Collective or Group Narcissism (Clarke & Vaknin)

Extracts from Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited

by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD

Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8


The psychological profession does not appear to have a definition of a Narcissistic Organisation, but as discussed and proposed at IVBEC 2019 (International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference) held in Dublin in October 2019 (before the Irish dancing and music) by EBENI Secretary Julian Clarke, there is a definition of a Dysfunctional Family which could be adapted to a Dysfunctional Organisation:

What is “Dysfunctional”?

The APA or American Psychological Association define DYSFUNCTION as:

“any impairment, disturbance or deficiency in behaviour or operation.”


“A family in which relationships or communication are impaired & members are unable to attain closeness and self-expression”

“Often one individual in the family presents as the identified patient”.


By replacing “family” with “organisation” we could get a useful working definition of a Dysfunctional Organisation, notably one (mis) led by a leader with one or more of the Personality Disorders, referred to in Julian Clarke’s research as a “Disordered Leader”:

“An organisation in which relationships or communication are impaired & members are unable to attain closeness and self-expression.”

“Often one individual in the organisation is capable of identification with being primarily responsible for the degree of dysfunction.”

Clarke, IVBEC 2019

While most serious if the dysfunctional person is the leader of the organisation, irrespective of its nature purpose or role in society, many challenges also arise (for everyone else) if the person is a manager or a supervisor or team leader, contributing to a Dysfunctional Department or Team, or even “just” a staff member as such DISagreeable people can still cause considerable (subtle or overt) havoc.

This can include a considerable degree of entirely unnecessary conflict (which they prefer to cooperation), DISruption, DISharmony, DISunity and DIScord, which they are often well capable of “successfully” blaming on others.

They typically do so by way of “Projection” and “Distortion Campaigns”, aimed at “Character Assassination” of others they have developed a grudge towards or whose position they desire, even though the target of their attack may be entirely normal, kind, considerate and far more committed to responsibly achieving the goals of the organisation than their “consistently irresponsible” adversary, masquerading as a colleague or coworker.

An understanding of Personality Disorders does appear to provide an explanation, in all likelihood the explanation, for a range of not only diminishing, combative and intimidatory behaviours but also of those people who innately undertake deceitful and unethical practices, without any semblance of conscience or remorse when the consequences for other people or the organisation they mis-lead transpire to be detrimental.

To those unaware of such deviant personality traits amongst those who on the surface can appear to be highly Intelligent, persuasively Charismatic and convincingly Eloquent, what needs to be appreciated is that there is a minority of society who can appear to be (a) cognitively normal but whose (b) emotional abnormalities contribute to they thriving not on collaboration, cooperation, agreement, praise, encouragement and motivation, but CONflict and CONtrol, various forms of CONning, deceit and manipulation, DISagreement, DIScouragement, DISruption, DISunity, DIScord, DISharmony, DIShonesty, DIStrust and DISloyalty, not least because they develop DISlikes and hatreds towards people who they perceive may have wronged them, even if they didn’t, or believe they may be a threat to their feeling of superiority or invincibility or achieving their self-centred goals, well capable of developing deep grudges against those who may not know why, with truth quite inconsequential, including when they lie readily and successfully, especially when they “succeed” in passing the blame on to others for their many failings and in damaging the reputation of those who may have done no wrong.

The world would undoubtedly “be a better place” if we better learned how to AVOID the most irresponsible, untrustworthy, dishonest and destructive people possible, with entirely predictable and inevitable consequences, which this research refers to as “IDENTIFY AND DENY” them the positions of power they will inevitably abuse in a quite unaccountable and irresponsible manner, which doesn’t seem to bother or concern them at all, although it should be a matter of deep concern for the rest of society.

