Destructive Leadership: WHO AND WHY?

© Julian Martin Clarke 2021

Citing the work of the late psychiatrist Prof Hervey Cleckley in “The Mask of Sanity”.

(Originally posted June 2018)

Undoubtedly leadership is a multifaceted process or ability, personal to each leader and perhaps unique to specific situations, given the importance of flexibility as a managerial attribute.

A wide variety of characteristics have been associated with leaders considered to be effective or even successful at influencing and motivating a group of people towards achieving a common goal. Yet it can also be valid to observe poor or even bad leadership and there may even be more to be gained from doing so.

During thirty years in industry, this author has often learned more about management of organisations and people by way of seeing this critical art-form undertaken ineffectively.

Such observations may well serve a useful purpose, as it allows others to both practice and advocate quite the opposite approach and behaviour than that typified by de jure leaders; those who may well believe they excel at the task, even if few others involved might share their sometimes gargantuan and grandiose self-belief.

Persuading those more interested in themselves than others 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.

WHY do some leaders only seem capable of seeing matters from their own perspective, especially “what’s in it for me”?

WHY do some succeed in finding mutually agreeable compromises while for others “getting their own way” can seem to be their primary goal in almost all situations?

WHY do some people breed competition and conflict between supposed colleagues and seem to thrive in an environment or culture that can only be described as combative, which common sense alone would suggest is both counterintuitive and counterproductive, yet for some reason or reasons appears to be a scenario far too prevalent throughout not only national and international business but also many other areas of global society?

WHY do some make opportunities of their difficulties while others create difficulties out of opportunities?

WHY do some not seem to be capable of learning from their prior experiences, which they repeat, even when these have adverse consequences?


We tend to trust people of integrity yet still choose “Self-centred, Difficult and Proud”​ (or “SDP”) people for leadership roles, despite they thriving on instability, troublemaking, blame, discouragement and disrespect.

This paper considers why might this be? What can society do about the challenges such people persistently pose? Why are they erroneously elected to seniority of position? Can their fundamental untrustworthiness and innate irresponsibility be predicted? And prevented?

Fortunately the answer is yes, but only when other people appreciate what behavioural traits to look for. This article outlines a decade of psychological research into and 30 years experience with too many such “charming liars”.

Never again?









Henry Ford is renowned to have observed that ‘you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do’.

Many leaders and managers are adept at “talking the talk”, but fewer prove themselves capable of “walking the walk” when their organisation and its people face their more difficult challenges, especially when this involves prioritising the interests and needs of the “stakeholders” it was established to service rather then those of the leader or senior management team?

Maybe we need to better appreciate the many merits of more intuitive, emotionally intelligent, modest and collaborative peacemakers, with an active conscience and greater depths of character including integrity, honesty, humility, dignity and common decency, with deep emotional (as well as cognitive, practical or exclusively rational) empathy and concern for the people they safely and responsibly lead.

It is such enthusiastic people, “Constructive Leaders”,  often with a positive outlook on life and sense of humour (not directed at humiliating others), who create, maintain and augment more welcoming, harmonious, constructive, encouraging, righteous, tolerant, agreeable, inclusive, creative, fun-loving, “playful”, loyal, generous, collaborative, cooperative, considerate, more stable, visionary, dignified and safer organisational cultures, conducive to people performing near to their potential.

“Constructive Leaders”, positive by nature, appreciate that when they prioritise “doing the right thing” they safeguard trust and reputation – those invisible yet invaluable cornerstones of longer-term business and organisational success.

Being Giversmore interested in others than themselves, with a genuine interest in both other people and the welfare of society itself, they can be better trusted to manage and lead the organisations and entities of our society, especially when compared with the flawed character, over-confidence, thinly-veiled arrogance, troublemaking and dangerous deceit associated with self-centred, emotionally deficient, difficult, disloyal and proud “Takers“, being more fundamentally interested in themselves than others.

While many “Constructive Leaders” cope admirably with crises, other more dangerously “Destructive Managers” and perhaps even “Disordered Leaders” plot deceit and distrust, disloyalty and disharmony, disturbance and dissension, devise dramas, scheme strife, cause conflict and create crises.

