suffer more damage.”

Kohut was also known for his writing on the role of empathy between clinician and patient during therapy, with kindness by the therapist and caring for the person emotionally suffering facilitating client introspection, helping move their relationship to a deeper level.

The well-intentioned empathic nature and accurate interpretation by the clinician together with an accompanying insight on the part of the patient permits a deeper form of empathic connection and patient introspection, enhancing treatment outcome. “Man can no more survive psychologically in a psychological milieu that does not respond empathetically to him, than he can survive physically in an atmosphere that contains no oxygen.”

Kohut described empathy as “the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person” and wrote that “the empathic understanding of the experience of other human beings is as basic an endowment of man as his vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell.”

More recent research is consistent with Kohut’s (1971) early conceptualisation of grandiose and vulnerable narcissistic characters… The grandiose character is evident in the overt display of infantile grandiosity which evolves from archaic, unfulfilled narcissistic needs that are repressed early in childhood.

The vulnerable character generally presents with overt low self-esteem and shame, shifting from entitled narcissistic demands to a complete denial of these needs, experiencing shame and a sense of fragility.”

“Wink (1991) interpreted the two principal components of narcissism as grandiose and vulnerable. The grandiose component was associated with exhibitionism, aggression, sociability, dominance and self-acceptance. The vulnerable component, however, was associated with psychological distress, lowered sociability and lowered self-acceptance.

Spouses of participants rated both grandiose and vulnerable partners as bossy, cruel, arrogant, argumentative and demanding. In contrast, only the vulnerable subtypes were rated by their spouses as dissatisfied, anxious and bitter, whereas only grandiose subtypes were rated by their spouses as aggressive and exhibitionistic.

Grandiose Narcissists

The grandiose types have also been labeled “oblivious narcissists” (Gabbard, 1989, 1998) because of their observed lack of insight into the impact they have on others.

The grandiose narcissistic individual is more likely to regulate self-esteem through overt self-enhancement, denial of weaknesses, intimidating demands of entitlement, consistent anger in unmet expectation and devaluation of people that threaten self-esteem.

They have diminished awareness of the dissonance between their expectations and reality, along with the impact this has on relationships. Grandiose fantasies are an aspect of the individual’s overt presentation. Any conflict within the environment is generally experienced as external to these individuals and not a measure of their own unrealistic expectations.

The findings of Dickinson and Pincus (2003) concerning the overt social presentation of the grandiose narcissistic subtype were consistent with both theory (Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971, 1977) and research (Hibbard & Bunce, 1995; Pincus & Wiggins, 1990; Wink, 1991) on this character style.

Grandiose participants were rated as higher in personality disorder criteria for NPD, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. With regard to NPD criteria, this finding is consonant with the background of the development of the DSM category.

The higher ratings on the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder were also in line with past research that indicated considerable comorbidity of these Cluster B personality disorders with NPD (e.g., Morey, 1988).

Comorbidity is the simultaneous presence in an individual of more than one illness, disease or disorder.

The antisocial, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders have criteria that belie a dramatic interpersonal presentation, with a tendency toward exhibitionism, attention-seeking and difficulties empathising with others. They are “overtly perceived as grandiose, arrogant and exhibitionistic.”

The grandiose narcissists reported interpersonal difficulties of a domineering and/or vindictive nature, low interpersonal distress and the majority selected attachment styles associated with positive self-representation (Secure, Dismissive).

Grandiose narcissistic individuals expect another’s immediate and undivided attention, and are oblivious to the effect their direct demands of entitlement have on others.

By virtue of their ability to maintain the grandiose self through self-enhancement, grandiose narcissistic individuals are less susceptible than their vulnerable peers to the chronic emotional consequences of threats to entitled expectations (e.g., distress, lowered self-esteem, interpersonal fearfulness).

When provided with the opportunity, these individuals will say positive things about themselves and dismiss any potential weaknesses.

Research (Hibbard & Bunce, 1995; Pincus & Wiggins, 1990; Wink, 1991; Dickinson and Pincus (2003) that suggests that these individuals are actively self-enhancing, vindictive, aggressive, exhibitionistic and exploitative, while denying significant emotional or interpersonal stress.”

While they perceive themselves positively with regard to their experience in relationships and are likely to be dominant and assertive, others would likely describe their impact upon others more negatively than they themselves would perceive.

This overall finding confirms past theory and research that suggests that these individuals lack knowledge of the impact they have upon others, and thus, have an unrealistic view of themselves in relation to others (Gabbard, 1989, 1998; Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971, 1977).

Indeed, this very lack of insight into their impact upon others is what incited Gabbard (1989) to enlist the label “oblivious narcissists” to describe their social presentation and distinguish them from their vulnerable counterparts.

Vulnerable Narcissists

The vulnerable subtype has been garnished with a variety of labels including closet narcissist (Masterson, 1993), hypervigilant narcissist (Gabbard, 1989), hypersensitive narcissist (Hendin & Cheek, 1997), vulnerable narcissist (Gersten, 1991; Hibbard & Bunce, 1995; Wink, 1991), and covert narcissist (Akhtar & Thomson, 1982; Cooper, 1998; Wink & Donahue, 1997).

Vulnerable narcissistic personality is observed as overtly presenting with shyness, constraint and even the appearance of empathy. Underlying this presentation, however, lies a covert core organised around grandiose expectations and entitlement.

Vulnerable narcissists are less equipped to use self-enhancement strategies (including self-praise) to modulate self-esteem, often needing external feedback from others to manage their self-esteem.

They are more likely to experience conflict around their entitled expectations, attempting to disavow or deny the underlying entitlement and continual disappointments.

Denial is a defence mechanism in which unpleasant thoughts, feelings, wishes or events are ignored or excluded from conscious awareness, an unconscious process that functions to resolve emotional conflict or reduce anxiety.

However, the disavowal of their own entitled expectations leads to brewing anger and hostile outbursts, followed by the experience of shame and depression. The fluctuation between shame/depression and overt anger influences the impression of rather labile (or moody) emotions.

Vulnerable narcissistic individuals experience much greater anxiety in developing relationships with others because of the tenuous nature of their self-esteem.

Chronic hypersensitivity and disappointment stemming from unmet entitled expectations is intolerable enough to promote social withdrawal and avoidance in an attempt to manage self-esteem (Cooper, 1998; Gabbard, 1989, 1998; Gersten, 1991; Kraus & Reynolds, 2001; Wink, 1991).

However there appears to be considerable confusion in the diagnosis of NPD among clinicians (Gunderson, Ronningstam, & Smith, 1991), which may be due in part to differing theories of narcissism that guide the assessment of psychopathology (Cooper, 1998).

If the recognition of two types of narcissistic disorders is valid, overlooking the vulnerable type could contribute to false negative problems (narcissism not identified) and false positive problems (narcissism misidentified as another pathology).

Vulnerable narcissism could be misdiagnosed with at least two other distinct DSM personality disorders: Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

In the diagnosis of  Avoidant PD, there are several criteria that may overlap with vulnerable narcissism:

  1. Avoidant individuals are observed as appearing shy and being fearful of developing close relationships with others.
  2. Individuals with AVPD may meet criteria for experiencing fears of feeling humiliated, rejected or embarrassed within individual relationships.
  3. Finally, Millon (1996) proposes that the use of fantasy in individuals with AVPD is a major element in the presentation and perpetuation of this disorder. The use of fantasy has also long been denoted as primary to the realm of narcissism.

The vulnerable narcissist is likely to exhibit significant interpersonal anxiety, avoidance of relationships and use of fantasy, but this is guided by a core of entitled expectations.

Vulnerable narcissists may avoid relationships in order to protect themselves from the disappointment and shame over unmet expectations of others, in contrast to fears of social rejection or making a negative social impact typical of Avoidant PD.

Another false positive diagnosis that may occur as a result of misinterpreting vulnerable narcissism is in the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

As with social avoidance, the emotional lability of the vulnerable narcissist is influenced by their covert entitlement and difficulties managing disappointment and self-esteem threat.

In contrast, the emotionally lability of the individual with BPD is a byproduct of unrealistic anaclitic (powerlessness and fear of abandonment) needs (e.g., the need for a strong caretaker to manage his or her fears of being independent).’

Borderline PD has been denoted as a severe form of character pathology by many theorists (Kernberg, 1975; Millon, 1996).

Dickinson and Pincus’ found less statistical convergence of their vulnerable research candidates with borderline personality disorder which they believed confirmed their assertion that significant differences exist between the two distinct personality styles.

Despite the overt emotional lability of both borderline and vulnerably narcissistic individuals, there are meaningful differences in the types of problems these individuals would be expected to experience (Kernberg, 1975; Masterson, 1993).

Developmental Splitting between Grandiose & Vulnerable and Constructive & Destructive

“Though both constructs share the central concept of self-centredness, they manifest in very different personality types, which Wink (1991) originally referred to as the “two faces” (p. 590) of narcissism: subclinical Grandiose narcissists are extraverted, socially bold and even charming, Vulnerable narcissists, on the contrary, are introverted, defensive and avoidant.

While narcissistic grandiosity is characterised by overt expressions of feelings of superiority and entitlement, narcissistic vulnerability reflects hypersensitivity and introversive self-absorbedness.

Grandiose narcissism displays substantial correlation with extraversion, while vulnerable narcissism correlates highly with introversion…

Clinical observations show that patients diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a pathological form of narcissism, display co-occurring or oscillating states of grandiosity and vulnerability”.

“A recent systematic investigation found that individuals identified as grandiose narcissists are likely to display episodes of vulnerable narcissism as well” (Gore and Widiger, 2016).

“In reality, the individual feels quite inferior about himself, using the defence mechanism of splitting to remain unaware of the conflict between his expression of grandiosity and his feelings of inferiority” (Kernberg, 1975) (Carr, 2008)

Splitting is “a primitive defence mechanism used to protect oneself from conflict, in which objects provoking anxiety and ambivalence are dichotomised into extreme representations (part-objects) with either positive or negative qualities, resulting in polarised viewpoints that fluctuate in extremes of seeing the self or others as either all good or all bad.

This mechanism is used not only by infants and young children, who are not yet capable of integrating these polarized viewpoints, but also by adults with dysfunctional patterns of dealing with ambivalence; it is often associated with borderline personality disorder.” v

People with emotional personality disorders often experience overwhelming emotions and struggle to integrate the concept that good and bad can co-exist in another person… For people with a Cluster B disorder including borderline, “splitting” is a commonly used defence mechanism that is done subconsciously in an attempt to protect against intense negative feelings such as loneliness, abandonment and isolation.

Splitting causes a person to view everything and everyone in black and white, ‘absolute’ terms. It stops them from being able to recognise or accept paradoxical qualities in someone or something and doesn’t allow for any “grey areas” in their thinking.

Seeing and responding to the world in these extremes, through either a filter of positivity or negativity, can leave the disordered person exhausted and emotionally drained. It can also lead to strains or fractures in their relationships as those close to the person become more and more affected by their behaviour.

A common symptom is emotional dysregulation – this is where a person is less able to manage their emotional responses than individuals who don’t struggle with a personality disorder.

Therefore, when a person with the disorder splits and perceives something or someone to be entirely good or bad, they are likely to respond in a way that falls outside what would be expected.

These extreme emotions can be exhausting, both to the person with the disorder and those who are closest to them, who could be friends, family or coworkers.

When a real or perceived slight is then experienced by the disordered person, this can cause them to feel disappointed, betrayed, unloved or abandoned, and view the other party as entirely bad. The individual may then become angry, or withdraw entirely. vi

Splitting can also be used by psychopaths to create a narrative whereby they are the victim.

“Within the area of psychoanalysis, splitting refers to a coping mechanism whereby an individual, unable to integrate certain particularly difficult feelings or experiences into the overall ego structure, compartmentalises his or her reaction to those feelings or experiences. This is also often referred to as ego disintegration or, in extreme cases, dissociation.

Splitting was first described by Sigmund Freud, and was later more clearly defined by his daughter Anna Freud. Splitting can be explained as thinking purely in extremes, e.g. good versus bad, powerful versus defenceless and so on.

A two-year-old child cannot see a person who does something unpleasant to the child (e.g. not feeding him when he is hungry), as possessing just one or a few bad characteristic(s). This is too complicated for the not yet fully developed brain. The other can only been seen as all bad at that moment in time. However, when this person gratifies the child, he will be perceived as all good again. Splitting can be seen as a developmental stage and as a defence mechanism.”

In the object relations theory of Melanie Klein, she states that children are born with two primary drives: a caring, loving one and a destructive, hateful one. All humans struggle throughout their entire lives to integrate these two drives into constructive relations.