To them, the consequences of their words, deeds and misbehaviour are just 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, with their exceptionally convincing denials confusing those who were previously sure that they were responsible for whatever the unethical or immoral act, featuring some aspect of coldly callous wrongdoing, may have been

The rest of society increasingly needs to recognise that those who seem to lack a sense of wrongdoing, may actually have something wrong with them. Indeed those who may be able to tell right from wrong in conversation and appear to be ethically aware, but then don’t care and are unconcerned about engaging in actual wrongdoing, may have a Personality Disorder, especially those of the “Cluster B” or “Dark Triad” Narcissistic variety, the most extreme variant of which is Psychopathy.

While all psychopaths are narcissistic, and fortunately few narcissists are psychopaths, their often quite covert characteristics (hidden from those unaware of their true inner coldness, but overt to those who are) make them quite inappropriate for positions of responsibility, which society continues to trust them with, despite they being deeply unreliable and untrustworthy, contributing to they being described by psychologists as “consistently irresponsible” and “interpersonally callous”.

These destructive traits and tendencies are often masked by what this research describes as their “ICE characteristics” – Intelligence, Charism and Eloquence – which successfully hide their deeply ICE-cold nature and inability to love or be loved, at least from many people much of the time.

Their typically quite covert characteristics remain hidden from those unaware of their true inner coldness, but overt to those who are, well capable of suddenly becoming visible when they erupt without any apparent provocation when they consider that any aspect of their self-interest may be threatened, even if this perception like their appearance of normality is quite false.

The emotional deficiencies of a Disordered Leader with a Destructive Personality contribute to their “ruth-less” nature, with the ancient word “ruth” associated with compassion, sympathy and remorse, all three of which they are deeply lacking in, alongside conscience, guilt, fear and anxiety, permitting them to prioritise maximising reward (especially for themselves) without the proper examination of the risks, as would be expected from a Constructive Leader.

Yet we continue to make such self-centred, unkind and unsympathetic people leaders, before we rue the quite predictable outcomes of perhaps the biggest mistake people in society can make, of trusting perhaps the most untrustworthy people possible with positions of responsibility, unaware that their personality deficiencies contribute to they actually being described by psychologists as “consistently irresponsible”.

When will we learn?

Extract from Disordered Leadership by Julian Clarke

What their dysfunction may entail is further discussed after the following extract from “Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited” by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD who asks “Can it be that a group of people are all narcissists?”

Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8


Narcissism, Culture and Society

“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”
[Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents]

Can it be that a group of people are all narcissists?

In their book “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was the preserve of

“the royal and the wealthy” and that it “seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century”.

Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with

“higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs… Individuals in less advantaged nations … are too busy trying (to survive) … to be arrogant and grandiose”.

They – like Christopher Lasch before them – attribute pathological narcissism to

“a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States”.

They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with “star power” or respect.

“In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the world’. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the collective’.”

Millon quotes Warren and Caponi’s “The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America, Japan and Denmark”:

“Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) … are rather self-contained and independent… (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self … denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honour of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships.”

But Millon and Davis are wrong. Theirs is, indeed, the quintessential American point of view which lacks an intimate knowledge of other parts of the world.

Pathological narcissism is a ubiquitous phenomenon because every human being – regardless of the nature of his society and culture – develops healthy narcissism early in life.

Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse – and abuse, alas, is a universal human behaviour. By “abuse” we mean any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual – smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.

There are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day labourers in East Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan.

Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society.

It is true, though that the WAY pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channelled against minorities – in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies it is an individual’s trait.

Yet, can families, organisations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as “narcissistic” or “pathologically self-absorbed”? Wouldn’t such generalisations be a trifle racist and more than a trifle wrong? The answer is: it depends.

Human collectives – states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands – acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history – the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.

Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behaviour of each and every member. It is a defining – though often an implicit or underlying – mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable: a pattern of conduct melded with distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.

A possible DSM-like list of criteria for Narcissistic Organisations or Groups

An all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning at the group’s early history and present in various contexts. Persecution and abuse are often the causes – or at least the antecedents – of the pathology.

Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:

1 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – feel grandiose and self-important (e.g., they exaggerate the group’s achievements and talents to the point of lying, demand to be recognised as superior simply for belonging to the group and without commensurate achievement).

2 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as
such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are obsessed with group fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance, bodily beauty or performance, or ideal, everlasting, all- conquering ideals or political theories.

3 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are firmly convinced that the group is unique and, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high- status groups (or institutions).

4 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation – or, failing that, wish to be feared and to be notorious (Narcissistic Supply).

5 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – feel entitled. They expect unreasonable or special and favourable priority treatment. They demand automatic and full compliance with expectations. They rarely accept responsibility for their actions (“alloplastic defences”). This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.

6 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are “interpersonally exploitative”, i.e., use others to achieve their own ends. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.

7 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are devoid of empathy. They are unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of other groups. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.

8 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are constantly envious of others or believe that they are being equally envied. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.

9 The group as a whole, or members of the group – acting as such and by virtue of their association and affiliation with the group – are arrogant and sport haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, punished, limited, or confronted. This often leads to anti-social behaviour, cover-ups, and criminal activities on a mass scale.

Extracted from Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD

Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8


While many who have encountered narcissists in many walks of life may be able to identify with some or many of the nine DSM characteristics, especially when they have been recipients of their grandiosity and sense of entitlement, it may be much more difficult for those who are not psychiatrists, psychologists or psychoanalysts to comprehend that some of the most arrogant and conceited people they have ever met, may actually be deeply insecure with little or no self-esteem, quite the opposite of the public persona they display.

Indeed it may (initially) be difficult to comprehend that those arrogant individuals who

EXTERNALLY act in a “grandiose and self-important” manner, or even invent and “exaggerates their accomplishments, talents and skills”, are “firmly convinced that they are unique and special” to the extent that they “require excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation” or “failing that wish to be feared and to be notorious”, and feel so “entitled’ that they “demand automatic and full compliance with their unreasonable expectations for special and favourable priority treatment” and are “interpersonally exploitative, using others to achieve their own ends”

may actually be

INTERNALLY insecure, “envious of others”, “devoid of empathy” despite their apparent charisma, and with such an “impaired, dysfunctional, immature true self” that they need to imagine themselves as being better than they actually are, that they have “no self-esteem or self-worth of their own” to the extent that “in the absence of observers, the narcissist shrivels to non-existence and feels dead” given that “the sick narcissist’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem derive entirely from audience feedback”.

While their apparently supreme (external) confidence can succeed in hiding these inner insecurities, and their apparent Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence masking their actual ICE-COLD nature, their challenging nature does become apparent to those in their inner circle in a wide variety of ways, especially when they totally overreact to even an iota of criticism yet thrive on criticising others, and engage in significant self-praise when they consider that others are insufficiency praising them, although they themselves struggle to praise others when most warranted and encourage others when this may be most required, two of the most essential components in the toolkit of the successful and respected manager and leader.

While the actual psychology explaining their peculiarities and insecurities will only be understood by a few, namely mental health professionals, one of the key arguments in my research into those I describe as “Disordered Leaders” who (mal) practice “Destructive Leadership”, is that is important that those who have no option but to interact with them recognise that they differ from the norm and hence need to be dealt with quite differently if any form of rational, sensible progress is to be permitted.

For instance (one of 100 suggestions on how to diminish the harm narcissistic leaders can cause), this can even involve suggesting the opposite of what the group believe needs to be done, given the Disordered Leader’s inability to take advice from others and their requirement to be seen to be “getting their own way”, quite inconsiderate of the consequences for others, or the entity which made the mistake of hiring or promoting them to positions they are incapable of carrying out in the manner expected of responsible managers and leaders.

Just like lacking the ability to learn from prior experiences is not a facet of life which most people are aware that a minority can lack, the same can apply to a CONSCIENCE, which Prof Robert D Hare refers to in his book “Without Conscience” as “the pesky inner voice that helps us to resist temptation and to feel guilty when we don’t.”