These tricky and untrustworthy troublemakers and warmongers, avail of empty promises, fawningly false flattery, sycophantic insincerity and skin-deep charm to seditiously succeed (much of the time) in masking their true inner coldness, absent empathy, cloaked conscience, hidden hatreds and perhaps terrible tendencies so the disunity, dissonance and mayhem which arises from their lies, deceit, blame, delusional distortions of reality, devious mind games and mendacious mission of manipulation of other people cleverly cannot be traced back to them, at least in the short-term.

Despite being adverse to harmonious compromise and being naturally combative, preferring competition to cooperation and conflict to sensible consideration and resolution of issues, given their necessity to “get their own way” and “win at all costs”, often preferring to do the opposite of what others propose to be the optimum course of action, no matter the walk in life and irrespective of any adverse consequences for other people, groups, organisations, entities, states and nations (inconsequential to those fundamentally only interested in themselves), extraordinarily such “selfish, difficult, proud and stubborn” people, brazen bullies, consistently contrary and perversity personified, incorrigible troublemakers and wicked warmongers, exceptionally self-centred, innately insensitive to the needs of others and ultimately quite irresistibly reckless and irresponsible, frequently hold significant positions of responsibility for others throughout society.

do some people naturally build harmony and develop teamwork, camaraderie and cooperation, while others seem to actively seek every opportunity to cultivate disharmony, disorder and competition between (supposed) colleagues?

WHY do some people seem more than capable of both seeking and acting on wise advice, while for others they may even consistently prefer to do the opposite of what other people suggest, no matter how apt the advice?

WHY do some seem to prefer excessive risk-taking and be so focussed on the potential rewards that the added risks do not seem to be a deterrent?

WHY do some not seem to be capable of learning from their prior experiences, which they repeat, even when these have adverse consequences?

WHY do somethrive on building trustworthy long-term relationships, while others are more adept at damaging if not destroying them, irrespective of the consequences?

WHY do some people naturally avail of praise, encouragement and other forms of positivity to build collaborative organisations, while others thrive on negativity, criticism, discouragement, disquiet, disunity and even rumour-mongering and spreading not only distrust but even hatred?

WHY do some encourage those they recognise as being talented and inspire them to achieve their potential, while others see them as threats and do everything they can not only to disrespect and discourage them but also disparage and speak adversely of them to others?

WHY do some only seem capable of seeing matters from their own perspective, especially “what’s in it for me”?

WHY do some build harmony while others seem to actively seek every opportunity to cultivate disharmony?

WHY are some innate peacemakers who remain calm during times of difficulty, while for others anger often appears to be just below the surface, as they create dramas and crises out of both minor and major situations and just cannot seem to stop themselves troublemaking?

WHY do some seek win-win outcomes from many situations while others have to “win at all costs”?

WHY do some appear to be insensitive to the needs of others yet seem to be exceptionally sensitive to personal criticism, even if none was intended?

WHY do some seem to be incapable of praising others yet seem to need praise so much that when not in receipt of it they will praise themselves?

WHY do some have no pity or sympathy for the plight of others yet seem to seek sympathy and pity for themselves?

WHY are some people warm-hearted with an abundance of empathy while others appear to be cold, calculating and quite ruthless?

WHY do some succeed in finding mutually agreeable compromises while for others “getting their own way” can seem to be their primary goal in almost all situations?

WHY do some prioritise the interests of their organisation by employing and promoting the best available people, while others prioritise their self-interest by ignoring the merits of the most capable people, potentially those more talented than they, who may show up their inadequacies?

WHY do some people breed competition and conflict between supposed colleagues and seem to thrive in an environment or culture that can only be described as combative, which common sense alone would suggest is both counterintuitive and counterproductive, yet for some reason or reasons appears to be a scenario far too prevalent throughout not only national and international business but also many other areas of global society?

WHY do some make opportunities of their difficulties while others create difficulties out of opportunities?

COULD it be due to the peculiar mindset or “dispositional attribution” of a minority of people in society which, if better known and more widely understood, would or should prohibit such exceptionally self-centred people from being trusted with supervisory let alone managerial or leadership positions, irrespective of the nature of the organisation which employs them?

Those who are amongst life’s most icily individualistic, coldly calculating, frigidly factual and quite fear-less people, who thrive on fear, intimidation and manipulation, are also exceptionally well versed in ACTING as if they were warm-hearted and interested in other people, a state they can only imagine given their significant sympathy shortage and dreadful dearth of kind and “warm” emotions, being fundamentally ruth-less, meaning compassion-free…

Exceptionally self-centred people pervade society and its wide variety of institutions, often prevailing especially in business where the rewards for their selfish, often devious and sometimes intimidatory and ruthless behaviour, featuring a callous disregard for the opinions, interests and feelings of others and the impact of their decisions and actions on other people, are potentially far greater than in any other walk of life.