An important step in the development of children is to overcome the splitting of these two drives, which is the central theme of the paranoid-schizoid position, conceived of by Melanie Klein as the state of mind existing in babies of three or four to six months of age, but one that is constantly returned to throughout life to greater or lesser degrees.

Klein emphasises that the good and bad parts of the self are projected onto or into the object, such as the mother. This represents the operation of the life and death instincts, of love and hate. As the child matures and as a result of predominantly good experiences being taken in, the baby gradually begins to be able to bring together the good and bad objects into a single object. viii

As an Object Relations Theorist, Klein sees emotions as always existing in relation to other people or “objects” of emotions or feelings. In the paranoid schizoid position, relations are also characterised by being all “good” or all “bad”. People in the child’s world are thus split into two objects, hence the “schizoid” in paranoid schizoid.

According to Klein, splitting refers to the separation of the things the child loves (good, gratifying objects) and the things the child hates (bad, frustrating objects)… The child has to learn that others and objects can be good and bad.ix

In the developmental model of Otto Kernberg, the overcoming of splitting is also an important developmental task. The child has to learn to integrate feelings of love and hate.

If a person fails to accomplish this developmental task, borderline pathology can develop. The borderline personality is not able to integrate the good and bad images of both self and others. Kernberg also states that people who suffer from borderline personality disorder have a ‘bad representation’ which dominates the ‘good representation’.

Splitting creates instability in relationships, because one person can be viewed as either all good or all bad at different times, depending on whether he or she gratifies needs or frustrates them. This, and similar oscillations in the experience of the self, lead to chaotic and unstable relationship patterns, identity diffusion and mood swings.

People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder also use splitting as a central defence mechanism. They do this to preserve their self-esteem, their overall evaluation or appraisal of their own worth.. They do this by seeing the self as purely good and the others as purely bad. The use of splitting also implies the use of other defence mechanisms, namely devaluation, idealisation and denial.

Denial is a defence mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

When viewing people as all good, the individual is said to be using idealisation: a mental mechanism in which the person attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to the self or others.

When viewing people as all bad, the individual employs devaluation: attributing exaggeratedly negative qualities to the self or others.

Heinz Kohut’s “self-object transferences” involved idealisation and mirroring, or copying what someone else is doing while communicating with them. Kohut stated that, with narcissistic patients, idealisation of the self and the therapist should be allowed during therapy and then very gradually will diminish.

To Kohut, idealisation in childhood is a healthy mechanism. If the parents fail to provide appropriate opportunities for idealisation (healthy narcissism) and mirroring (how to cope with reality), the child does not develop beyond a developmental stage in which he sees himself as grandiose but in which he also remains dependent on others to provide his self-esteem.

Indeed before Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) took its present name, it was commonly referred to as Megalomania, a term first used by Heinz Kohut in 1971.

Narcissistic personality disorder is thus a psychological disorder resulting from a person’s belief that he or she is flawed in a way that makes the person fundamentally unacceptable to others. This belief is held below the person’s conscious awareness. Indeed such a person would typically deny thinking such a thing if questioned.

In order to protect themselves against the intolerably painful rejection and isolation they imagine would follow if others recognised their supposedly defective nature, such people make strong attempts to control others’ view of them and behaviour towards them.

The common use of the term “narcissism” refers to some of the ways people defend themselves against this narcissistic dynamic: a concern with one’s own physical and social image, a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings and a sense of grandiosity.

There are, however, many other behaviours that can stem from narcissistic concerns, such as immersion in one’s own affairs to the exclusion of others, an inability to empathise with others’ experience, interpersonal rigidity, an insistence that one’s opinions and values are “right” and a tendency to be easily offended and take things personally.

To the extent that people are narcissistic, they can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of other’s needs and of the effects of their behaviour on others, and require that others see them as they wish to be seen.

People who are narcissistic commonly feel rejected, humiliated and threatened when criticised. To protect themselves from these dangers, they often react with disdain, rage, and/or defiance to any slight, real or imagined, xiv all of which are traits this research associates with “Destructive Leadership” as (mal) practiced by “Disordered Leaders”.

Two, Three or Four Factors of both Narcissism and Psychopathy

Narcissism as one, two or three factors

At the single-factor level, narcissism measures combine content across Antagonism, Agentic Extraversion, and Neuroticism (e.g., NPD, FFNI Total score), albeit to varying degrees.

Although NPD symptoms as described in the DSM-5 criteria primarily (Fossati et al., 2005; Miller, Hoffman, Campbell, & Pilkonis, 2008) resemble Grandiose narcissism, the full DSM-5 description of NPD makes it clear that vulnerability is thought to be involved as well: “vulnerability in self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat.

Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty” (APA, 2013, p. 671).

At the two-factor level, one finds the commonly described and studied dimensions of Grandiose and Vulnerable narcissism (Cain, Pincus, & Ansell, 2008; Miller & Campbell, 2008; Wink, 1991), both of which include antagonistic traits.

In general, Grandiose narcissism is associated with immodesty, interpersonal dominance, self-absorption, callousness, and manipulativeness, whereas Vulnerable narcissism is associated with psychological distress, negative affectivity (e.g., anxiety, shame), low self-esteem, distrustfulness, egocentrism, reactive anger, and hostility.

These two narcissism dimensions have been discussed using a variety of titles with Grandiose narcissism also referred to as manipulative, phallic, overt, egotistical, oblivious, exhibitionistic, psychopathic; and Vulnerable narcissism also referred to as craving, contact-shunning, thin-skinned, hyper-vigilant, and shy (Cain et al., 2008).

At the three-factor level of narcissism, narcissism can be seen as being divisible into agentic aspects of trait Extraversion, Antagonism (or low Agreeableness) and Neuroticism.

The two factors of (1) Grandiose Narcissism are associated with Agentic Extraversion and Antagonism/Agreeableness while (2) Vulnerable Narcissism is associated with Antagonism/Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

The approach appears to be part of an emerging consensus with respect to (a) conceptualising narcissism involving three dimensions and (b) an understanding of the biological and personality bases underlying phenotypic manifestations of narcissism.

The trifurcated model is instantiated in the Five-Factor Narcissism Inventory (FFNI; Glover, Miller, Lynam, Crego, & Widiger, 2012), a measure of narcissism based on the framework of general personality, which includes at the subordinate (and most parsimonious) level of its organisation three dimensions: Antagonism, Agentic Extraversion, and Neuroticism (Miller et al., 2016, 2017)

Like the trifurcated model, Krizan and Herlache’s (2018) Narcissism Spectrum Model characterises narcissistic individuals by two main dimensions involving a common elevation in Entitled Self-importance, and fairly distinct functional qualities involving either an approach-oriented Boldness or an avoidance-oriented Reactivity.

This model is similar to a conceptualisation in which Antagonism (akin to Entitled Self-importance) is the core feature with the other two dimensions (Neuroticism/Reactivity vs Agentic Extraversion/Reactivity) as diagnostic specifiers (Miller et al., 2017).1

Although other expressions of narcissism are possible (e.g., high Antagonism, Agentic Extraversion, and Neuroticism akin to narcissistic personality disorder), a negative association between the latter two traits makes this presentation less likely to occur.

Psychopathy as two, three or three factors

The world of organisational life including but certainly not limited to business can benefit from research into more overt criminal behaviour, especially that related to the impulsivity of people who can initially appear to be sensible and rational but then all of a sudden take a rash business decision which (overtly or covertly) is designed to satisfy or maximise their self-interest, irrespective of the consequences for the entity or people they (mis)lead.

To the uninitiated, the rational progress of the entity and welfare of its people can rapidly and perhaps sensationally  appear not to be their concern at all, making it all the more important that such people are ‘weeded out” before they reach senior managerial positions at all, roles from which they are more likely to behave in a self-satisfying manner with a huge sense of entitlement which, in due course, may lead on from basic levels of manipulation and deceit to remorseless engagement in “white collar crime”.

Research into the links between personality and criminal behaviour include a role for differences in the motivation to commit crime, in addition to a role for lack of impulse control.

For example, researchers have long observed that an important difference among criminals—even among the serious offenders called psychopaths—is that some have very poor self-control, whereas others are more coolly calculating and rational.

Karpman (1948) used the term “primary psychopath” to refer to the latter kind of criminal and called the former kind of criminal the “secondary psychopath.” Consistent with this view, subsequent researchers who studied the personality characteristics of criminals found that those characteristics form two broad factors (e.g., Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Levenson, Kiehl, & Fitzpatrick, 1995) that show only modest positive correlations with each other.

One group of characteristics, representing primary psychopathy, includes manipulation, deceit, grandiosity, callousness, and selfishness, whereas the other group of characteristics, representing secondary psychopathy, includes impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of planning, and poor self-control.

In some studies, researchers have examined the relations of primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy with criminal or delinquent behaviour in samples of people, such as college students, who are generally not convicted criminals.

These studies, based on anonymous self-reports, indicate that both sets of characteristics—primary and secondary psychopathy—are positively correlated with delinquent activities, such as thefts, vandalism, driving while intoxicated, and others (Levenson et al., 1995; McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998).

These links are moderately strong, with correlations reaching the .40s, and suggest that both primary and secondary psychopathy should be considered when predicting criminal or delinquent behaviour. That is, a person’s likelihood of committing crimes depends both on how much he or she fails to control impulses, and also on his or her level of manipulativeness and selfishness.

The distinction between primary and secondary psychopathy has some interesting implications.

One of these involves the behaviour of persons who have high levels of one aspect of psychopathy, but low levels of the other. (Because the two kinds of psychopathy have moderate positive correlations with each other, such persons will be somewhat unusual, but not particularly rare.)

Consider a person who has high levels of primary psychopathic traits (such as deceitfulness, grandiosity, and selfishness) but low levels of secondary psychopathic traits (such as impulsivity and irresponsibility).

Such a person will likely cause many difficulties for other people, by being exploitative and manipulative of others. However, such a person might be careful enough and self-controlled enough to avoid committing acts that would lead to criminal convictions (or at least to avoid committing such acts when he or she would be caught).

Conversely, consider a person who has low levels of primary psychopathic traits but high levels of secondary psychopathic traits. Such a person would be unlikely to harm others deliberately while pursuing some selfish goals, yet he or she might nevertheless get into trouble with the authorities, for example, by impulsively committing a crime in response to some sudden provocation or some sudden temptation.

In 2001, when Hare’s analysis of psychopathy was explained by way of two not the subsequent four factors, researchers Cooke and Michie at Glasgow Caledonian University, using statistical analysis involving “confirmatory factor analysis”, suggested that a three-factor structure may provide a more effective model, with those items from PCL-R Factor 2 strictly relating to antisocial behaviour (criminal versatility, juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, early behavioural problems and poor behavioural controls) not utilised for their assessment of what constitutes psychopathy.

While those more familiar with psychopathy from experience with imprisoned criminals may disagree, those more accustomed to psychopathic behaviour outside the more overtly criminal fraternity, indeed across almost all other areas of society, which Hare prefers to describe as sub-criminal psychopaths, may be better able to relate with the non-social-deviance aspects and find them more apparently relevant to the coldheartedly ruthless behaviour exhibited by the self-centred individuals employed in business, politics, government, public sector, education, religion, charities, sports and other activities in society which do not normally lead to trial and imprisonment, even if they could or should more frequently than they do.

Proponents of models of psychopathy without the anti-social criminality required for diagnosis as a psychopath may argue that it is the other more arrogant, interpersonal, affective, impulsive and cold-heartedly empathy, guilt, fear and conscience-free nature of their personality, which leads them to engage in anti-social behaviour, given the right (or rather wrong) social background and opportunity.

Cooke and Michie otherwise in many respects concur with Hare’s analysis of psychopathic traits and divide the remaining non-socially deviant items into three factors:

1. Arrogant and Deceitful Experience (ADI), or interpersonal style,
2. Deficient Affective Experience (DAE), and
3. Impulsive and Irresponsible Behavioural lifestyle (IIL)
which with some variation roughly correspond to the PCL-R factors 1a, 1b and 2a.

Following further research, both by his own team and others in the same field of applied psychology, Hare’s work evolved from a “two factor” to a “four-factor model” of psychopathy (2003).

More recent work (e.g., Williams, Paulhus, & Hare, 2007) has suggested that the two broad aspects of psychopathy can each be divided into two parts, giving four parts altogether.

These four parts represent:

  • (1a) a manipulative, “conning” style of interaction with others;
  • (1b) a callous insensitivity to others’ concerns;
  • (2a) an erratic, uncontrolled, impulsive lifestyle; and
  • (2b) a pattern of antisocial behaviour or criminal activity.

As you would expect, these different aspects of psychopathy are strongly related to basic personality dimensions. All four parts are related to low Honesty–Humility; in addition, callousness is related to low Emotionality, and erratic lifestyle is related to low Conscientiousness (Gaughan, Miller, & Lynam, 2012).

