The Dark Triad (Clarke)

At the end of the day

At the end of the day with the tales they spin gaining traction and the truth told by their stunned victims discounted, no-one knows quite who or what to believe, the kind of situation they have great expertise in contriving, with truth or facts absolutely inconsequential.

Yet incredibly (meaning “hard to believe”) it can be the most innocent. honest and indeed considerate, conscientious and “constructive” victims of their deceit who can be defamed, demoted or fired, and the guilty, dishonest and deceitfully “destructive” manipulators who can rise up the ranks, even to the very top, with only those they “screwed without scruples” on their way up aware of their true tendencies.

However not even those who have suffered most at their hands may associate their behaviour with a “Personality Disorder”, which makes it all the more critical that the ability to identify this become more widely understood and shared by those “in the know”.

As the “charming liar” advances further up the organisation, who will believe those who dare to suggest that there may be something “not quite right” about the charismatic mastermind who can seem to do no wrong, especially when those who know them well believe they seem to lack a “sense of wrong” and couldn’t cares less who they damage en route to achieving their insatiable personal goals?

Who might suspect that the person described by some as a “bit of a character” may actually have a deep character flaw, categorised by psychological professionals as a “Personality Disorder”?

No matter how unique their “sense of reality” may be, the reality is that people with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life” (Hare, 1993).1,

The “mystery” which needs to be revealed is that “Disordered Leaders”:

  1. see things differently,

  2. experience people differently,

  3. perceive many matters differently,

  4. think differently,

  5. behave differently and

  6. inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, especially when they lack warm emotions and any genuine interest in others, indeed in anyone but themselves,

making it all the more imperative that they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, being consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the world that everyone else inhabits.

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

Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure while “success” may only be achieved by way of removing them from the positions of responsibility their deeply irresponsible nature makes them quite unsuitable for, despite their more overtly Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent personality facets (temporarily) succeeding in masking their more covertly ICE-cold, destructive and perhaps dangerous traits.

Hare cites one example of the psychopath’s emotional void:

He seemed like a nice guy, soft-spoken and exceedingly charming. From the start he spoke about this emotional void, an inability to feel things like everyone else; to know when to cry, when to feel joy. He led a kind of paint-by-numbers emotional life and read self-help psychology books to learn the appropriate emotional responses to everyday events”.

This was not a case of a deceitful businessperson but a husband who tried to convince his wife that she was going mad and then went on to murder another woman.

I would go into counselling sessions a basket case and he would sit there calm, gracious and rational and he’d turn to the therapist and say “see what I have to put up with” and I’d shout and scream and say “It’s not me. He’s the crazy one.” But the counsellor bought his act and said we could never make progress as a couple if I blamed everything on my husband”.

He later listed his options for handling his marital problems which included filing for custody of the children, taking the children without killing his wife and killing both his wife and children. His probation officer commented that the list revealed “the mind of a man who could contemplate killing his own children with the detachment of someone considering various auto-insurance policies. It is the laundry list of a man without a soul.”

Referring to his subsequent murder of another woman, his wife said: “I saw him just after he had bludgeoned her to death. There was nothing in his behaviour to betray him… No fear, no remorse, nothing”.

In a statement to the judge she pleaded: “Please see the animal inside him, do not see the socially acceptable person he creates on the outside”…

One of the fortes of the psychopath is “impression management”. “Psychopaths are frequently successful in talking their way out of trouble”…

Psychopaths are not deterred by the possibility that their actions may cause hardship or risk for others”… “It’s not unusual for psychopaths to inflict serious physical or emotional damage on others, sometimes routinely, and yet refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem controlling their tempers. In most cases, they see their aggressive displays as natural responses to provocation.”

Not all psychopaths end up in jail. Many of the things they do escape detection or prosecution, or are on the shady side of the law. For them, antisocial behaviour may consist of phoney stock promotions, questionable business and professional practices, spouse or child abuse, and so forth.

Many others do things that, although not illegal, are unethical, immoral, or harmful to others: philandering, cheating on a spouse, financial or emotional neglect of family members, irresponsible use of company resources or funds, to name but a few. The problem with behaviours of this sort is they they are difficult to document and evaluate without without the active cooperation of family, friends, acquaintances and business associates”.