While many are open, honest and truthful, eminent psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley described others as showing:

“a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions… incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves… After being caught in shameful and gross falsehoods, after repeatedly violating his most earnest pledges, he finds it easy, when another occasion arises, to speak of his word of honour…The conception of living up to his word seems, in fact, to be regarded as little more than a phrase…

The result of his conduct brings trouble not only to others but almost as regularly to himself… 

Concepts in which meaning or emotional significance are considered along with the mechanically rational, if applied to this man, measure him as very small, or very defective… 

He is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters. He is, furthermore, lacking in the ability to see that others are moved. It is as though he were colourblind, despite his sharp intelligence, to this aspect of human existence. It cannot be explained to him because there is nothing in his orbit of awareness that can bridge the gap with comparison. He can repeat the words and say glibly that he understands, and there is no way for him to realise that he does not understand…

In complex matters of judgment involving ethical, emotional, and other evaluational factors, in contrast with matters requiring only (or chiefly) intellectual reasoning ability, he shows no evidence of a defect. So long as the test is verbal or otherwise abstract, so long as he is not a direct participant, he shows that he knows his way about. He can offer wise decisions not only for others in life situations but also for himself so long as he is asked what he would do (or should do, or is going to do). When the test of action comes to him we soon find ample evidence of his deficiency… 

Only when the subject sets out to conduct his life can we get evidence of how little his good theoretical understanding means to him, of how inadequate and insubstantial are the apparently normal basic emotional reactions and motivations convincingly portrayed and enunciated but existing in little more than two dimensions…

His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others…[He is] profoundly limited in ability to participate seriously in the major aims of life…

[His] unreliability and his disregard for obligations and for consequences are manifested in both trivial and serious matters… 

Nearly always he does refuse and successfully oppose the efforts of his relatives to have him cared for…

If we consider… the vast number of similar people in every community who show the same behaviour pattern in milder form but who are sufficiently protected and supported by relatives to remain at large, the prevalence of this disorder is seen to be appalling…

These people… present a problem which must be better understood by lawyers, social workers, schoolteachers, and by the general public if any satisfactory way of dealing with them is to be worked out. ”

To which groups many more could be added, notably those with responsibility for hiring, promoting and firing within our organisations and those who select people believing them to be worthy of being trusted to serve others in public office, not themselves.

Society needs more self-less than self-serving people in managerial and leadership roles.

While many people seek convergence by way of many forms of cooperation, bridge-building and peacemaking, a minority covertly seek divergence by way of many forms of competition, conflict and troublemaking, thriving on being difficult and irresponsible, preferring to oppose sensible paths to progress.

While many people take great pleasure in making people feel good, others seem to derive great satisfaction from degrading others.

They inhabit a different world which others need to understand and adapt to.

Their response to situations can be so bizarre that this can leave observers so confused that they may have no idea how to respond themselves, until in due course they may observe how repetitive their behaviour can be.

There are many related behavioural traits “selfish, difficult, proud and perverse” people can display, especially when put under pressure or their self-interest is in any way challenged. For instance here are 30 amongst many more:

  • They demand respect but deny it to others. Being disrespectful seems to give them a thrill, quite the opposite of leaders who inspire the achievements of their people by way of giving them their respect.
  • Satisfying their own needs can be their primary, perhaps only, concern. Some savour being unkind and can derive a particular pleasure being disdainful of others. Their world revolves around themselves.
  • It is characteristics such as these which do not endear them to other people and make them highly inappropriate supervisors, managers or leaders of people in any walk of life. Anyone who dares criticise them, no matter how constructively, is not likely to benefit from career progression. If they cannot adequately manage their own emotions in a generally positive manner, how can they be expected to show any responsibility for those of others or guide them positively and constructively?
  • At its most basic their outlook is me not we or us and this guides much of their behaviour. Until this is understood they will be misunderstood.
  • Their mindset is essentially quite different and others may only learn how to adapt their own behaviour to more adequately deal with them when they begin to better understand how their distorted mind operates.
  • It should not be a surprise to hear them talking about doing the right thing one day then doing precisely the opposite the next, especially if doing so also happens to facilitate them achieving their own ambitions.
  • Not known for reflection before speaking or acting, they can appear to behave in a rash and hasty manner. They can act spontaneously based on what seem to be impulses and whims, in a manner that many others would later regret, although for them any form of repentance can be rare.
  • They require and seek praise (and even praise themselves when no-one else is) but, thriving on being discouraging and disliking being encouraging, find it hard to genuinely say “thanks” or “well done”.
  • The extent of the positivity when relating stories of themselves and especially their talents and achievements can be so incredible, literally, that they defy belief. Yet this does not deter them from both appearing to believe these things themselves nor from broadcasting them to others, even if total fiction.
  • They are constantly critical but overreact to anything they perceive to be criticism, even if not or none was intended.
  • 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 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.
  • They can talk about “doing the right thing” but at key times their decisions and actions show that they just do what most satisfies them, especially if this disadvantages others.
  • They prefer “winning at all costs” to “win-win outcomes”, so get a greater kick out of life when others are seen to lose.
  • They prefer being disagreeable, competitive and combative so struggle to be agreeable, co-operative and collaborative, seeking victories not compromise.
  • They perversely prefer to do the opposite of what others propose to be the most appropriate course of action.
  • In due course their peers themselves learn to recommend the opposite of what they believe to be best, knowings its diametric will most likely be selected by their Disordered Leader, bringing some sense of order amidst the chaos, indeed in many respects quite the opposite of what people expect of those chosen to manage and lead organisations.
  • They can be quite childlike – the most important thing in their lives can seem to be “getting their own way”.
  • They want everyone else to change to suit them but don’t seem to be capable of changing their own behaviour.
  • They may appear to be inconsistent, contradictory and perverse, but with greater familiarity can be seen to be entirely predictable.
  • They are intolerant of other people’s errors but psychologists believe may be incapable of learning from their prior experiences and mistakes – Groundhog Day.
  • They know they should be interested in the people they are managing and leading but fundamentally are only capable of being interested in themselves.
  • Their necessity to control can become quite uncontrollable.

They perceive other people as being there to serve them, the entity they lead becomes their personal plaything and the power they are trusted with they abuse to advantage themselves and their sycophantic cronies.

They can seek pity by relating situations and stories, especially about how others have behaved badly towards them, in a manner that paints them as being the victim or having been taken advantage of by others, when the reality could be quite the opposite, given their propensity to invent and exaggerate. So while they can deny others the kindness they may need during their difficult times, they can also seek sympathy for themselves. While this may seem to be out of character with their apparently invincible persona, perhaps it is more in keeping with their proclivity to seek attention for themselves, with “poor me” sympathy-seeking perhaps being one of the external signs to their true self-centredness.

They are fundamentally untrustworthy and irresponsible yet somehow we trust them with positions of responsibility for other people who ultimately they treat with disdain and contempt, being (in their own mind if no-one else’s) inferior to themselves.

Ironically such “entitled” people struggle to notice that it is their own peculiar behaviour, notably the inappropriateness or inadequacy of their words and deeds, which deny them the “special respect” they insatiably crave.

Lacking empathy and emotional intelligence, they fail to appreciate that respect is earned when behaviour and attitudes warrants it, not when esteem is demanded and expected, when indeed it may be most unwarranted.

To them, words are shallow and promises are empty, both utterly meaningless and absolutely un-heartfelt, lacking any real sincerity or association with any genuine effort to follow them with any appropriate or beneficial action, irrespective of the apparently convincing conviction with which they can be spoken, fooling some of the people some of the time.

Words, like people and relationships, can be easily discarded, neither being felt with any degree of what others would describe or experience as emotion. Indeed their words and their emotions could be considered to be equally shallow and empty. Just like being unkind or even cruel in deed, saying something untrue or deeply disparaging does not seem to cost them a bother.

Feeling little or no guilt means words and the truth lack any meaningful connection.

They seem to lack a sense of what may be wrong.

So day after day they seek to turn trust into distrust, cooperation into conflict, harmony into disharmony, unity into disunity and order into disorder, for no apparent reason except they just get a great personal “kick” out of creating confusion and chaos, harm and havoc and, if they can get away with it, even mayhem and anarchy, without experiencing any regret whatsoever, no matter the severity of the consequences for anyone other than themselves, fundamentally all they care about.