Psychopathy has recently been studied along with two other, related traits:

  1. Machiavellianism (a cynical tendency to pursue one’s interests by manipulating others) and
  2. Narcissism (an inflated view of one’s own importance, with a sense of entitlement and willingness to exploit others).

These overlapping constructs of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissism are sometimes called the “Dark Triad” (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

Studies examining the links of the Dark Triad characteristics with the major personality factors have found that all three are strongly negatively correlated with the HEXACO Honesty–Humility factor.

In addition, each of the three Dark Triad characteristics have unique associations with other HEXACO personality factors (see Lee et al., 2013): Psychopathy is related to low Conscientiousness and low Emotionality, Machiavellianism is related to low Agreeableness, and Narcissism is related to high Extraversion.

Indeed as “the Honesty-humility factor (and the HEXACO model in general) is only moderately correlated with the Big Five model of personality, but is highly correlated with the Agreeableness factor of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), which is one of the factors of the Five-Factor model of personality”, I would strongly argue that from the business ethics perspective the “Big Five” model needs to become the “Big Six” by way of including a strong measure of both Humility and Honesty, especially as the Dark Triad research suggests the related traits are related to (low) honesty and (low) modesty.

This proposal both from my own widespread business experience as well as personal reading and research would appear to have the backing of Ashton MC and Lee K (2005) who believe that the strong correlation between the Honesty-humility factor (and the HEXACO model in general) with the Agreeableness factor of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), being due to due to the Straightforwardness and Modesty subscales of the NEO-PI-R, may by forcing the NEO-PI-R to extract separate factors for Honesty and Agreeableness allow experimenters to better predict Social Adroitness and Self-Monitoring, important in the business arena.

Indeed one study “found that adding the HEXACO Honesty-humility factor to personality measures improves predictive validity for both self- and other-reports of personality, and that simply creating an honesty factor from the FFM measures improves predictive validity for some measures (mainly social adroitness and sexuality measures), but not all (e.g. materialism and delinquency), which indicates that the HEXACO model is a better measure of personality than either the Big Five or the FFM”.

Antagonism and its associated disorders

Interest in the Dark Triad has steadily grown since 2002. One research question that has garnered significant attention relates to what constitutes the common core of the Dark Triad constructs. Multiple hypotheses have been offered and these hypotheses tend to focus on antagonism and/or specific antagonism-related traits.xii

Particular methodological approaches may lead to differing conclusions about which traits and behaviours best account for the overlap among the Dark Triad constructs. It does appear though that specific traits related to (low) honesty and (low) modesty constitute the core of the Dark Triad. 

In the psychiatric diagnostic literature, the antagonism factor has mostly arisen from various personality disorder factors and has not otherwise emerged in these larger studies when such indicators (with the exception of antisocial PD) have not been included.

Kotov et al.’s (2017) interpretation of this literature, from the HiTOP perspective, is that the antagonistic-externalising spectrum accounts for the shared variance in four personality disorders (narcissistic, paranoid, histrionic, and borderline) and, together with the disinhibited-externalising spectrum, the shared variation in antisocial PD, conduct disorder, ODD, and ADHD. Disinhibited externalising, on the other hand, accounts for the shared variance in substance use disorders. Absent from this consideration is psychopathy, though this construct is formally represented as antisocial PD in the DSM-5 (albeit a highly inadequate operationalisation). Next, the degree to which these various disorders are truly markers or psychiatric representations of antagonism is discussed1; and because the antagonism factor has emerged more distinctly in the adult literature, only such disorders will be on focus in this section.

Psychopathy/Antisocial PD. Psychopathy is a multifaceted and severe personality disorder that involves deficiencies in affective and interpersonal functioning (e.g., callousness, lack of empathy, remorse, and emotional depth, fearlessness, superficial charm, grandiosity, and deceitfulness) as well as regulation of behaviour (e.g., impulsivity, irresponsibility, anger proneness, aggression) (e.g., Cooke, Hart, Logan, & Michie, 2012; Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick, & Lilienfeld, 2011).

It is operationalised as antisocial PD in the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), which emphasises the behavioural deficiencies to a far greater degree than the affective/interpersonal aspects. This issue is not trivial because it likely has implications for the degree to which the disorder is associated with antagonism as opposed to its closest trait domain relative, disinhibition.

A plethora of research studies has clearly linked psychopathy to the trait domain of antagonism. Lynam and Miller (2015) argued that antagonism represents the core of psychopathic personality in light of impressive evidence from a range of sources.

Specifically, they noted that total scores for the most common psychopathy measures were all more strongly correlated with (low) agreeableness trait facets than those from any other FFM domain; that expert ratings of a prototypical psychopath (Miller, Lyman, Widiger, & Leukefeld, 2001) indicated very low ratings on all agreeableness facets; and when the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised (Hare, 1991) was translated into FFM language (see Widiger & Lynam, 1998), the PCL-R items were most strongly linked to (low) agreeableness.

Furthermore, recent meta-analyses of FFM traits and PD associations (Samuel & Widiger, 2008; Saulsman & Page, 2004) indicate that antisocial PD is moderately and negatively correlated with agreeableness, and weakly to moderately negatively correlated with conscientiousness.

In sum, the multifaceted psychopathic personality disorder construct has antagonism as a major core and should be considered a severe psychiatric manifestation of this trait domain. Its DSM-5 operationalisation of antisocial PD is substantially linked to this domain as well, but its relative proportion of disinhibition/low conscientiousness variance is larger, which likely explains why antisocial PD (and also Conduct Disorder more associated with youth) often loads more strongly (or even exclusively) on disinhibition rather than antagonism domains in some studies.

Narcissistic PD. Narcissistic PD is clearly a psychiatric representation of antagonism. Such indicators in the various latent structural models reviewed preferentially and distinctly load on factors that are interpreted to represent antagonism. In addition, meta-analyses (Samuel & Widiger, 2008; Saulsman & Page, 2004) indicate that narcissistic PD is moderately and negatively correlated with FFM agreeableness, but no other FFM domains.

Furthermore, Miller et al. (2016) observed that virtually all types of narcissism measures (DSM-based, grandiose, vulnerable) exhibited large correlations with antagonism, but associations with other maladaptive FFM domains were dependent on the manifestation (grandiose vs vulnerable) of narcissism. Thus, in sum, the personality trait core of Narcissistic PD is clearly antagonism.

Paranoid PD. Paranoid PD is the third personality disorder with a substantial antagonism relation. It is complex from a trait perspective, with major sources of personality variance coming from paranoid ideation/mistrust, alienation, and anger/hostility, which are facets that load on different broader personality domains depending on the model considered (e.g., DSM-5 AMPD, FFM, PSY-5). From an FFM perspective, these traits fall under the neuroticism and (low) agreeableness domains, which is consistent with the two major meta-analyses (Samuel & Widiger, 2008; Saulsman & Page, 2004) on FFM traits and PDs.

More specifically, paranoid PD is moderately and positively associated with neuroticism, whereas it is moderately and negatively associated with agreeableness. Some studies have also linked paranoid PD to a psychoticism domain (e.g., Bagby, Sellbom, Costa, & Widiger, 2008; Finn, Arbisi, Erbes, Polusny, & Thuras, 2014; Hopwood, Thomas, Markon, Wright, & Krueger, 2012) in non-FFM models, and structurally, Kotov et al. (2011) observed a cross-loading on a thought disorder factor in addition to the antagonism.

In sum, paranoid PD is clearly antagonism related, but multifaceted from a personality perspective with clear influences from neuroticism (e.g., anger/hostility, alienation) and psychoticism (e.g., unusual beliefs) as well.

Histrionic PD. This PD is arguably more questionable as a psychiatric representation of antagonism. Although it loads on the antagonism factor in structural studies, the FFM literature (Samuel & Widiger, 2008; Saulsman & Page, 2004) indicates that it is more relevant to the extraversion domain (mean weighted r’s = .33 and .42) than the agreeableness domain (mean weighted r’s = − .11 and − .06).

In Wright and Simms (2015), histrionic PD loaded more strongly (and negatively) on a detachment/introversion factor than antagonism. However, in other models where the definitional trait of attention seeking loads exclusively on antagonism (e.g., Krueger et al., 2012) and where antagonism is also linked to extraversion (e.g., PSY-5 Aggressiveness; Harkness & McNulty, 1994), histrionic PD is clearly associated with antagonism as well if not most strongly so (Bagby et al., 2008; Finn et al., 2014; Hopwood et al., 2012; Wright & Simms, 2015).

In sum, the personality science of histrionic PD, a disorder that some contend should not even exist (e.g., Blashfield, Reynolds, & Stennett, 2012), is equivocal at best. It is clearly a disorder highly influenced by extraversion, but its relation to antagonism is inconsistent and tends to depend on what personality trait model is being considered. At this point, it is difficult to proffer this PD as a major psychiatric marker of antagonism.

Borderline PD. Borderline PD is a very heterogeneous disorder from a personality (and symptom) perspective. Its position as a psychiatric marker of antagonism is highly questionable and potentially misleading.

Many scholars have argued that emotional dysregulation is the core of this disorder (e.g., Glenn & Klonsky, 2009; Gratz, 2003; Linehan, 1993), which means that borderline PD is more clearly a disorder of neuroticism/negative affectivity than antagonism.

Both Samuel and Widiger (2008) and Saulsman and Page (2004) reported weak average weighted correlations between FFM domains and borderline PD, whereas the average associations with neuroticism were of large magnitude.

In addition, studies from the DSM-5 AMPD trait perspective that indicate that borderline PD has its smallest association with antagonism (and, as expected, largest with negative affectivity), and when such traits are entered into a regression model to predict latent borderline PD variance, no antagonism facets augment this prediction (e.g., Sellbom, Sansone, Songer, & Anderson, 2014).

Furthermore, structural evidence is highly inconsistent with respect to borderline PD loading on antagonism factors, and when dimensional traits are considered in addition to psychiatric diagnoses, this PD loads clearly on internalising (Wright & Simms, 2015).

Thus, in sum, it is difficult to make an argument for borderline PD serving as a major psychiatric representation for antagonism. It is related to antagonism in terms of anger/hostility and aggression, but these manifestations are likely more directly mediated through high levels of neuroticism.

The “Vulnerable” Dark Triad

The Dark Triad constellation includes a bewildering array of strengths and vulnerabilities. For instance, some of the aspects of narcissism, including grandiosity and leadership, seem to be beneficial in terms of personal well-being and life outcomes, even if not for those who suffer in some manner from their self-centredness. xiii

However, there may be other aspects of narcissism that impair the functioning of the individual in their everyday lives. This constellation of strengths and vulnerabilities seems contradictory and led Miller et al. (2010) to propose that as well as the traditionally researched Dark Triad, there is a second triad which constitutes of vulnerable aspects of aversive personality constellation.

The Vulnerable Dark Triad is especially relevant in the clinical context, although it is not integrated clearly with the diagnoses of Antisocial (ASPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorders (NPD).

The “darkness” of the Dark Triad consists in essence of disagreeableness (antagonism, deceitfulness, dishonesty and selfishness). As well as the aversive “core,” some individuals high on the Dark Triad also present profiles that are characterised by psychological vulnerability—neuroticism, negative emotionality and the inability to control emotions, which may lead to vulnerability to mental distress.

Furthermore, some aspects of the Dark Triad are also associated with impulsivity and inability to wait for rewards, which can result in rash decisions that may put the individual in a risky position (e.g., crossing a busy road without a care for the traffic or having unprotected sex with a stranger).

According to Miller et al. (2010), it makes sense to think of the Dark Triad as two constructs.

  1. In addition to a more adaptive constellation (i.e., Factor 1 psychopathy and grandiose narcissism as measured by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory),
  2. there is a second Dark Triad, characterised by features of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), vulnerable narcissism (e.g., fragile self-esteem, insensitivity) and Factor 2 psychopathy (e.g., risk-taking and impulsivity).

All the three aspects of the vulnerable Dark Triad are linked to neuroticism and have associations with insecure attachment, suboptimal parenting as a child (i.e., low warmth and high intrusiveness from the parents), as well as childhood trauma (i.e., sexual, verbal, physical and emotional abuse).

Further, vulnerable Dark Triad is associated with difficulties in current functioning, including non-suicidal self-harming behaviours. These etiological factors that are present in the vulnerable Dark Triad are absent from the adaptive dyad of grandiose narcissism and Factor 1 psychopathy. Despite the differences in etiological factors, both types of dark personality constellations have a positive relationship with antagonistic behaviours such as crime and substance use.