Indeed the absence of a conscience along with “unknowingly lacking a simple warmth, a capacity for true intimacy” contributes to what Prof Hervey Cleckley referred to in “The Mask of Sanity” as those so (perhaps unwittingly) afflicted being “profoundly limited in ability to participate seriously in the major aims of life.”

Psychologist Martha Stout in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” asserts that “1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Who is the devil you know?”

Stout suggests that “being devoid of conscience is impossible for most human beings to fantasise about… Not to care at all about the effects of our actions on society, on friends, on family, on our children? What on earth would that be like?…

Conscienceless people are nearly always invisible to us… Being natural actors, conscienceless people can make full use of social and professional roles… We believe promises from such people because we assign to the individual the integrity of the role itself.”

While “conscienceless people” may be a minority in society and their precise numbers may vary from society to society, depending on whether it is more individualistic or collective, because the very essence of their ‘being’ can be dominated by a perhaps exclusive pursuit of their self-interest to the detriment of all other factors, allied to the likelihood that they seek the most senior positions in the most lucrative industries, the influence of conscience and guilt-free people could transpire to be disproportionate and their role in ethically challenging situations deeply significant.

The fact that those apparently lacking in the emotions which most people possess (and may take for granted) have been shown to so readily and perhaps 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, arrogance, eloquence and acting ability to hide their true traits even from experienced psychiatrists and psychologists (at least in the short-term) poses many implications for not only the direction of business ethics research but also the co-operative and harmonious operations of all societal organisations, not least businesses.

As also does what Stout describes as “their preference for risky situations and choices, and their ability to convince others to take risks along with them”, given what is known to be their inability to experience fear or anxiety in the manner that most people can (due to a dysfunction in and between areas of the brain including the Amygdala and regions of the PreFrontal Cortex or PFC and Nucleus Accumbens, neural regions also associated with moral decision-making), which allows them to behave in a fear-inducing manner which many others in society just could not do, and certainly not as a matter of course.

Indeed those seeming to lack a “sense of what may be wrong” may well have “something wrong” with them, even if many (due to know fault of their own) fail to appreciate what this may be – a “Personality Disorder” – which (for the moment anyway) can appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.

Perhaps because of a general lack of awareness of what constitutes a “Personality Disorder”, somehow many others in society (initially) continue to fall for what this research refers to as their “ICE characteristics” of “Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence”.

This can be despite:

  • their (possibly delusional yet clever) words lacking any connection with real intent, action or even reality,
  • their charm transpiring to be skin-deep, grandiose, insincere and perhaps even insecure, especially when their extraordinary DISLOYALTY to anyone but themselves surfaces, and when
  • their intelligence transpires to lack any semblance of a genuinely emotional element or interest in anything or anyone but themselves,

given their fundamentally “ICE-cold” nature, lack of warm, caring, sharing emotions and anything passing as EMPATHY, which permits them to act in a quite “RUTH-LESS” manner, which actually translates as “sympathy-free”, not known to be that which most people best respond to.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional. 

Reading about the true mindset of those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, let alone the even more extreme and damaging mind of the Psychopath, from those with significant expertise in these fields, such as the extracts included in this section of, confirms the necessity for many more in society to learn how to better IDENTIFY these people in advance AND DENY them the positions of responsibility they can only abuse, being “consistently irresponsible”, and also IDENTIFY AND DIMINISH the degree of harm they can do if already holding positions of responsibility and authority over others.

Why do we continue to trust those with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others, who cannot even seem to manage their own?

The combative history of human nature throughout the centuries of conflict both within and between tribes, nations and organisations, including the numbers of businesses which failed to survive even a single generation, especially following a change of leadership, indeed groups of any nature which far too rapidly resorted to conflict rather than discussion, negotiation and compromise, would suggest that global society needs to learn how to identify “Disordered Leaders”, with no genuine interest in anyone other then themselves and who much prefer “win-lose” to “win-win”, in advance of trusting them with responsible roles which their extraordinary degree of self-centred irresponsibility, callous coldness and deep untrustworthiness should disqualify them from even consideration for.