Incredibly we permit such cold-hearted, callous, nefarious and villainous people to manage and lead, or mismanage and mislead, our organisations and nations, resulting in far too many innocent victims of their mendacious malice.

The potentially catastrophic impact on interpersonal trust and organisational reputation can appear to be ignored or only scantily considered, given the excessive focus on financial reward and “winning at all costs”, almost irrespective of the downside risk, not the priority of managers and leaders who somehow extraordinarily (or not) fail to see the consequences or their culpability, even after their organisation has collapsed with many people’s lives adversely affected.

Just like what may be their greatest personal cognitive disability, do we never seem to learn from our prior experiences, especially our mistakes? Do we seem to be doomed to repeat them by appointing such fundamentally inappropriate and childlike people, fundamentally more destructive than constructive, who not only play mind games with the emotions of other people, aim to destroy the good names of right-minded, well-intentioned, much kinder and more considerate people who try to “do the right thing”, eradicate the critical value of trust and perhaps irreparably demolish the reputations of the organisations and entities they lead, but also in so doing damage the very fabric of our societies?

They can display severe mood swings, ups and down and intense reactions, which may seem rapid, exaggerated and disproportionate to the circumstances, described by psychologists as “emotional lability”. Their behaviour and emotional responses may appear to others to be easily triggered, impulsive, unstable and potentially even dangerous, causing (unnecessary) distress to others who have to “walk on eggshells” and adapt how they deal with their “emotional incontinence”.

The fact that those lacking emotions which most people possess have been shown to so readily (perhaps innately and unwittingly) engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a lack of responsibility, empathy and remorse, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists poses many challenges for society, especially when we allow such people drive our organisations and entities down roads inevitably leading to chaos and disharmony rather than aspiring to genuinely collective progress based on harmony and co-operation.

Perhaps one of our greatest challenges is to “see through” such challenging people and no longer employ, promote and elect them to positions for which they are so fundamentally unsuitable, displaying what psychologists term “consistent irresponsibility”, capable of routinely acting against the common good and doing so with what they describe as “emotional impunity”.

No matter how well they manage to disguise their true inner coldness, eventually their maltreatment of others, allied to the degree of lies, deceipt, manipulation and character assassination they engage in does become noticed.

No matter how subtle they try to be (not usually their strength) eventually the absolute degree of their self-centredness and necessity to control can no longer be masked by their skin-deep charisma.

No longer should those who bring out the worst in other people, who derive their own happiness from damaging the happiness of others and who can even be unhappy seeing people happy with others (in any walk of life), ever be given responsibility for managing or leading people, given their inability to constructively manage their own emotions let alone those of others.

The rest of society needs to be open to and supportive of those with the wisdom, perception, perseverance, vision and courage to see the necessity to prevent the Disordered Leader takesgetting their own way” to such extreme lengths that winning at all costs” and seeming to be oblivious to the consequences of their troublemaking distorts the truth and damages not only other people but the organisation, entity or nation which employs them.

Preferably, with greater societal awareness of their true inner coldness, fundamental irresponsibility, untrustworthiness and typical behavioural traits, they can be denied seniority of position in the first place, given their inability to be consistently open-minded, conciliatory, reasonable and responsible.

These and many other matters led to the initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” I proposed for discussion and refinement at the International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference or IVBEC held in Dublin in October 2019:

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

Somehow such “leaders” (if they warrant being described so inappropriately) fail to appreciate that people don’t generally respond well to fear and intimidation, nor being set a bad example, nor bullied what to do.

Anyone (or almost anyone) can be kind to life’s kindest people. Those who adapt their own thoughts and actions sufficiently to deal with a minority of troublemakers in a calm, patient and considered manner may learn to appreciate that responding to cruelty with kindness can be one of life’s most powerful and satisfying experiences, described by Francis of Assisi as “conquering oneself”.

Fortunately, the rest of society is more than capable of learning from its many prior errors arising from appointing “destructive” rather than “constructive” people to seniority of position, capable of motivation, stimulation and inclusion while incapable of fear-based demotivation and conflict, especially when astutely led people selflessly and collectively feel inspired to prioritise the “common good” over what most motivates the self-centredly Disordered Leader: “what’s in it for me?”

People expect high standards of those in leadership positions. They expect society’s leaders to practice what they preach and display their integrity by “doing the right thing even when no-one is looking”.