The Dark Triad in the Workplace

Research into the Dark Triad traits in organisations is still in its infancy. Emerging evidence suggests that people who have socially aversive personality traits self-select to careers and occupations that allow them to use ruthless tactics in gaining power and money. xiv

At the job interview stage, high Dark Triad individuals, especially those high in narcissism, may use tactics of strategies of self-promotion and self-enhancement in charming the employers into hiring them.

When in employment, high Dark Triad traits relate to CWBs, including stealing, bullying and sabotage of work property.

When Dark Triad individuals are promoted into a leadership role, their followers report being more stressed, with intentions to find a new job.

However, the success of the Dark Triad depends on the organisational context and other characteristics of the individual. There certainly is a need for more research looking at moderating factors between the Dark Triad and workplace outcomes. Overall, the exploitative cheater strategy embodied by socially antagonistic personalities translates into selfish behaviour in the workplace context as well as in other aspects of life…

The Dark Triad is also a prime candidate for personality traits that are relevant in understanding why people commit crimes.

The antagonistic, selfish core of the triad influences involvement in a large number of antisocial and criminal activities, ranging from drug offences to assaults, robberies, property thefts and white-collar crimes.

Psychopathy is the darkest of the three traits, showing consistent associations with crime across different studies in prison and well as community and student samples. Although there is less research investigating the Dark Triad and involvement in white-collar crimes, the existing data speaks for the importance of psychopathy in business and workplace criminal activity.


Identifiable and Predictable Behaviour

Having been exposed to over 50 highly challenging people during my own career, who may be capable of being diagnosed with a “Personality Disorder” (in the unlikely event that any ever receive psychological assessment or treatment), a situation I failed to properly comprehend for many years in industry, just believing them to be exceptionally “selfish, difficult, proud and perverse”, I can testify what a great challenge those with such a mindset can pose to everyone else with no option but to deal with them.

One solution is to learn what behavioural traits to look for, preferably in advance of granting seniority of position to those who seem to inhabit a different world from everyone else.

While many people can behave in an SDPP or “selfish, difficult, proud and perverse” manner occasionally, especially under extreme pressure, to be classified as a “Personality Disorder” the traits need to be “inflexible”, meaning can be repeatedly observed without regards to time, place or circumstance, while also interfering with a person’s ability to function well in society, including causing problems with interpersonal relationships, termed “functional impairment”.

Indeed the four core features common to all Personality Disorders, with two required for diagnosis, are

  1. Distorted thinking patterns,
  2. Problematic emotional responses,
  3. Over- or under-regulated impulse control and
  4. Interpersonal difficulties,

none of which are attributes which society needs in those with responsibility for its institutions and their people.

Yet far too frequently some or all of these are evident in the behaviour of leaders, erroneously associated with strength of character and leadership, rather than weakness of personality and an inability to manage their own emotions, let alone lead other people.

One of the definitions of a “Personality Disorder” is “pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes.”

Those with “shallow emotions” who experience other people no differently than inanimate objects – such as shopfront mannequins – can perceive or misconceive many areas of organisational and national life being like a “game”, including business, politics and government.

It is all about the conquest, winning and possession of what they desire, being better and having more than those they see to be a rival (who frequently are not), with other far more important factors not nearly as relevant as they should be in their perception and deliberations.


  1. “Getting their own way”,
  2. “Winning at all costs, irrespective of consequences for others”, and
  3. “Evaluating matters from the primary perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

becomes more critical for them than in the minds of most other, more “normal” people.

When people are devoid of warm emotions, lacking the ability to love or be loved, what else is left to do in interpersonal relationships but to have to “win”, especially when they reduce all situations to a “game” or “mind game”?

What they fail to recognise when in senior managerial roles is that their necessity to “personally prevail” often involves disadvantaging others, in business perhaps not only just emotionally but also financially, damaging trust, eroding reputation and ensuring that not only will the two parties never “do business” with each other again but the disadvantaged party may even choose to “bad-mouth” the culprit, ensuring even more choose to “take their business elsewhere”.

When will they learn? Or perhaps they can’t learn from their mistakes? Or may not even be capable of recognising that damaging relationships are a mistake, rather a “victory”?

This would not be how most “normal” people would behave, recognising the necessity for ongoing and continuing healthy relationships, one of the keys to longer term business success. 

Lacking the vision required of leaders, but being incessant pity-seekers (best described as “poor me”), they nevertheless somehow manage to see criticism or persecution where there is none, or none intended, just different opinions which in the minds of most normal people are a healthy part of deliberation and debate, the “give and take” which results in the most sensible path to progress by way of decisions which weigh up risk and reward and try to consider and balance the interests of the most appropriate “stakeholders”, or the most relevant groups of people involved or impacted by the decision, not just the self-interest and pride of the leader.

While other people may consider “there is something wrong”, this belief may not be shared by those who consistently cause trouble for their often beleaguered colleagues.

People with many of the Personality Disorders just do not believe there is anything wrong with them, so see no need to change nor seek treatment, which they may not even cooperate with in the unlikely event that assessment transpires.

Those with “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” and related disorders believe they are normal and may not seek any form of assessment, assistance or treatment because they feel superior to others. Indeed their mindset is such that they may believe that it is their inferiors who are the real problem and it is they who re responsible for problems.

Those with “Paranoid Personality Disorder” also feel there is nothing wrong with them, although others may see them as being excessively suspicious and unnecessary hostile. In their mind, their suspicions of others are quite justified. It is these other people who are the real problem and they are the reasons for the degree of moderate to significant dysfunction, havoc and even mayhem which their mis-management and mal-leadership inevitably brings.

Characteristics such as these should disqualify such people from consideration for senior roles, but incredibly (meaning “hard to believe”) these traits are evident amongst people holding significant positions throughout society. One reason is too many other people (especially those with the right credentials for seniority) just do not seem to know what traits to look for, primarily to identify them to deny such people they power they need and demand but are incapable of using for the purpose intended, then become difficult to replace as they prioritise maintenance of the power they crave over all other considerations, irrespective of the cost to others.

The other main reason it becomes important to be able to identify such “disordered” people is to realise that trying to deal with them “normally” is likely to result in abject failure and a variety of countermeasures will instead need to be tactically employed in dealing with them, to diminish the damage they can do not only to the culture of their organisation (or nation) but also to the lives and emotions of those who have no choice but to work with or for them.

At the end of the day when people learn what traits to look for, the “disordered people” themselves facilitate this task of preventing them from becoming “disordered leaders”, because they actually “give the game away” themselves by way of what they cannot hide or change – their own behavioural traits.

This can take some time to notice and appreciate. Indeed it took me over 25 years in industry, working with hundreds of organisations, before a coffee with a psychologist who explained NPD to me led to my recognising that I had actually worked with or for over 50 such people and how similar much of their behaviour actually was, although they worked in different sectors, nations and even continents.

“Self-centred” has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests” and “independent of outside force or influence”.

“Narcissistic Personality” is described as “a pattern of traits and behaviours characterised by excessive self-concern and overvaluation of the self.”

Amongst the (identifiable and hence predictable) traits associated with the “Cluster B” group of Personality Disorders especially “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” are:

  1. Long-standing pattern of grandiose self-importance and an exaggerated sense of talent and achievements
  2. Exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration from others
  3. Cold when others would expect them to be warm
  4. Belief that they are special and most others are inferior, not worthy of being associated with them
  5. Sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment from others
  6. They believe they are normal and all the problems and challenges they create are the fault of situations or other people (who they find it easy to blame)
  7. Cannot accept responsibility for their innate irresponsibility
  8. Need for praise from others
  9. Need to belittle those they perceive (often wrongly) to be rivals, critics or they believe disagree with or disrespect them, attacking and slandering their good name, often quite fictitiously and even delusionally, while falsely assassinating their reputation (if not “character”; reputation is what others think of you, but character is who you actually are, perhaps not damaged when slighted and enhanced by reacting well when others treat you badly – one of life’s greatest tests)
  10. When not being praised by others they can praise themselves, sometimes extravagantly, including for achievements only they recognise
  11. Behave arrogantly with a conceited, pretentious & pompous manner
  12. Boastful of their talents or achievements, even if greatly exaggerated or totally fictitious, only present in their own version of reality, the unique world they live in
  13. Active imaginations especially about themselves and rules to be obeyed (their own not society’s)
  14. Huge belief in their invulnerability and ability to “get away” with anything
  15. Tendency to fantasise about success, power, brilliance or beauty
  16. Expect to be recognised as superior, even without commensurate achievements
  17. Find it easy to be “ruth-less”, meaning free of sympathy/compassion
  18. Envious of others or belief they may be envious of them
  19. Insist on being and having the best of everything
  20. Others need to “walk on eggshells” in their presence given their volatility
  21. Need unquestioning compliance from others and may not be able to cope with non-compliance or criticism, as they can be “thin-skinned” and easily slighted
  22. Total disregard for the emotions of others, which they may not be able to experience, or wish to damage, due to an inability to empathise with the feelings of others
  23. Manipulate and take advantage of others to get what they want
  24. Interest shown in other people only while they are deemed to serve a useful purpose, otherwise they can be ignored, discarded or even verbally attacked and disparaged
  25. People can be coldly experienced, no different from inanimate objects (such as shopfront mannequins)
  26. Other people exist to be used to satisfy their insatiable personal needs
  27. Otherwise they have no intrinsic value as people, nor any interests or needs worthwhile knowing, as ultimately they just do not matter
  28. Despite their constant need for praise, they struggle to genuinely praise others, preferring to find reason or fault, even when praise may be most warranted
  29. Thrive on criticism but can’t cope when this is directed at them; warranted or not, always without merit in their mind given their huge self-belief
  30. Grossly over react to anything they perceive to be criticism, even if there was none or no critique was intended
  31. Blame other people, events or situations for their own errors, inadequacies or failings, perhaps by way of “projecting” these on to others rather than “facing facts” and trying to deal with their personal issues themselves; until aware of their tendencies, third parties are more likely to believe their criticism of others, not realising they may be some (perhaps only) form of recognition of their own failings
  32. “With prejudice” well describes those who hold deep and long-lasting grudges and seek revenge and retaliation, even for trivial reasons such as others merely suggesting or proffering a different opinion from theirs
  33. They can derive more pleasure from disrespecting than respecting others, especially those who dare to criticise them
  34. Poor at regulating their emotions, so can be moody (“emotionally labile”) and temperamental, with anger always lying just beneath the surface, ensuring others tread very carefully in their presence and do not say or do anything which differs from their opinion or could even be remotely perceived as criticism or an alternative opinion
  35. Impatience or temper tantrums when criticised or don’t receive special treatment.
  36. React with cold indifference or feelings of rage or emptiness in response to criticism, indifference or defeat
  37. Disinterested or no genuine interest in other people or their interests, needs and achievements, including in situations when others would expect them to be interested
  38. Create a wide variety of interpersonal problems (probably better appreciated by the others involved) including when they require others to be subservient and sycophantic
  39. Can treat others with contempt and hatred for little apparent reason, preferring intimidation to encouragement, making others wonder what they may have done to incur their hatred and wrath (perhaps very little) and requirement to extract deep revenge
  40. Much of their behaviour can be seen to promote themselves and put-down, discourage, disparage and even humiliate others
  41. Struggle to change or adapt their behaviour
  42. Struggle to learn from their mistakes, which they can regularly repeat even when alerted by others to them; what may appear to be “stubbornness” (a refusal to respond to the requests of others) in such situations may in fact be an inability to learn from their prior experiences
  43. They cannot properly understand other people and never will, but a major problem for society is that they think they can, unaware of their own emotional and other deficiencies
  44. Even after their organisation or entity has collapsed, with many people’s lives adversely affected, they struggle to consider they may have been at fault or what they did wrong
  45. Those without a sense of wrong must have something wrong with them
  46. Making others feel bad can make them feel good
  47. They seem to get a special kick from openly disagreeing with and publicly putting down others, even if quite wrong to do so
  48. Those who have been in relationships with narcissists, professional or personal, say amongst the worst aspects is their disloyalty, only capable of loyalty to themselves, deriving pleasure from both disparaging others and promoting themselves while fictitiously slandering those they may be expected to be agreeable with and loyal to
  49. Given their own fundamental inability to change, the onus to tactfully adapt to the many challenges they present lies with everyone else involved for any semblance of harmonious normality to be feasible, as they see nothing wrong with themselves and blame anything and everyone else for their many failings
  50. Those astute, insightful and peacemaking colleagues capable of adapting their own behaviour need to respond daily to diminish the degree of harm and havoc these inveterate troublemakers and skilled but often charming liars invariably and innately bring to ANY group situation
  51. Given they can seem to live in a world all of their own, in which they are the most extraordinary person ever born and everyone else significantly inferior, all their assertions and declarations will necessitate independent third party verification
  52. The most apt advice, especially when they promote themselves and criticise, disparage and even damage the reputation of others, often quite falsely, may be to FIRST BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE of what they say or assert (which may be closer to reality or the truth of any situation) until this can be verified, as otherwise they just cannot be believed at all; if this advice sounds bizarre, it is because their words, deeds, behaviour and indeed mindset can seem irrational if not bizarre when compared with the rationality of others. VANITY MAY NOT EQUATE WITH SANITY.
    None of these traits are those which anyone would advocate in a leader.