As these often “hidden people” are believed by those most expert in this field to be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life” (Hare), one of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as “disordered people”

see things differently, 

experience people differently, 

perceive many matters differently, 

think differently, 

behave differently, 

react differently, 

speak differently and indeed 

inhabit a quite different world from most others in society,

it is imperative that they be recognised by others as being different from the norm and hence be dealt with significantly differently.

Indeed neuroscientific research suggests that one of the reasons they behave differently from society’s norm is that their brains differ from the norm.

At its most basic, Society Needs leaders who are fundamentally agreeable rather than disagreeable and committed to peacemaking rather than troublemaking, motivated to contributing to improving the happiness and welfare of others, and most certainly not those who pretend to be interested in others (when this suits their self-interest) but can covertly be at their happiest making others unhappy and even be unhappy seeing and making others happy, needing to disturb co-operative harmony by some manner of disagreement, conflict or discouragement, including downright humiliation, especially when their belittling and demotivation is undertaken in the company of others, sometimes mistakenly associated with “strong leadership” although quite the opposite of the “motivating people to achieve common goals” expected of leaders in any role in society.

Those with an emotional vacuum, cold, callous and ruth-less (meaning compassion-free) rather than warm, welcoming with an abundance of empathy and emotional intelligence, who can feel better from making others feel bad, could not be more inappropriate for supervisory, managerial and leadership positions, yet it is such people who are consistently chosen for such roles throughout global society.

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. 

Astute and “Constructive Leaders” well recognise that fear, intimidation and humiliation are invalid implements in their motivational toolkit, even if “Destructive Leaders” use them to damage other people.

With “Constructive Leaders” often seeking no personal acclaim and passing credit to successes to others, while accepting responsibility for the failings of those they lead, and “Destructive Leaders” taking credit for the achievements of others while blaming and “putting down” others for their own failings, ultimately it becomes apparent that there is no humiliation in humility nor humility in humiliation.

At its most basic, “Disordered Leaders” (not shown to be short of self-belief) have no qualms whatsoever telling everyone that they are Michelin Star chefs when they can’t even boil an egg, have won Wimbledon and the Masters when they wouldn’t know how to hold a tennis racquet or golf club, or have won many Formula 1 Grand prix… when in “reality” (not their forte) they may not even have passed their driving test.

Indeed given their “inability to learn from prior experiences” they may not even be able to change gear from the only way they know of behaving and interacting with others (“my way or no way”).

This (extraordinary) inability leads them to make mistake after mistake, then repeat them time after time again as if it were for the first time. Yet this inability is unlikely to be known to many non-psychologists given that most people assume that most other people are actually capable of learning from their prior experiences, especially mistakes.

Even if everyone else is capable of repeating their mistakes, at least they recognise them as being errors and are unlikely to keep persisting in doing something avoidable which does not benefit or flatter them. This though os not an ability which some “Disordered Leaders” possess. For those in their inner circle, everyday can be “Groundhog Day”.

This is one of the many matters which exasperate others who simply believe that they are being “stubborn’, especially when they find it difficult to be compliant with the suggestions of others (even when demonstrably the right thing to do) and prefer to DO THE OPPOSITE of what others recommend (even when demonstrably the wrong thing to do).

Indeed for some in society, the question needs to be asked whether self-interest is a rational choice or a “state of  mind”, a cognitive prerogative which appears to impulsively over-ride all other mental processes, irrespective of the consequences for other people, the entity (mis) led and (extraordinarily) even themselves?