Astute, strong and courageous leaders know that DOING THE WRONG THING WHEN EVERYONE IS LOOKING could never be described as leadership let alone leadership with integrity.

Their concept of right and wrong differs from that of many other people. “Always right and never wrong” could almost sum them up as they find it difficult to contemplate the prospect of their own opinion, viewpoint, belief, sentiment or decision not being the correct and final one and will defend it, irrespective of the consequences for anyone or anything else, sometimes even to their own personal disadvantage, such is their necessity to “win at all costs” and their inability to admit they may have been wrong.

When it comes to “getting their own way” somehow their ability to rationally consider issues, including morally which they are capable of doing abstractly or in hypothetical discussions and deliberations, appears to be totally suspended given what appears to be the primacy in their own mind of their absolute necessity to be seen to personally prevail. They must be seen to be the victor and others the losers and nothing else seems to matter. Their insatiable requirement to achieve their “IPG goal” of “instantaneous personal gratification” can seem to override all other factors so much so that prior discussions and apparent agreements can be totally ignored as if on a whim based solely and exclusively on consideration of “what’s in it for me?”. This can leave others involved quite baffled and confused – until they experience this so frequently that they learn how to predict such behaviour.

Fundamentally they can seem to lack the ability of knowing what is right from what may be wrong when it comes to actions, behaviour and decision-making.

They are adept at “talking the talk” and can give the impression of being principled and conscientious, except when it comes to actual behaviour, especially when their perceived self-interest is at stake when they will be seen to be incapable of either “walking the talk” or “walking the walk”.

While many people possess the ability to take the longer-term perspective when decision-making, theirs could not even be described as short-term, rather instantaneous actions and reactions solely based on their feelings and whims at that precise moment, totally considerate of themselves and extraordinarily inconsiderate of others.

One matter though which they do take a long-term perspective at is holding grudges, as their ability to see grievances when there may be none can lead them to mistake genuine, well-intentioned differences of opinion as being personal attacks. What may initially appear to be “pride”could transpire to be a far deeper malaise. They can hold a grudge against someone for an eternity (“I will destroy you”) even after extracting disproportionate revenge, including deceitful and fictitious “distortion campaigns” aimed at “character assassination” of those who may not quite figure out what they did to offend them.

This extraordinary mindset may take other people quite some time to understand, if at all, which places the onus on all others involved to try and engineer situations so that the self-interest of the key decision-maker appears to coincide with what may most benefit the group at large, those they are supposed to be prioritising but are actually fundamentally and utterly incapable of putting first, especially before themselves.

Which is why, at its most basic, society needs more self-less givers genuinely more interested in others than themselves as leaders (and role models) and most certainly not self-centred takers, fundamentally more interested in themselves than others.

Being essentially cold, unemotional, unkind and some perhaps even cruel, they find it a great challenge to show mercy on occasions when this could build bridges between people or peoples rather than dismantle them. Their true mindset seems to be exclusively me, me, me and doing “whatever it takes” to achieve their personal goals including just “getting their own way”, totally and absolutely inconsiderate of the interests and needs of other people.

Winning at all costs” seems to give them more pleasure when this involves others losing. Their sense of personal advantage which they prioritise is enhanced when this coincides with other people and groups being disadvantaged. Extraordinarily, this does not just mean more apparent rivals but even peers and colleagues as, to them, everyone is a potential rival.

Yet time after time after time again, we trust such untrustworthy, reckless and irresponsible people with positions of responsibility throughout our global societies. That is why

That is why at that US International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference or IVBEC 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 Stop them achieving 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.

Being fundamentally reckless, they are more likely to wreak havoc and wreck not only organisations and all other entities, including nations, but also directly and indirectly other people’s lives, none of which are their concern. Then when all has collapsed, including the organisations they mis-led, they can wonder what they did wrong.

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.

What a mistake trusting them with responsibility can prove to be, especially when their superficial charm proves to be only skin-deep and their thinly-veiled truer personas and more individualistic motivations can become more apparent, or be exposed, when it is alas often too late to undo the damage they insidiously do.

Do we never seem to learn?

Perhaps now is the time for us to do so and ensure that, as well as many other abilities and talents required of managers and leaders, we try to only appoint givers to positions of responsibility in society, those who are genuinely more interested in others than themselves, especially those that are trusted to responsibly manage and lead.