Yet time after time some or many of them are present, proving how frequently other people in society simply choose those with the wrong personality type for management or leadership of other people, either charmed or intimidated (or both) into appointing them before the gravity of this mistake in due course becomes more apparent. This is then compounded by the extent they will go to to maintain the power they should never gave been granted, having no qualms about damaging other people, their reputation and that of the organisation itself en route.

Ultimately they are more likely to do more harm than good to the entity they mis-lead and the people they disrespect, those they should be setting an admirable example for.

Yet such situations are entirely avoidable because at the end of the (excessively long) day their behaviour is entirely predictable.

Fortunately it is their very predictability and inability to amend their own behaviour which allows “us” an insight into the very different world “they” inhabit, but this predictability only becomes apparent when other people first learn what traits to look for, then act on this knowledge by denying such fundamentally irresponsible people any (significant) position of responsibility.

Smart words do not make for smart leadership when there is a deep and fundamental disconnect between words, actions and reality.

This can be especially so when leaders do not seek or listen to the astute and perhaps conciliatory advice likely to be available from their more collegiate colleagues and they show no apparent remorse nor learn from the experience when the results of their angry and impulsive behaviour, necessity to hold grudges and seek revenge, even for triviality, disadvantage other people (including those they are supposed to be leading and setting an example for) and damage relationships which someone else will subsequently have to re-build, or at least try.

Perhaps throughout human history, society would appear to have mistaken charm, intelligence, smooth talking, arrogance and even callous ruthlessness for “managerial ability” due to a misconception associated with appointing highly self-centred people to leadership positions, consistently mistaking outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and eloquent talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Ruthless Callousness v Constructive Responsibility

When easily distractible racehorses are required to wear blinkers, they may not actually be blinkered at all. Rather they are forced to look forward while ignoring distractions, with the purpose being to move as expeditiously as possible, sometimes jumping over a variety of obstacles.

If such a garment could be designed for narcissistic leaders it could prove to be very beneficial because they actually may be innately blinkered, as looking out for and prioritising any interests other than their own can seem to pose them a considerable challenge.

What many organisations may inadequately appreciate is that their greatest obstacle to harmonious progress could actually be their own leaders, due to their blinkered brains and truly illicit, illegitimate and potentially dangerous mindsets.

Perhaps the most apt analogy is that narcissistic people, including those I describe as “Disordered Leaders”, would seem to wear spectacles, but not normally manufactured ones with a focus on seeing the world they inhabit more clearly, which may well be impossible.

Rather they wear mirror spectacles (or contact lenses), with a dual purpose, one being preventing others from seeing what may be going on in the mind behind them.

But these are not normal mirror glasses, with the mirror on the outside of the glass, they serve a further and more alarming purpose.

Rather they are specially designed and manufactured with the mirror on the inside of the glass, so when they look out all they see is themselves and their insatiably personal goals and ambitions, prioritising which is perhaps their singularly most important goal in life, perhaps oblivious to any other concerns, most certainly not what others may describe as morality or ethics. Their spectacles, like their minds, appear to be focused only on themselves.

The challenge for others is that no glasses have yet been made capable of facilitating revealing who they actually are, one of the ambitions of this research.

However there are ways that the door into their real mindset can be gradually opened.

Given their penchant for hiding their truer state behind a “mask of normality”, psychologists suggest that they will not always reveal themselves by way of conspicuous acts of demonstrably unethical or visibly harmful behaviour, rather by way of many minor acts of subtle cruelty.

Too many people (including business school students) somehow believe that “ruthlessness”, or a lack of compassion or sympathy for the situation of others, has not only a role to play but may even be “necessary” to be “successful” in business.

Perhaps if they were consistently on the receiving end of the unnecessary ruthless and fear inducing callousness practiced by “Disordered Leaders”, they might change their opinion and prefer to work for those who specialise in praise and encouragement rather than discouragement, rebuke and even humiliation.

As such behaviour is quite the opposite of the “motivating people to achieve common goals” expected of leaders, maybe their necessity to put-down rather than build-up those unfortunate to work with or for them means they have already failed in their primary leadership role, one they perhaps should not have even been considered for in the first place?

They are unlikely to appreciate that there is no humility in humiliation, nor humiliation in humility.

As Blanchard and Peale wrote in The Power of Ethical Management:

“People with humility don’t think less of themselves; they just think about themselves less”.

This is quite the opposite of self-centred and “care-less” leaders whose primary if not exclusive focus is on themselves, their number one goal is satisfying their self-interest and  when most tested are revealed to “couldn’t care less” about anyone or anything other then themselves.

Indeed do such people even warrant or deserve the title of “leader”, especially when the “tone at the top” example they set is less than admirable?

If business “success” is judged purely in terms of personal or corporate wealth or the  seniority of position achieved by an individual, undoubtedly a callous attitude to other people and situations can lead to some degree of “success”, especially in the short term, but at what cost?

Do the means justify the ends if position or wealth or both are achieved unscrupulously?

Are “ruthless” people respected or trusted by their peers?

Will other people actually seek to do business with them again, or (once bitten, twice shy) will they take their custom to people and businesses where there is reciprocal and mutual respect and indeed good-will and favourable intent between the parties?

Fortunately this is the situation prevailing in the vast majority of business (and other) healthy, trusting and generally positive and constructive, mutually beneficial relationships.

I opened a short discussion on business ethics on Irish national radio (the morning of a conference at the national football stadium Croke Park involving a variety of bodies including EBENI, Business in the Community and Transparency International) almost a decade ago by asking “would you do business with someone you do not trust?”

That should be a rhetorical question, yet at the time I did not fully understand why so many seemed to ignore or not consider the possible impact on trust (and reputation) when they engaged in behaviour which risked damaging trust to gain some advantage over the other party.

Before I started researching the impact of those with Personality Disorders, I failed to appreciate why (perhaps arising from a moment’s impulsivity) those who sought “win-lose” outcomes considered their short-term “victory” worthwhile, when it invariably resulted in (a) damaged trust, (b) a loss of respect and an end not only to (c) the specific relationship but potentially (d) any future business between the entities they represent and (e) perhaps damage further afield also, as word of their “unscrupulousness” (signifying lack of conscience) spread to others who would then also not consider doing business with them either, given that (f) their reputation had been damaged.

Perhaps Socrates was right to liken “good name” to a fire – far easier to keep kindled than relight when (foolishly) allowed to be extinguished.

A decade later I now appreciate that there is a minority of society who take an inordinate and perhaps sadistic pleasure in “getting their own way” and their primary cognitive goal of “winning at all costs” is all the more powerfully perceived within their disordered mind when their victory also damages others emotionally.

The more rational may well doubt in such situations whether anyone won at all.

They damage trust when they lie, deceive, manipulate and seek to assassinate the character of those they believe to be opponents, often quite falsely.

They actually seem to believe their own lies, deceit, perjuries, falsehoods and misinterpretations.

They want others to do what they want, yet may themselves be incapable of taking advice.

There is a significant disconnect between their words and deeds. To them, (shallow) words and (empty) promises are meaningless and un-heartfelt, lacking sincerity or association with genuine effort to follow them with appropriate or beneficial action.

They want others to understand them for their idiosyncrasies but show little or no genuine interest in other people.

They want others to forgive them for their errors but cannot say sorry when they are wrong, nor even seem to experience remorse.

They want others to be grateful towards them but towards others have an attitude of ingratitude.

They are constantly critical but overreact to anything they perceive to be criticism, even if not or none was intended.

They seem to forget what their true job responsibilities should be, or to whom, yet do not forget those people who they believe have wronged them.

They hold deep grudges often for trivial reasons, not even satisfied by extracting severely disproportionate revenge.

Those familiar with the body language and facial expressions of the most self-centred may begin to appreciate that their immediate and indeed instantaneous reaction to any situation is to mentally consider “what’s in it for me?”

Such a mindset does not result in fair and balanced decision-making, especially when their self-interest is not only their primary interest but perhaps their only concern, inconsiderate of the consequences for anyone or anything else, certainly not trust, respect or reputation.

Furthermore when there is a minority in society who do not experience “fear” as most others do, they are unlikely to be able to evaluate the “risks” attaching to situations and hence seek the highest possible “rewards” inconsiderate of the risks or downside potential, even if catastrophic.

Yet as we seem to fall for their “Intelligence, Charm and Eloquence” (and intimidation which we erroneously associate with strength rather then weakness of character) we allow such ICE-cold and ruth-less people lead not only significant businesses but also governments and financial institutions, the one sector of industry which particularly requires a more sensible;e and cautious approach to the risk-reward evaluation.

No wonder so many financial intuitions have collapsed throughout history, damaging many innocent people both financially and emotionally when they placed their trust (and money) in the wrong type of self-obsessed leaders.

Indeed it may well be that those who do not experience fear themselves who seem to derive the most pleasure from fear-induced behaviour towards others in not just business but many other forms of group and organisational life too, all with inevitable and predictable deleterious outcomes – for others.

When others experience their cold, unblinking stare or emotion-less smirk when they seem to succeed in damaging others emotionally, questions really need to be asked why they were promoted or elected to seniority of position in the first place, especially when they become more associated with havoc than harmony and selfishness than self-less-ness.

When their “successes” are always at the expense of others, should they really be regarded as being “successful” at all?

That is why it is important or indeed imperative that more people become familiar with the behaviour particularly associated with the “Cluster B” group of Personality Disorders to both DENY this dangerous sub-group of society the power they will inevitably abuse (for some form of personal advantage) and DIMINISH the degree of harm and damage they can do both to people, institutions and even the very fabric of local, national and international society.

While “Constructive Leaders” create welcoming, encouraging and cooperative cultures and indeed FUN work-places (which psychologists well describe as “playful”) and are well capable of “bringing out the best” in those they can be trusted to lead, those “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership” who derive their primary pleasure from making others feel worse, including by way of FEAR and usually unnecessary rebuke, humiliation and conflict, need to be better identified and denied the power they crave but will inevitably abuse.

Let me repeat that they are unlikely to appreciate that there is no humility in humiliation, nor humiliation in humility.

Those who can understand how other people feel and are capable of experiencing and sharing their emotions with them, can be trusted with responsibility for other people (see the role of “mirror neurons” in Leadership – what neuroscience suggests).

Those who do not or cannot should not be trusted with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others when they cannot even properly manage their own.

Nor can those who suffer a deep disconnect between their words, promises and actions (and brain regions as revealed by fMRI) especially when they seem to be totally inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions (for others and extraordinarily even themselves) and when caught lying are totally “unfazed” and just change their story as if nothing happened.

There must be something wrong with those who do not seem to possess a sense of wrong.

Yet we make such people leaders (or do not do enough to prevent them) before we realise how wrong we were to do so, often too late to undo some of the damage they have already done, apparent to almost everyone else except themselves.

Even when the organisations they mis-lead collapse, with many people’s lives adversely affected, they can fail to see what they make have done wrong, blaming all their failings on everyone and anything but themselves.

“Blame cultures” develop in the entities they mis-lead when the most irresponsible fail to accept responsibility for words and mis-deeds which transpire to do more harm than good and result in more conflict than cooperation and havoc than harmony.

At its most basic, rational, sensible, responsible, motivational and even visionary “Constructive Leaders” seek “win-win” outcomes from business situations. Even if the “win” is not entirely equal, once both parties believe they have “won” or done well out of the situation, they are likely to do further business together as the opportunity arises and maybe even pass on favourable recommendation to others.

It is not unusual in such (normal) situations to hear business people, executives and employees, say “a great deal of our business comes from word-of-mouth referral”. This undoubtedly contributes to their “success”, being both emotionally satisfying and profitable (assuming pricing and margins are well considered and appropriate to the potential volume of trade between the parties).

Matters such as mutual respect and appreciation as well as a generally harmonious workplace environment whereby people look forward to coming in to work and feel inspired to “give their best” effort and maybe even “perform to their potential”, especially when they are included rather than excluded an encouraged not discouraged, are also judged to be part and parcel of business (or organisational) “success”, notably as cooperation and collaboration is more likely to produce more constructive and well considered outcomes and ideas for the future when people feel their talents and effort are appreciated.