Of course, psychopaths are not the only ones who lead socially deviant lifestyles. For example, many criminals have some of the characteristics, but because they are capable of feeling guilt, remorse, empathy and strong emotions, are not considered psychopaths.” (Hare, Without Conscience, 1993)2

The starting point for (now Emeritus Professor) Robert Hare’s pioneering work in the field of psychopathy was the earlier pioneering work of psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, whose groundbreaking book “The Mask of Sanity”3 became the benchmark and foundation stone for subsequent research of the phenomenon of psychopathy which would appear to have blighted human society for centuries, if not millennia.

Many of the behaviours described in the Judaeo-Christian Psalms and Proverbs as “wicked” bear a remarkable similarity to that now associated with psychopathy. As they were written two to three thousand years ago, it is perhaps timely that modern society not only better understands this issue but in particular learns how to more regularly identify such people as being as coldhearted as they actually are, with no impediments to behaving in a manner many others would abhor.

How can this be achieved? Not necessarily by way of (invaluable) neuroimaging technology, as not every corporation or organisation can invest in an MRI scanner in its basement to assess its managerial candidates, whether new hires or internally promoted, given that their brain structures and connections have proven to be different from the norm.

Rather they can be identified by way of what they struggle to change – their own behaviour – which can be “readily apparent” to those who have learned what to look for.

When this is better appreciated and understood, global society may be able to respond by way of no longer appointing such charming but deceitful and dangerous people to positions of responsibility which their fundamental lack of responsibility and emotional depth should disqualify them from being even considered for.

Prof Hervey Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity4 makes as fascinating a read as when first published in 1941, updated in five versions to 1988, with almost all aspects of it as relevant today as when originally written, based on a career as a psychiatrist including treating, or trying to treat, many psychopaths.

Just like it may be impossible to tell a selfish person that they may be self-centred, it may also be impossible to tell someone totally devoid of empathy that they lack something which they will never possess nor be able to properly understand, including the capacity to love and be loved.

Cleckley refers to the emotional void experienced by psychopaths in “The Mask of Sanity”:5

“In the so-called psychopath, we have a patient profoundly limited in ability to participate seriously in the major aims of life.” (p403)

“The psychopath feels little, if any, guilt. He can commit the most appalling acts, yet view them without remorse. The psychopath has a warped capacity for love. His emotional relationships, when they exist, are meagre, fleeting, and designed to satisfy his own desires. These last two traits, guiltlessness and lovelessness, conspicuously mark the psychopath as different from others.” (p410)

“He is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters. It is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art. He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humour have no actual meaning, no power to move him.

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.

These 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 appears not only ignorant in such modes of function but stupid as well.” (p40)

“No one questions the plain fact that he is ill and gravely ill. Some psychopathologists believe that he is ill primarily (or largely) because of his unconscious hate for those he loves and his impulses to destroy them.” (p420) [more apt: “should love” or “cannot love”?]

“I think, however, that the roots of this attitude lie deeper, probably in the core of the psychopath’s essential abnormality – perhaps in a lack of emotional components essential to real understanding.” (p173)

“His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.” (p386)

Cleckley also discusses the extraordinary ability psychopaths have for lying and being devious, deceitful and manipulative:1

“The psychopath shows 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.” (p341)

“He gives the impression that he is incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves.

Typically he is at ease and unpretentious in making a serious promise or in (falsely) exculpating himself from accusations, whether grave or trivial. His simplest statement in such matters carries special powers of conviction. Overemphasis, obvious glibness, and other traditional signs of the clever liar do not usually show in his words or in his manner. Whether there is reasonable chance for him to get away with the fraud or whether certain and easily foreseen detection is at hand, he is apparently unperturbed and does the same impressive job.

Candour and trustworthiness seem implicit in him at such times. During the most solemn perjuries he has no difficulty at all in looking anyone tranquilly in the eyes.

It is indeed difficult to express how thoroughly straightforward some typical psychopaths can appear. They are disarming not only to those unfamiliar with such patients but often to people who know well from experience their convincing outer aspect of honesty.