They drive their entities (businesses, governmental, educational, sporting, religious and indeed all areas of human activity) at full speed, taking short-cuts only they can see down cul-de sacs or one-way streets in the opposite direction from everyone else, accelerating through red lights and pedestrian crossings in uniquely designed vehicles from a specialist “megalomania” manufacturer whose initially apparently exciting and dynamic (but ultimately disappointing and over-rated) model range includes “selfish, difficult and proud” (offering personalised registration plates “SDP 001”), “delusional”, “impulsive”, “deceitful”, “combative”, “maladaptive”, “irresponsible”, “tactless”, “warmonger”, “motor mouth” and (their best sellers) “untrustworthy” and “troublemaker”, with their recently revamped top model now renamed from “parallel world” to “paranoid” and its supercharger replaced by a self-charging hybrid which seamlessly switches between “apparently normal”, “shallow charm” , “deeply divisive” and “dangerously destructive” modes, without any apparent warning to passengers, other road users and often even the “SDP” driver themselves, especially owners of the exclusive “impulsive” model.

All versions  of these “special purpose vehicles” feature tunnel vision (with no need for windscreen-wipers), darkened windows so no-one else can look in and understand who (or what) is driving, if anyone actually is, lacking a reverse gear, neutral, park, mirrors, brakes, bumpers/fenders, warning lights, indicators (allowing the drivers to change lanes without advance notice), adaptive cruise control (as their drivers are “maladaptive”),  with the optional “emotional heater” stuck on cold, typically driven by the most dangerous drivers on the (overheating) planet at night with no lights on, ignoring the warnings of their far more astute and emotionally intelligent passengers and driving instructors (before they are consigned to the boot/trunk for their disagreement and criticism), which inspires “Disordered Leaders” to do the opposite of what their advisers suggest while severely criticising their character, often quite fictitiously, for the sheer thrill of the experience, totally unconcerned whether they crash and burn the entity they were mistakenly trusted with leading, once they “get their own way” and “win at all costs”, which can be significant for all others involved.

Although the “Disordered Leaders” regularly tell people loudly (indeed anyone who will listen, as they like talking about themselves, their favourite person) they have won many grand-prix and are multiple world champions, they probably haven’t even passed their driving test or rules of the road, given that the only rules they adhere to are their own, typified by “me first”. They may even have failed their test many times, as they do the people and organisations which trust them to provide responsible leadership, which they are innately incapable of providing.

When others realise what a mistake they have made in appointing them, they can cause even more damage when there appears to be no limit to the extent they will go to maintain their power, which they see as their personal entitlement.

The only “crock of gold” they become associated with is the signifiant “golden handshake” they extract from those far more responsible people who cannot wait to be rid of them so they can begin to pick ip the pieces after their destructive tenure.

After wrecking one entity, “Disordered Leaders” can move on to cause initially quite subtle and then increasingly more covert havoc elsewhere, appearing at first to have many of the the right credentials although this transpires to be a sham, given that their greatest talent is acting, deceiving, manipulating and fiction-spinning, while pretending to be competent, responsible, rational, truthful and normal, which they totally believe themselves, although no-one else who has experienced their relationship-damaging, trust-destroying, reputation-impairing, self-centred, emotionally labile and delusionally “Destructive Leadership” would or could concur.

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.

Intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which prevent our minds from thinking positively and creatively.

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.

Yet 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”.

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 prioritise competition and conflict over co-operation, disharmony over harmony and themselves over everyone and anything else.

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 behaviour, “Destructive Leadership”, 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),
  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.

When salient advice to those who have to deal with such people includes:

  1. BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE of what they say, as they can be deeply deceitful, take pleasure in lying, do not mind when they are caught doing so and may not even realise they are lying;
  2. DO THE OPPOSITE of what they want, as this can often be the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, more likely to achieve personal satisfaction than be “the right thing” for the group they mis-lead;
  3. ADVISE THEM THE OPPOSITE of what you want them to do, as being “perversity personified” they don’t like taking advice and will tend to do the opposite of what others ask them to do, “contrary” by nature;
  4. NEVER CRITICISE THEM as, despite being masters at dishing out criticism and many other forms of rebuke and disrespect to others, they can’t deal with an iota of criticism themselves, and are likely to over react to any (real or imagined) in a totally disproportionate, angry and even “histrionic” manner; so in such scenarios others learn to SAY NOTHING their “Disordered Leader” could find the opportunity to disagree with, let alone critique, or indeed anything they may perceive to be anyone doubting their undoubted (in their own mind) “brilliance”;
  5. Others learn to PRAISE THEM PROFUSELY as not only do they need, seek and crave praise, and can tend to praise themselves when others fail to do so, yet find it hard to genuinely praise others, especially when most warranted, which also contributes to “sycophantic” behaviour amongst followers and nominal “management team” members; praising in an insincere manner is usually to gain some advantage but in this case it can be to avoid rebuke or worse, potentially being excluded or fired for the crime of proffering a different suggestion or opinion from that of their “Disordered Leader”, in such cases why bother with having a “management team” at all – except to do what they are told?
  6. Ensure the GREAT IDEA is seen to be theirs, otherwise it won’t be actioned, as they need to take credit for it and deny praise to those most responsible;
  7. BE PEACEMAKERS AND REMAIN CALM when they try to stir up trouble, saying and doing nothing in response to their regular provocations, not rising to the many challenges they pose, baits and traps they set, especially for those who do not yet appreciate they seem to thrive on disagreement, dissent and many forms of disharmony;
  8. BE TACTFUL AND KIND WHEN THEY ARE CRUEL AND UNCARING and (unlike them) hold no grudges or hatreds nor seek no revenge (even for trivia), as being “ruth-less” (meaning “sympathy-free”) and making others unhappy can seem to make them happy, while seeing others happy can make them unhappy, making them want to disturb whatever satisfaction and pleasure others are enjoying, although not always in their presence, when others have to be “on edge” and WALK ON EGGSHELLS, so they learn
  9. DO NOT DISTURB THOSE WHO MAY THEMSELVES BE DISTURBED, even if they believe their own behaviour is normal, there is nothing wrong with them at all, nor with their mindset, their way of thinking and the myriad of problems (including “interpersonal difficulties”) they cause and challenges they create are the fault of others, who they blame at every opportunity;
  10. PREDICT THE PREDICTABLE as although many believe their behaviour to be bizarre and abnormal (which it is), given that they can be “maladaptive” (inflexible), “labile” (moody) and fail to learn from their mistakes, over time those closest to them realise how predictable they can be and hence learn how to avoid whatever “triggers” their boorishness and necessity to control, which otherwise may be “uncontrollable”;
  11. DO NOT FEAR THOSE WHO DO NOT EXPERIENCE FEAR as when others realise they thrive on trouble, seek reward inconsiderate of risk, actively seek arguments and are not scared by confrontation (as they thrive on conflict which they prefer to cooperation and would rather see people “at each others’s throats” than getting on fine and collaborating well), they will no longer be scared by their antics and learn to expect their provocation, making it easier to “turn the other cheek”, do not respond and just say nothing and walk away from potential trouble, denying them “narcissistic supply” and the oxygen they need to “fuel their fires of dissent” and create the disorder, disharmony and even havoc they insatiably seek;
  12. DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO BE LOYAL as they are only capable of loyalty to themselves and, if the whim takes them, can be exceptionally disloyal even to their most patient, tactful and loyal followers, changing from (false) praise one day to the deepest and most savage form of “CHARACTER ASSASSINATION” the next, often quite deceitfully and “delusionally” given that they have a major problem separating fact from fiction, which is why not one word they utter can be believed, unless subsequently independently verified;
  13. REMAIN POSITIVE AND DO NOT EXPECT ENCOURAGEMENT as they thrive on many forms of negativity, criticism and even humiliation, in effect deep discouragement and demotivation, although encouragement and motivation are widely agreed to be amongst the most critical roles of leaders to achieve common goals, not just to satisfy the personal ambitions, whims and grudges of self-centred leaders;
  14. PUT THE ORGANISATION (OR NATION) FIRST and prioritise what may benefit the “stakeholders” such as customers, employees, suppliers, local communities, the environment (and citizens, all not just some), separating these from what may be mal-practices and policies more likely to personally benefit the finances, ego or pride of self-centred leaders or sometimes entire management teams;
  15. DO RIGHT WHEN THEY DO WRONG and appreciate “THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO A WRONG THING”, hence doing what the “Disordered Leader” cannot: safeguard the TRUST and REPUTATION others know to be important but they fail to appreciate, especially when they SEE NO WRONG in their own words and deeds, notably when these seem more focussed on rebuke, revenge, retaliation and their personal necessity to impulsively “get their own way” and “win at all costs, irrespective of the consequences”, not unlike the most troublesome of primary school children;
  16. The necessity for others to AVOID TROUBLE by being SYCOPHANTIC does not auger well for organisations making the best progress possible based on pooled ideas, informed discussion, healthy debate, rational decision making considerate of the interests and needs of the variety of “stakeholders” affected and how they may be impacted by the possible outcomes of their decisions, nor for the many forms of cooperation and collaboration required for sensible progress to follow; indeed it makes “management teams” almost redundant…