In the majority of businesses (led by “Constructive Leaders”) this is the case and indeed the people involved take cooperation, job-satisfaction and a healthy and perhaps vibrant and dynamic “corporate culture” for granted. It is the “norm” they have come to expect when the people in charge are positive, constructive, warm and welcoming by nature, as even when they have to be critical they do so sensibly and considerately and do not have to resort to humiliation to get their message across to people who made a mistake or may be under-performing.

Such leaders feel good when making others feel good about themselves.

And (shock, horror) lo and behold they also achieve (warranted) seniority of position and (deserved) personal wealth when the business they mange astutely is itself “successful” and the people they employ, manage and lead themselves feel appreciated and “committed to achieving common goals”, one of the primary aims or goals of “leadership”.

Furthermore such (kind, considerate, positive and enthusiastic) managers and leaders are liked and respected by not only employees but the breadth of other “stakeholders” too, notably customers and suppliers:, all of whom want to pursue an ongoing and satisfying commercial (and personal) relationship with them.

Business “success” across many measures including but also well beyond merely position, title and wealth is achieved by the vast majority in society without having to resort to being “ruthless”, involving treating others in a rude, disrespectful and maybe even cruel and callous manner, or cheating people commercially, as even if they felt like doing so on occasions they have the common sense and emotional intelligence recognise that doing so is quite counterproductive and may necessitate a subsequent apology.

If the byline for the movie “Love Story” was “love means never having to say sorry”, perhaps the same should apply to common-sense, constructive and mutually satisfying “win-win” business dealings too?

However more cold, calculating and ruth-less ”Destructive Leaders” (perhaps incapable of experiencing regret, guilt or remorse), may not be so altruistically or motivationally motivated, “getting their kicks” out of engineering “win-lose” outcomes and thriving on disagreement, dissent and conflict.

When such leaders consistently feel good from making others feel bad about themselves, there is clearly “something wrong”, perhaps an indication of a “Personality Disorder”.

Yet somehow bosses who not only discourage but also seek to humiliate and damage others emotionally are misconstrued as being “strong leaders” when the truth of the matter could be that is the more humble who may possess far finer character and in turn be better trusted and respected.

I will never forget being in a project meeting when a senior consultant enquired of his junior who had just returned from a client meeting “did you make him cry?” and laughed before I realised he was serious.

Perhaps we could also assert that there may be “something wrong” with those who consistently prefer and “go out of their way” to seek “win-lose” to “win-win” outcomes from even trivial situations?

Once they “win” and are “seen to win” in the immediate situation or in the very short-term (often the time period their “vision” is limited to, especially if they are impulsive by nature), the impact on the longer-term relationship is inconsequential, failing to recognise that healthy, mutually satisfying relationships are one of the keys to longer term “success”, not just in business but well beyond the world of commerce too.

Ruth-less-ness (which could be renamed “kind-ness-less”) is more indicative of “Destructive Leadership” and a cruel, self-centred and perhaps even sadistic mindset which takes pleasure in the misery of others, than any realistic belief that it can either motivate others or lead to anything other than damaged relationships.

Even if callous disrespect, ruth-less actions or any form of cheating leads to a “one-off” victory and apparent short-term “success”, any further business between the parties is likely to be hindered or even rendered impossible.

“Constructive Leaders” who are strong and courageous as well as kind, considerate and empathetic, are more than capable of taking “tough” decisions when so required. It is a misnomer that people need to be “ruth-less” meaning “sympathy-free” and maybe even lacking in remorse to be able to take difficult decisions. Indeed quite the contrary.

Unlike those more ruthless, unkind and even cruel by nature, who may thrive on causing upset for others, because they “understand people” and are “emotionally intelligent”, “Constructive Leaders” are capable of “weighing-up” the options and the impact on all concerned, even if negative, as they will try to minimise any deleterious impact to the degree possible on the entity and it’s people.

There is a major difference between being “strong and courageous”, not shirking required actions nor running away from problems as they arise, and being “ruthless” which involves a lack of compassion and consideration for the interests, needs, feelings and emotions of other people, all of which are required of leaders.

While the most mean and cold-hearted can “get their kicks” and derive their own pleasure from diminishing and humiliating other people and trying to “win” at the expense of others in both relationships and transactions, they somehow seem to lack the “nous” required to appreciate that such a policy may result in the other party not only never wanting to deal with them ever again, but even more damaging, they may even choose to “bad-mouth” the ruthless to other current or potential business partners, customers and suppliers.

One-off gains do not lead to longer-term success or even survival, especially when they result in impaired trust and damaged reputation. Seeking to actively harm others and damage relationships in business (or elsewhere) is not a policy that rational people would consider, only the most irrational.

The “win-win” preferred by “Constructive Leaders” ultimately achieves more than the “win-lose” sought by “Destructive Leaders”, especially when their incessant need to achieve “personal victories” can damage morale and the very fabric or culture of the organisation, causing the best employees, customers and suppliers to take their talents and business elsewhere, even to their most ardent rivals.

When performing the not so pleasant task of considering amongst the worst people we have met during our careers and indeed lives, it makes us appreciate the many far finer and more admirable qualities of the very best, who even thinking about lifts us and brings a smile to our faces, those who do have the talents and skills to manage, lead and maybe even transform whatever organisation or entity is fortunate to count them as one of its own.

Perhaps it is considering and describing the far too prevalent “Destructive Leadership” most associated with “Disordered Leaders” which makes us appreciate the many merits associated with those I describe as “Constructive Leaders” . It is this larger cohort of people who undoubtedly would “make the world a better place” if somehow they were able to respond to the unspoken wishes of those led by “Destructive Leaders” and walk in the door next Monday morning, having replaced them, treating everyone the same, with the respect they would like to be treated themselves and by way of their enthusiastic positivity, praise and encouragement, far better motivate those they manage and lead to perform far nearer to their potential and contribute to the group at large, whatever it may be, doing the same.

That is why national and international business and indeed global Society Needs to ditch and no longer appoint “Destructive Leaders”, no matter how otherwise talented, intelligent, charming, eloquent, dominant, fearful or intimidatory, as when the decision makers assess their contribution, they are likely to realise that they have been self-serving in their own decision-making (“what’s in it for me?”), prioritising their own interests and needs over those of the entity itself and its people, and have probably done more harm (covert and overt) than good.

At the end of the day there are often equally if not more talented people available, more committed to the cause and mission of the entity, with a genuine concern for and interest in all the various people involved or “stakeholders” (especially employees, customers (or citizens) and suppliers) but who may not have been selected because they were less aggressive or “pushy” and perhaps more modest and self-effacing, preferring cooperation to conflict, relationship-building to destroying and indeed harmonious collaboration and consensus-seeking to troublemaking, yet who may have lost out to those who displayed the more problematic traits, only for those who made the decision to subsequently realise what a mistake they had made.

One of the many lessons arising from working with or for those who practice “Destructive Leadership” is that being agreeable beats being aggressive any day and practicing humility and respect rather than humiliation and disrespect is what endears leaders to followers, not the opposite, no matter how effective the worst leaders in society who innately have to promote themselves and disparage others believe such an approach to be. It isn’t and never will be.

Organisational progress, customer/public service and many measures including profitability, along with many “intangibles” like trust, respect, reputation, goodwill and even “world peace”, can all be enhanced when organisations (and nations) as well as Boards of Directors and Voters learn to appoint “Constructive Leaders” with the

  1. vision to realise how great the group they are responsible for could be, with the
  2. strategic insight to know what direction(s) to take,
  3. perception to not only know how to get there, but when a change of direction may be needed,
  4. integrity to set the right tone at the top,
  5. moral compass to guide everyone in the right direction and avoid short-term gain which may result in longer-term pain,
  6. honesty to speak truthfully, not deceptively, and only make promises likely to be able to be met,
  7. remorse to be able to know when wrong has or could be done,
  8. courage to avoid wrongdoing and own up and say “sorry” when things do go wrong (as they will) or promises can’t be met, rather than make the mistake of covering up and “denying the undeniable”, hoping no-one will ever find out (although they do), and
  9. creativity to explore new opportunities,
  10. (emotional) empathy to understand people in all their humanity,
  11. interest in others to encourage and willingly provide support,
  12. perception to offer astute guidance and appreciate the importance of trust and reputation,
  13. wisdom to know what new opportunities to explore and what to change and when,
  14. patience not to impulsively over-react to situations as soon as they arise, to wait for results rather than curtail prematurely, or know when the timing may be right to initiate change or introduce new policies,
  15. humility to seek no personal acclaim and (being the opposite of pride) ability to admit to error rather than persist with doing the wrong thing,
  16. strength to tackle the issues others might ignore and own up to rather than cover up mistakes or wrongdoing,
  17. persistence to surmount obstacles and “never give up” on worthwhile matters which may be in the longer term best interest of all involved,,
  18. resilience to tough out difficulties, remain positive and constructive in seeking to find optimal solutions,
  19. tact to deal with matters diplomatically rather than rudely and crudely, and knowing when saying nothing may be preferable, especially words now could cause damage later or when there may be nothing positive or constructive to say,
  20. attitude of gratitude to be able to genuinely praise and know when to do so, especially when people have tried their best even when the outcome isn’t as good as it might have been,
  21. modesty to deflect praise to others. yet accept responsibility for their mistakes,
  22. emotional intelligence to know how best to deal with the wide variety of people and situations which arise, supporting and pointing them in the right direction, with the
  23. charisma which endears people to their leader and makes people feel important, warmly welcomed and appreciated,
  24. enthusiastic personality which creates the positive culture and sets the
  25. admirable example which encourages and maybe even inspires everyone to want to follow their leader in top gear, as they build bridges and roads to places that people with less vision and insufficient understanding of the mission never even considered. 

Fortunately there are many such positive and “can do” people in many roles at all levels throughout local, national and international society.

Yet, although they set an admirable example for not only those they work with, manage and lead, but many others too, we somehow just don’t seem to hear too much about these role-models, especially not from themselves, not feeling the need to speak about themselves, just the group they inspire to produce their best, whose success built on respect and cooperation gives them their greatest personal satisfaction.

So why don’t we choose more such trustworthy, modest and responsible people of integrity for important roles, especially when trust and reputation may need to be restored, improving not only “business ethics” and long-term profitability, growth and stability, but indeed peaceful cooperation, employee and stakeholder satisfaction and harmonious progress across global society?

Do we insufficiently appreciate Honesty-Humility?

Do we take honesty as a “given” when considering people for seniority of position? Or accept devious, deceitful and manipulative behaviour as “part and parcel” of senior management?

Do we somehow associate humility with weakness and proud, arrogant and intimidatory traits with “strength” of both personality and character, when the reality may be quite the opposite?

We can tend to ignore the merits of the more calm, rational, astute, wise and talented, but modest, who appreciate there is no humiliation in humility nor humility associated with humiliation, who seek no significant acclaim for themselves, more proud of their people and their achievements than themselves or their own, deflecting praise to others yet accepting responsibility for their failings, as they prefer to praise, encourage and motivate those they lead and prioritise the interests and needs of the group at large over their own.

Perhaps Plato was right to suggest that those who do not desire power may be more fit to hold it, capable of being trusted to use it constructively for the purposes intended.

Personality Disorders and “Disordered Leaders”

Personality Disorders (PD) involve pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes.

The APA’s DSM  recognises ten specific (primary) personality disorders organised within three clusters: Cluster A includes paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal; Cluster B includes antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic; while Cluster C includes avoidant, dependent and obsessive-compulsive.

These constructs do not exhaust the list of possible clinically significant maladaptive personality traits, with the DSM disorders often difficult to diagnose reliably. Indeed, research has shown that many people diagnosed with a PD qualify for more than one.

Those we describe as “Disordered Leaders” could feature any combination of “pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking” capable of resulting in self-centredly destructive behaviour in organisations, but nevertheless these are most likely to involve some combination of the predominantly narcissistic Cluster B disorders as well as elements of Paranoid from Cluster A, especially when those in positions of authority may believe that others are covertly plotting against them.

Ironically it may be the presence of the traits associated with the variety of personality disorders which may force those who have no option but to work with or for them to consider doing so, at the very least just to minimise the degree of damage they are capable of inflicting (perhaps unwittingly) not only on other people and their emotional welfare (who may be forced to consider their own sanity) but also on what in most organisations is  a combination of (a) fairly smooth, ordered progress, (b) interpersonal co-operation and interdepartmental collaboration and (c) sensible, astute decision-making, all of which generally arise when led by (d) capable, unimaginative and enthusiastic  people with (e) a genuine concern for the interests and needs of the people they lead and (f) a strong interest and perhaps even a passion to oversee, guide and even inspire the progress of the entity itself, in such a manner that it (g) will be capable of not only competing well in its specific sector, but also (h) be only be equipped to survive difficult times but thrive for a future generation especially by way of  (i) having the “vision” to broaden its horizon and seek, find or invent new opportunities.