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, his honour as a gentleman, and he shows surprise and vexation when commitments on such a basis do not immediately settle the issue. The conception of living up to his word seems, in fact, to be regarded as little more than a phrase sometimes useful to avoid unpleasantness or to gain other ends.” (p342)

“There seems little doubt that he grossly exaggerates and indulges in fantastic lies as he recounts his adventures.” (p185)

Throughout his writing, Cleckley stresses the many challenges that psychopaths pose to society:1

“It is also true that only a small proportion of typical psychopaths are likely to be found in penal institutions, since the typical patient… is not likely to commit major crimes that result in long prison terms. He is also distinguished by his ability to escape ordinary legal punishments and restraints. Though he regularly makes trouble for society, as well as for himself, and frequently is handled by the police, his characteristic behaviour does not usually include committing felonies which would bring about permanent or adequate restriction of his activities.” (p19)

“He is often arrested, perhaps one hundred times or more. But he nearly always regains his freedom and returns to his old patterns of maladjustment.” (p19)

“Much of the difficulty that mental institutions have in their relations with the psychopath springs from a lack of awareness in the public that he exists. The law in its practical application provides no means whereby the community can adequately protect itself from such people. And no satisfactory facilities can be found for their treatment.” (p14)

“Interest in the problem was almost never manifested by the patients themselves. The interest was desperate, however, among families, parents, wives, husbands, brothers, who had struggled long and helplessly with a major disaster for which they found not only no cure and no social, medical, or legal facility for handling, but also no full or frank recognition that a reality so obvious existed.” (Preface – first edition

“If relatives, alarmed by his disastrous conduct, recognise that treatment, or at least supervision, is an urgent need, they meet enormous obstacles.” (p19)

Nearly always he does refuse and successfully oppose the efforts of his relatives to have him cared for. It is seldom that a psychopath accepts hospitalisation or even outpatient treatment unless some strong means of coercion happens to be available.” (p19)”

“It is my opinion that no punishment is likely to make the psychopath change his ways. Punishment is not, of course, regarded as an appropriate measure in medical treatment. It is, however, often considered and administered by legal authorities. And it must be remembered that at present the law deals with these patients more frequently than physicians deal with them.” (p346)

“These people called psychopaths 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. Before this understanding can come, the general body of physicians to whom the laity turn for advice must themselves have a clear picture of the situation.” (p16)

“Although still in the unspectacular and perforce modest position of one who can offer neither a cure nor a well-established explanation, I am encouraged by ever increasing evidence that few medical or social problems have ever so richly deserved and urgently demanded a hearing. It is still my conviction that this particular problem, in a practical sense, has had no hearing.” (Preface)

“How to inform their relatives, the courts which handle them, the physicians who try to treat them, of the nature of their disorder has been no small problem.” (Preface)

“The psychopath presents an important and challenging enigma for which no adequate solution has yet been found.” (Preface)

While it took this author during an early stage of this research around two months to completely accept that some in society actually lack what many describe as a conscience, some time later it also took a few months to fully appreciate another of the most bizarre aspects of psychopathy – their inability to learn from their prior experiences – and hence keep repeating the same behaviour especially what others would view as being mistakes, time after time again. Groundhog Day could be every day for those in their inner circle.

Cleckley refers to this inability:2 “This exercise of execrable judgment is not particularly modified by experience, however chastening his experiences may be.” (p346)

[ONE CASE] “His repeated antisocial acts and the triviality of his apparent motivation as well as his inability to learn by experience to make a better adjustment and avoid serious trouble that can be readily foreseen, all make me feel that he is a classic example of psychopathic personality. I think it very likely that he will continue to behave as he has behaved in the past, and I do not know of any psychiatric treatment that is likely to influence this behaviour appreciably or to help him make a better adjustment.” (p173)

One of the more relevant or important facets of both management and leadership is flexibility and ability to adapt to changing circumstances or new situations as they arise. This includes realising that a prior action or policy wasn’t working out as well as expected (or competitors were doing this better), necessitating some form of amendment, correction or may even a complete U-turn, perhaps described as “living and learning”.

However the inability of psychopaths to “live and learn” from their prior experiences is but another reason why society needs to be protected from they holding any position of responsibility in society, especially given that there are so many other talented people with a conscience available who are capable in so many of the basic areas at which psychopaths are deficient, and indeed others with the Cluster B / Dark Triad disorders including narcissistic, notably showing a genuine interest in other people, indeed anyone other than themselves.

Indeed the ability to do the right thing for the group at large (the task of the leader/manager) even when this may not be the best for the individual making the decision (such as reversing a previous decision or policy as no longer being optimal or appropriate) marks the better leader/manager out from the merely average or those incapable of doing anything which satisfies anyone but themselves.