No matter how well the takers try to pretend to be interested in other people and societal bodies, their words will transpire to be insincere and their promises quite empty, just like their “shallow effect” and cold hearts which, being devoid of warm-emotions, deprives them of the ability to empathise with other people nor understand what they experience and most desire.

When other people are only perceived or experienced as if they were any inanimate object, no different from a shopfront mannequin, it is too much to expect that such emotionally-depleted and kindness-deficient people will engage in “humane decision-making”, no matter how smart-talking or apparently talented and intelligent they can ceaselessly strive to appear to be.

In their case some of them can appear to fool all of the people all of the time because, other than psychiatrists and psychologists with particular expertise in a range of personality disorders, most other members of society (quite understandably) appear to be as clueless in understanding what may be their true “mindset-malaise” as they themselves can be at trying to understand the emotions and motivations of people capable of functioning normally in society.

It took the author 25 years in industry before being advised by a psychologist that the reason why the most difficult and damaging people he had encountered, who seemed to derive pleasure being hurtful towards others in business without apparent scruples, could be narcissistic and/or other personality disorder(s). It is quite plausible that many could retire without fully understanding the most challenging people they had crossed paths with throughout their career. This is particularly so when the behaviour such provocative people typically display is precisely the opposite of what most would associate with building and maintaining relationships.

Perhaps those with a reasonable understanding of their challenging behaviour have a responsibility to share one of life’s greatest secrets, so others can also learn how to better adapt to their challenges, to minimise the damage and harm they can do, not only to the emotions of other people but also the very organisations which employ them?

Is there an onus on responsible and kind people to share their insight into such irresponsible self-centredness, sometimes cruelty, and the varying degrees of their inability to understand others, nor show any genuine interest in them, the core of any successful relationship?

But we, unlike them, ARE capable of learning from our prior experiences, including mistakes, the most egregious of which can transpire to be trusting such fundamentally untrustworthy people with responsibility for our people and institutions when they are so innately and perhaps impossibly irresponsible.

Can we learn from our many mistakes when we are initially (and understandably) fooled by their apparent charm and clever language? Although there may actually be no real connection between their smart words and subsequent self-centred actions and unchangeable behaviour which, with sufficient experience, can be seen not to be bizarre but entirely and absolutely predictable?

Yes we can!

At the end of the (unnecessarily long) day, those (unfortunate people) with sufficient dealings with such “selfish, difficult, stubborn and proud” people gradually appreciate that what gives the game away to what may be their true mindset and motivations – is their very own words and misdeeds – which they struggle to change.

When their perceived self-interest is in any way challenged, such “impossible” people find it impossible to continue to wear the “mask of normality” when their false flattery, obsequious insincerity and cheap charisma can no longer hide their deep inner coldness, absent empathy, cloaked conscience and hidden hatreds.

When society better learns to appreciate and anticipate their predictable behaviour, they CAN be denied seniority of positions and make our organisations (and world) a safer place.

Of the multitude of characteristics which contribute to trustworthy and responsible management and leadership, the positive and kind personalities of those with empathy, who are  

well capable of love & incapable of hatred,

which can contribute to their leading in a more constructive, encouraging and collaborative manner, contributing to more stable and safer organisational cultures, than those more destructive people who are

well capable of hatred & incapable of loving anyone (other than themselves),

who thrive on disrespect, deceit and many forms of discouragement, preferring troublemaking, conflict, confusion and disharmony to encouragement, cooperation, peacemaking and harmony, quite the opposite of that expected when people join together to achieve some common purpose.

Ultimately, when we consider the personality of those we trust to manage other people in all the organisations and entities of our societies, if we are not to repeat the mistakes of our combative history as a human race we need to better appreciate that:

“as far as leadership is concerned,

all the intelligence in the world may be of little or no value,

if none of it is emotional.”


“Would you choose to hire, select, elect or promote someone you don’t trust?”

The likely impact on those critical qualities we call trust and reputation can appear too often not to be at the forefront of the minds of “selfish, stubborn, difficult and proud” decision-makers when they choose to seek an unfair advantage, benefitting themselves or disadvantaging others, irrespective of any harmful consequences for other people, groups, organisations, nature and even regions or nations.

It is in situations such as these when authentic leadership is most required, with leaders in all areas of society prioritising those they lead and represent, not themselves.

© Julian Martin Clarke 2021 (Research 2010-2021)



The author can by contacted by email at