It is such matters that many well-led organisations take for granted and which my research refers to as “Constructive Leadership”, being predominately positive and encouraging and hence motivational by nature as well as sensible and rational, which should all be a “given” when it comes to both management and leadership (better discussed in most of the other articles on this website under “topics“). 

This of course assumes the leader or leadership group is or are what I refer to as “GIVER(S)” more interested in others than themselves, rather than those who charm their way to the top but are fundamentally self-centred, being “TAKERS” who are innately “more interested in others than themselves”, a situation which they can hide from others for only a limited time, making it important that their peers especially decision-makers become more familiar with the traits associated with Personality Disorders and what this research refers to as “Destructive Leadership” as (mal) practiced by “Disordered Leaders”.

Indeed given their exceptional self-centredness and inability to consistently prioritise the interests and needs of others over their own, simply described as their necessity to “get their own way” and “win at all costs”, and given that research suggests that “narcissism is more likely to relate to reactive aggression in circumstances where the narcissistic egos or goals are under threat “, the initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” I proposed  for discussion and refinement at the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019 was:

“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who due to what may be a mental and/or personality disorder(s) may be incapable of responsible management or leadership, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when these impede satisfying their self-interest.”

The fact that the most “ruth-less” (meaning sympathy-free) have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly and naturally engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a consistent lack of responsibility, empathy, kindness, remorse and conscience, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence, eloquence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists, poses many challenges for global society, and has done for millennia, especially when they believe themselves to be “normal” and see nothing wrong with words and deeds which many other people wouldn’t or couldn’t even countenance.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD is one of the personality disorders included within DSM-5 (APA, 2013). NPD involves a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation, and lack of empathy (APA, 2013).

Its primary diagnostic criteria include a grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupation with success, power, brilliance, or beauty; a belief that one is special and can only be understood by high-status individuals; a demand for excessive admiration; a strong sense of entitlement; an exploitation of others; lack of empathy; and arrogance.

There is a substantial body of research on narcissism (Miller, Widiger, & Campbell, 2010; Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010), although, surprisingly, NPD was actually slated for deletion from DSM-5 (Skodol, 2012).

Narcissism has a theoretical and clinical literature that is quite independent of psychopathy. Nevertheless, there have also long been cross-references within both literatures (Widiger & Crego, in press). For example, psychodynamic views of narcissism suggest that many features of psychopathy are apparent within narcissistic persons (Kernberg, 1998).

Antisocial and psychopathic tendencies are in fact conceptualised as being on a continuum with narcissism, with both involving a motivation to dominate, humiliate and manipulate others.

Kernberg (1970), a theorist of narcissism, had suggested that “the antisocial personality may be considered a subgroup of the narcissistic personality”. Hart and Hare (1998), theorists of psychopathy, suggested conversely that “psychopathy can be viewed as a higher-order construct with two distinct, albeit related facets, one of which is very similar to the clinical concept of narcissism”.

Some of the features of NPD are explicitly suggestive of psychopathy, notably a grandiose sense of self-importance and arrogant, haughty behaviours (akin to psychopathic arrogant self-appraisal); lack of empathy; and interpersonal exploitation.

Indeed  researchers including Robert Hare (author of the revealing “Without Conscience”) have even intimated that NPD is closer to Prof Hervey Cleckley’s (1941) conception of psychopathy , explained in his seminal work “The Mask of Sanity”, than is ASPD (Hare, Hart, & Harpur, 1991; Harpur, Hart, & Hare, 2002).

Consideration was given in the development of DSM-IV ASPD (APA, 1994) to include additional features of Hare’s Psychopath Checklist-Revised or PCL-R psychopathy, in particular glib charm, arrogance and lack of empathy (Widiger & Corbitt, 1995).

However, a significant concern with this proposal was that these features were also central to the diagnosis of NPD. Their inclusion would have markedly increased the diagnostic co-occurrence of ASPD with NPD.

The authors of the NPD criterion set (Gunderson, Ronningstam, & Smith, 1991) considered the antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders to be qualitatively distinct conditions and argued that revisions should help differentiate between the disorders rather than further increase their overlap.

The final decision for DSM-IV was to at least acknowledge that glib charm, arrogance and lack of empathy are included within other conceptualisations of ASPD and that their inclusion within the criterion set would likely increase the validity of the assessment of ASPD within prison and other forensic settings (APA, 1994).

While too few “Disordered Leaders” will ever be required to receive psychological assistance despite the damage they can do to other people and organisations, indeed to the very fabric of society, specific diagnoses with NPD, BPD, HPD, ASPD, Paranoid, Sadistic, Neurotic or Psychopathy are particularly relevant to mental health professionals, especially psychiatrists (medical doctors who specialise in mental welfare) and psychologists.

Diagnosis with one or perhaps more of the recognised Personality Disorders guides the consideration of the matter, including appropriate treatment, by mental health professionals.

Yet as too few in society associate “selfish, difficult and proud” behaviour with the potential presence of a Personality Disorder, the primary requirement for everyone else without specialised training and experience is to recognise that the person (or people) who appear to be behaving unusually, making perverse decisions and treating people with deep disrespect, may not actually be “normal”, but be “different” and hence need to be treated quite differently if they are not to be permitted to continue causing harm and havoc.  

Because “Destructive Leaders” do inhabit a different world, the rest of the world would benefit from appreciating the importance of being able to identify them, to deny them the opportunity of damaging the world in which many others, including “Constructive Leaders”, do their best to live in collaboratively and harmoniously, in the company of many other decent, kind and encouraging people, with a genuine interest in both other people and whatever they may be interested in.

Those who see nothing wrong in words, deeds and actions which many others couldn’t even countenance, who seem to operate within their own parameters of what many be right and wrong, especially when others may see these as being confused and bizarre but they believe to be entirely normal and the way they have always lived life and dealt with other people, may indeed have something wrong with them.

It is critically important to stress that Psychiatrists (medical doctors) and Psychologists caution against “amateur” diagnosis of people who may occasionally display some of the more adverse traits discussed here. It is when these traits are pervasive and occur frequently or persistently that a diagnosis of Personality Disorder may be appropriate.

Although people with Personality Disorders can vary from being very shy, insecure, depressed and scared of life to those quite different, being excessively confident, arrogant, believe they are special and do not appear to fear anything or anyone, a significant problem for society is that many who may have one or more of the recognised Personality Disorders (past and present) do not believe their is anything wrong with them, especially when they attribute all their own problems and those they cause for others to everyone except themselves.

Such people may go through their entire lives causing difficulties and in extremes even havoc, especially for others, yet may either not be suspected by others as having a Personality Disorder (given the widespread societal lack of awareness of what actually constitutes a Personality Disorder and such Disordered individuals) or may never actually be recommended for treatment by expert mental health professionals.

It is not just the general public who lack knowledge of what constitutes a Personality Disorder, but General Practitioners or Family Doctors who may have greater appreciation of people with depression or anxiety than the level of deceit and manipulation and many other traits associated with some of the disorders, which can make such “charming liars” exceptionally convincing to the extent that it may be their victims who may not be believed when they try and raise the many challenges they create with their own local doctor.

This though is rectifiable by way of Continuing Professional Development which, given the challenges such almost invisibly disordered people create for society in general and difficulties they cause other people and relationships in particular, could be one of those areas which medical students will need to be trained in and practicing medics learn more about as they keep up to date professionally.

Some disordered people may even try and treat psychological assessment and treatment like another game to be played, not being convinced they need to be treated, only complying if they consider doing so may be in their self-interest, such as gaining early release from prison, or they are given no alternative. But as many do not engage in overtly anti-social behaviour they may never be evaluated psychologically nor arrested for their more subtle mis-deeds, no matter how much damage they do to both people and organisations, whether subtle and covert or tactlessly brazen and overt.

Fortunately though many of the (often quite challenging)  traits which may assist Psychiatrists and Psychologists come to a diagnosis, whatever it may be, are clearly identifiable by other people, whether they currently attribute them to the possibility of a Personality Disorder or not.

Indeed given the deeply deceitful and manipulative nature of “Cluster B’s” in particular, well capable of arguing they are normal and it is other people with the problems, including those they badmouth and slander, it is actually third party descriptions of their actual behaviour that can greatly assist mental health professionals form their own opinions and diagnosis.

Nevertheless, whether their behaviour ever contributes to an actual professional diagnosis of a Personality Disorder or not, none of the more negative traits we outline in this and the half dozen other related articles published on under “topics”, especially those which may be damaging to other people, are those I associate with people I describe as “Constructive Leaders”, who I strongly argue make for far more effective, and safer, leaders throughout global society, for many, many reasons.

Given that “self-centred” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests” and “independent of outside force or influence”, one of my key arguments is that, at its most basic, global society needs those I describe as “GIVERS” in leadership roles throughout global society, being “more interested in others than themselves” and most certainly not “TAKERS” who being “more interested in themselves than others” are unlikely in either normal or more challenging times to prioritise the interests and needs of the organisation and the people they lead over their own. 


Viability Liability or Guilt Prone?

Business Ethics as a discipline would not only benefit from far greater psychological research in general but also in particular from measures of personality which  contain strong, appropriate and effective measure of Honesty-Humility which do measure the propensities and behaviour of managers and leaders in terms of factors including Humility-Pride, Honesty-Dishonesty, Responsibility-Irresponsibility and Selflessness-Selfcentredness.

Indeed what my research (for instance “Fun or Fear“) describes as Constructive-Destructive Leadership currently needs to be inferred from elements of factors not designed to measure Honesty-Humility nor this set of factors critically important for long term business survival and success, which requires leaders with the most appropriate rather than inappropriate personalities.

One promising area of research from the business ethics perspective is into the “Guilt Proneness” of executives. While the most Disordered Leaders are unlikely to experience guilt/remorse at all, the most ethical Constructive Leaders are likely to be prevented from doing wrong by their more active conscience, which Hare describes as their “inner-policeman”.

Ashton describes “Guilt Proneness” as a tendency to feel guilty when one commits some ethical wrongdoing, not a general tendency toward feelings of depression or low self-esteem. Guilt proneness is mainly related to the HEXACO Honesty–Humility and Conscientiousness factors.

Persons with higher levels of self-reported Guilt Proneness have been reported by their coworkers (in anonymous surveys) to commit fewer counterproductive or deviant acts (such as theft) and to commit more “good citizenship” acts (such as helping coworkers), one of the factors my research associates with Constructive Leadership rather than the more self-centred Destructive Leadership.

Recent research has investigated the personality trait of guilt proneness in relation to a variety of behaviours, including those in the workplace (Cohen, Panter, Turan, Morse, & Kim, 2015; Cohen, Wolf, Panter, & Insko, 2011).

In Cohen et al.’s (2015) data, coworkers reported about five times as many deviant acts by workers with guilt proneness scores in the bottom quarter of the sample as by workers with Guilt Proneness scores in the top quarter. The coworkers also reported about 50% more “good citizenship” acts by workers with high guilt proneness than by workers with low Guilt Proneness.

In addition, Guilt Proneness has been related to behaviour in negotiations (Cohen et al., 2015, 2011). Specifically, persons higher in Guilt Proneness report being much less willing to engage in unethical negotiation behaviours, such as making false promises or misrepresenting one’s position.

When placed in actual negotiation scenarios, persons higher in Guilt Proneness have been reported by their negotiation counterparts to engage in fewer of these unethical behaviours.

Why is Guilt Proneness related to ethical behaviour, whether on the job or elsewhere? A likely reason is that guilt-prone people anticipate the guilt that they would feel after behaving unethically, and therefore avoid the unethical action.

This is a further argument in favour of not selecting people who meet the Disordered Leadership criteria because not only at the most extreme do they not experience guilt at all but they may neither weigh up the consequences of their actions  before they act nor learn from their experiences when these transpire to be detrimental.

Indeed as “Honesty-Humility has been shown to be positively associated with many desirable traits and negatively associated with many undesirable traits… generally associated with pro-social behaviour, treating people fairly and being unconcerned with self-promotion” it would appear to be a very effective measure of some of the elements which I describe as “Constructive Leadership”.

My Paper “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives” (written during 2015 and published by Springer early 2017)  strongly argues in favour of both HUMILITY and HONESTY as key requirements of both managers and leaders.

This paper also discusses psychopathy and outlines (as an introduction for business ethicists) Hare’s original two factor model of psychopathy. 