there is clearly something very wrong, especially in those who seem to lack an internal sense of wrong and whose “vision” is focussed not on the constructive and harmonious future of the entity (or any grouping in global society they mis-lead), rather on themselves and satisfying their self-interest, primarily considering issues from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

None of these are traits or behaviours which people would advocate in supervisors, team leaders or managers, so why can they be so prevalent with (fortunately only) a minority of “leaders” that many seem to accept them as being part and parcel of “senior management”?

None of these are acceptable. They never have been and they never will be.

Indeed they are indicative of one simple fact – the business, organisation, entity (or even nation) is being led (or mis-led) by the wrong person – more capable of doing harm than good, damaging rather than building relationships and more likely to (perhaps irreparably) impair trust and imperil reputation, especially when they prioritise themselves over those they are tasked with leading and fail to appreciate that this is not why they were trusted with such an onerous responsibility.

At the US IVBEC business ethics conference, held in Dublin in October 2019, I proposed an initial definition of a “Disordered Leader” for discussion and refinement:

“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.”

Extraordinarily many organisations, misled by their shallow charm, smart words and false promises, disconnected from reality or subsequent action, continue to trust the most untrustworthy and irresponsible people possible, those incapable of successfully managing even their own emotions, with responsibility for the lives, welfare and emotions of others.

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

This is partly because most other people just don’t seem to know quite what to look for, including (a) how to identify those who may differ from the norm and ultimately be more “destructive” by nature and also (b) better appreciating the many merits in those who may not flaunt their own abilities yet transpire to be “constructive” and deeply responsible by nature.

Due to their “maladaptive” nature, including the inflexibility of their mindset, to those who understand them well, their apparently peculiar, irrational and bizarre behaviour, not focused on “doing the right thing” for the organisation (or nation) they mis-lead, becomes quite predictable, which means when their traits are more universally understood and appreciated (the primary goal of this research), they CAN be denied the power and influence they will inevitably mis-use, irrationally in a manner which they (perhaps delusionally) perceive to benefit themselves and facilitate satisfying their main goal and only true passion in life – their self-interest.

At the end of the day, it isn’t all about them, although they persist in thinking that it is.

While they believe themselves that they are the most extraordinarily talented person ever born, those who cross their paths and have no option but to work with or for them, wish and pray they never had been.

The safe functioning of global society including the responsible management and generally harmonious co-operation  within and between organisations, founded to achieve common goals not satisfy the whims of “Disordered Leaders”, requires that those lacking the core essence of humanity should no longer be given the opportunity to allow their inhumanity to negatively impact on the lives of others, no matter the arena. 

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.

Fortunately as they ARE IDENTIFIABLE, when others learn how to do so, prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.