The difference between the “interpersonal/emotional” (Factor 1) and “socially deviant” (Factor 2) aspects, has contributed to some psychopathy researchers, including Cooke and Michie, to propose that the Factor 1 items indicative of “Arrogant and Deceitful Experience” and “Deficient Affective Experience” or lack of emotional depth, as well as some of the Factor 2 items typified by an “Impulsive and Irresponsible Lifestyle”, but without the overtly anti-social and criminal tendencies, may well explain the behaviour of those apparently “successfully” employed in organisations throughout global society but who, as Hare argues, should not be so described as their apparent “success” will always be at the expense of other people.

Although still deeply cunning, manipulative, deceitful, impulsive, untruthful and quite expert liars, with their “shallow emotions” including little or no empathy well capable of cold cruelty and remorseless rumours, including verbal disparagement of others, sometimes known as “psychopathic character assassination” (similar to a “borderline distortion campaign”), which may involve partial or total distortion of reality or “the truth”, possibly arising from a “delusional” mindset, while also displaying many of the behaviours discussed in this research, they may for instance be less physically violent.

This though may be as much due to warmer and kinder (or less harmful) family upbringing and a more favourable social background as any superior degree of “behaviour controls”.

Those familiar with their tendencies may well have reason to always be slightly careful with if not scared of such people, knowing their impulsivity may result in the necessity to “walk on eggshells” in their presence given their propensity for sudden anger outbursts.

Ironically their inability to control their own emotions may also be accompanied by a necessity to “control” other people and situations.

Given my own varied and mixed, but ultimately always unsatisfactory, experiences during my own career with over 300 organisations on all continents (bar Antarctica) with over 50 people possessing what I refer to as the “ICE Characteristics” of being Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, but also quite irresponsible and deceitful, people I now describe as “Disordered Leaders”, I would propose that as such dangerous people may even threaten the long-term viability of the organisation itself, when erroneously employed in senior roles within the organisations and entities of global society they need to be considered and referred to as being a “viability liability”.

That is why at the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed that the steps the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such leaders include:

  1. Identify these abnormal people, by way of their own “Destructive Leadership” behaviour, as being different from the norm,
  2. Deny them positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
  3. Learn how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
  4. Adapt to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility), to
  5. Minimise the damage & havoc they will inevitably create and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.

Those who see nothing wrong in words, deeds and actions which many others couldn’t even countenance, who seem to operate within their own parameters of what many be right and wrong, especially when others may see these as being confused and bizarre but they believe to be entirely normal and the way they have always lived life and dealt with other people, thriving on discouragement, disagreement, dissent, disruption, disharmony and even outright conflict rather than harmonious cooperation, may indeed have something wrong with them.

As the cited common denominator of Antagonism across the elements of the Dark Triad, amongst my very basic proposals  is that global Society Needs leaders who find it “easy to love and impossible to hate” and most certainly not those who find it “easy to hate and impossible to love or even show an interest in anyone but themselves”, one of the many indications of what my research refers to as “Destructive Leadership” as (mal) practiced by “Disordered Leaders”, whose primary concern is satisfying their self-interest, irrespective of the consequences for anyone or anything else, including the organisation, entity or even nation which makes the regularly repeated mistake of selecting or electing amongst society’s most untrustworthy and irresponsible people to positions of responsibility requiring people of integrity with a strong conscience who prioritise both the interests and needs of the entity over their own and the critical qualities of trust and reputation in all their deliberations. 

Because “Disordered Leaders” do inhabit a quite different world, the rest of the world would benefit from appreciating the importance of being able to identify them, to deny them the opportunity of damaging the world in which many others, including “Constructive Leaders”, do their best to live in collaboratively and harmoniously, in the company of many other decent, kind and encouraging people, with a genuine interest in both other people and whatever they may be interested in.

For those employed at the coalface of business in particular, the role of empathy (emotional, well beyond merely cognitive) becomes all the more critical.

When deficient or entirely lacking, the resulting ruth-less-ness (meaning devoid of compassion) ultimately primarily benefit sonly the (perhaps fragile) self-esteem of those who prefer to criticise and humiliate rather than praise and encourage those they are supposed to be motivating and leading

With “com-passion” meaning sharing in the suffering of others, those most-ruthless leaders incapable of empathy and warm emotions who thrive on making others feel bad, do more to make others suffer as they make their (working) lives unbearable by way of many forms of disrespect and humiliation, quite the opposite of what is required of leaders.

Society Needs to appreciate that when we permit those who are innately more cruel than considerate to achieve their goal of reaching senior positions, we may be succumbing to the misconception that somehow seems to assume or accept that ruthlessness is a valid managerial or even leadership trait.

Society Needs those who find it easy to be kind and impossible to be cruel rather than those who find it easy to be cruel and impossible too be kind to be leading its people and organisations.

At its most basic, Society Needs leaders who are happy making others happy and not those who may be at their happiest when making others unhappy. Yet this is precisely what motivates too many managers and leaders within far too many of global society’s organisations, a matter which many of their their co-workers are likely to fail to understand.

Indeed even more fundamental, Society Needs as its managers and leaders those who are well capable of love & incapable of hatred, rather than those well capable of hatred & incapable of loving (anyone other than themselves).

Society Needs leaders who appreciate that their responsibility is to unite rather than divide the people they are responsible for, including those who have never cooperated before.

Society Needs leaders capable of diminishing not encouraging hatred and making friends out of former enemies, not enemies out of friends.

Society Needs leaders who are peacemakers not troublemakers, encouraging by their words and deeds kindness in lieu of hatred, forgiveness instead of holding grudges, belief in goodness where there is badness, bringing hope where there is doubt and despair, lighting up people’s lives with their positivity and joy not spreading doom, gloom, sadness, despair and darkness, appreciating that it is by showing an interest in others and trying to understand them that people respond positively, rather than being exclusively interested in themselves.

Society Needs leaders capable of considering the consequences of their words and actions, with the self-restraint to know when saying nothing may be more tactful and responsible, especially when they have nothing positive to say.

Society Needs leaders with the self-control which prevents them from acting impulsively and irresponsibly, inconsiderate of any adverse consequences for others, including themselves.

Perhaps throughout human history, society would appear to have mistaken charm, intelligence, smooth talking, arrogance and even callous ruthlessness for “managerial ability” due to a misconception associated with appointing highly self-centred people to leadership positions, consistently mistaking outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and eloquent talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Children describe such traits as bullying, so why does adult society find intimidation acceptable in its managers and leaders, including in those who psychologists liken to primary school children?

It should go without saying that people like feeling appreciated and valued, yet too many managers and leaders do not make other people feel important.

When the only people they value and appreciate are themselves, the organisation or indeed any grouping or entity they are in charge of is likely to face problems it would not if it were instead managed and led by people with a different personality or “dispositional attribution”.

In stark contrast with situations involving inclusion, persuasion and respect, 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?

Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, yet somehow people who regularly rather than exceptionally put-down, humiliate and disrespect others can extraordinarily be associated with “strength” of management or leadership rather than weakness of character and indeed perhaps even a “Personality Disorder”.

While many people in society feel good from making others feel good, what needs to be better and indeed more globally appreciated is that there may be something wrong with those who themselves feel good when they make others feel bad.

Personality Disorders can vary from being shy, timid, anxious and afraid to face life to supremely self-confident and arrogant with little regard for other people, perhaps even taking pleasure from being cruel, lacking warm emotions and maybe believing that others are “ganging up” and “out to get” them.

The key issue for everyone else, including most in society unfamiliar with the “extra-ordinary” world of “Personality Disorders”, is that they actually do inhabit a quite different world, although they may not realise this themselves.

The world they inhabit is the only one they know, incapable of experiencing life in the manner that everyone else can.

Surface level appeal can transpire to be shallow, like the emotions of the most charming who ultimately can disappoint, especially when they favour short-term expediency, narrow-minded popularism, their own ambitions, giving the impression of doing right rather than doing it and taking credit for the achievements of others, given that their peculiar sense of right and wrong is limited to believing that they are always right and everyone else wrong and can see no wrong in their own words and deeds when these fall far short of what society would expect of them.

Yet we appoint such people to lead our businesses and nations.

At the end of the day, it isn’t all about them, although they persist in believing that it is, often appearing to be unaware of their inadequacies and immune to the real damage they do, given the opportunity.

The gaelic expression “mé féin” or “me myself” is not that which should be associated with leaders.

Indeed so many of the world’s problems, little and large, local and international, could so readily be prevented, or constructively solved, if collectively we better appreciated how to choose the right people with the right intentions and the most appropriate personality for the responsible roles we trust them with, not the most irresponsible, untrustworthy and destructive people possible, with entirely predictable and inevitable consequences, not their concern or responsibility, as they always find someone or something else, or both, to blame, criticise, disparage and diminish, without remorse, as they deny the undeniable and defend the indefensible.

So why can we not predict the predictable?

Professional accountants may advise that “turnover is vanity, but profit is sanity” but in choosing its managers and leaders the safety, security and harmony of global society needs to be better equipped to differentiate between vanity and sanity, being less attracted by the claims of the vain in favour of the greater merits of the sane, even if less apparently thrilling or exciting and more modest than proud.

Humility beats humiliation, any day.

Those who innately practice “Positive Psychology” in their behaviour within and beyond organisational life, may be confirming the beliefs of those such as Martin Seligman and Barbara Fredrickson in the primary “positive factors” associated with a successful life, most notably including “interest in others”, which my research strongly associates with “Constructive Leadership”.

Society needs fundamentally responsible people for its most responsible roles, not the most irresponsible people possible, immune to their inadequacies and unaware of their deficiencies, inconsiderate of the adverse consequences when they inevitably prioritise “winning” over compromise, their self-interest over the firm’s or national interest and themselves over not only others but indeed everyone and anything else.

Indeed given their exceptional self-centredness and inability to consistently prioritise the interests and needs of others over their own, simply described as their necessity to “get their own way” and “win at all costs”, and given that research suggests that “narcissism is more likely to relate to reactive aggression in circumstances where the narcissistic egos or goals are under threat “, let me repeat the initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” I proposed for discussion and refinement at the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019:

“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who due to what may be a mental and/or personality disorder(s) may be incapable of responsible management or leadership, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when these impede satisfying their self-interest.”

The fact that the most “ruth-less” (meaning sympathy-free) have been shown to so readily and perhaps unwittingly and naturally engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a consistent lack of responsibility, empathy, kindness, love, fear, remorse and conscience, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence, eloquence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists, poses many challenges for both researchers and decision-makers and indeed global society, and has done for millennia, especially when they believe themselves to be “normal” and see nothing wrong with words and deeds which many other people wouldn’t or couldn’t even countenance.

Despite the problems such people create throughout society from impaired relationships and damaged reputations to business failures, chaos and even wars, which throughout history they may not only have started but then perpetuated, being troublemakers not peacemakers, the concept of “Personality Disorders” needs to become more widely appreciated to better understand “difficult” people and their initially bizarre, but in due course entirely predictable behaviour, to sufficiently realise that their motivations differ from those of most “normal” people.

Extraordinarily we trust the coldest and most self-centred people possible – expert actors but ultimately lacking any genuine interest in other people at all, indeed in anyone but themselves, whose often considerable charm is skin deep and lacking any sincerity,  whose eloquence can hide a fundamental disconnect between words, deeds, promises and subsequent actions, whose often ample intelligence is misused, being cunningly calculating, self-centred and anything but emotional, indeed those lacking the core essence of humanity, perhaps amongst the most irresponsible people on earth – with responsibility for the lives of employees, volunteers and citizens throughout global society when they hold positions of power, which they inevitably can only abuse as they discourage and demotivate rather than encourage and motivate and prioritise competition and conflict over co-operation, disharmony over harmony and themselves over everyone and anything else.

As people with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life”, one of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the world that everyone else inhabits.

Appreciating that their conscience-free mind may be disordered, thinking “distorted” and emotional depth “shallow”, could be a critical first step on the road to progress, otherwise a frustratingly fruitless exercise. 

Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure.

As “self-centred” has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests” and “independent of outside force or influence”, one of my key arguments is that, at its most basic, global society needs those I describe as “GIVERS” in leadership roles throughout global society, being “more interested in others than themselves” and most certainly not “TAKERS” who, being “more interested in themselves than others”, are unlikely in either normal or more challenging times to prioritise the interests and needs of the organisation or entity and the people they lead over their own.

For Leadership and Management to further evolve, it requires those whose expertise includes encouragement and motivation not discouragement and humiliation, respect not disrespect, inclusion not exclusion, collaboration not conflict and long-term vision, not short-sighted myopia, preferably with a demonstrably greater interest in the entity and people being led than themselves.

Given that the “common denominator” in every business and indeed organisation is “people”, “as far as leadership concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value… if none of it is emotional.”