Some have described “integrity” as “doing the right thing when no-one is looking” and those with the courage to do so, especially if more convenient not to, certainly differentiates these people from those for whom “doing the wrong thing when everyone is looking” doesn’t cost them a bother, immune to or unconcerned with the consequences for anyone but themselves, especially if the decision would seem to have been taken on the spur of the moment.

Hare writes that “psychopaths are unlikely to spend much time weighing up the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences. “I did it because I felt like it” is a common response… More than displays of temper, impulsive acts often result from an aim that plays a central role in most of the psychopath’s behaviour: to achieve immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief”.3

Impulsivity”,”Need for stimulation” and “Irresponsibility” are all indications of “Secondary Psychopathy”.

For a few decades I had noticed the impulsivity of some executives, which led me to describe this propensity as their “IPG Goal” of “Immediate Personal Gratification”. In due course reading Hare’s description of this proclivity was very reassuring, especially as for many years I was incapable of associating the ability to demonstrably do the wrong thing so promptly and in an apparent knee-jerk manner with psychopathy. The reason was often very simple – the Disordered Leader just couldn’t be seen to be agreeable or do what managerial colleagues proposed, seeming to get a greater “kick” out of being perverse or contrary.

Such a scenario leads responsible managerial colleagues to the conclusion and indeed policy choice that if they want their contrary leader to do “A”, they need to propose “B”, especially when this is quite the opposite of what the group of concerned managers believe to be the right thing for the entity and its stakeholders. “Managing upwards” can be demanding in such circumstances, but far from impossible, as the “maladaptive” nature of the Disordered Leader also makes them very predictable, once others learn what aspects of their personality and behaviour to look for.

The task of the more responsible subordinates, perhaps even members of the most senior management team of a significant entity (or a local voluntary group committee), becomes imaginatively proving their adaptability or flexibility to counter these deficiencies in the person they would prefer was not their leader.

Indeed they also realise in due course that they need conduct conversations in such a manner that it is the Disordered Leader who believes that the suggestion to do “A” was uniquely their idea, in which case it had a chance of being actioned, not denied, based on the clever promptings of those responsible members of the team perhaps far better suited to the leadership role.

If this does not seem that different to how a parent might behave with a challenging toddler, psychologists and sociologists would appear to concur.

As Hare writes: “The psychopath is like an infant, absorbed in his own needs, vehemently demanding satiation” wrote sociologists William and Joan McCord [married when they wrote The Psychopath: An Essay on the Criminal Mind” in 1964]. At an early age most children have already begun to postpone pleasure, compromising with restrictions in the environment. A parent can generally use a promise to put off satisfying a two-year old’s desires, at least temporarily, but psychopaths never seem to learn this lesson – they do nor modify their desires; they ignore the needs of others” (Hare, 1993).1

The sooner that managerial colleagues begin to (privately and mentally) treat their Disordered Leader as being akin to a primary school child, and adapt their own behaviour accordingly, the sooner that true progress benefiting the entity as a whole may become achievable, which can be quite an accomplishment.

This will take significant patience and tact (qualities most certainly not associated with their Disordered Leader) and even more astute “managing upwards”, notably taking great care not to in any way upset their hierarchical superior but mental inferior. If the liken their “selfish, difficult and proud” boss to an infant (perhaps with significant justification), they need to be ultra-careful to keep this opinion to themselves – if they wish to remain on the payroll.

Hare cautions why this may be:

Besides being impulsive – doing things on the spur of the moment – psychopaths are highly reactive to perceived insults or slights [even if they are not and purely perceived as such by their disordered mind]. Most of us have powerful inhibitory controls over our behaviour. Even if we would like to respond aggressively, we are usually able to “keep the lid on”. In psychopaths these inhibitory control are weak, and the slightest provocation is sufficient to overcome them. As a result, psychopaths are short-tempered or hot-headed and tend to respond to frustration, failure, discipline and criticism with sudden violence, threats and verbal abuse. They take offence easily and become angry and aggressive over trivialities, and often in a context that appears inappropriate to others”. (Hare, 1993)2

Psychiatrists and psychologists refer to this as “poor behaviour controls”, another of the indications of “secondary psychopathy” and also associated with “anti-social personality disorder” as well as “borderline personality disorder”, two of the four “Cluster B” Personality Disorders.

One way of spotting this is when other people in the inner circle of the Disordered Leader believe they have to constantly “walk on eggshells” in their company and be careful what they say and do, constantly praising their leader and never, ever daring be critical, no matter how much criticism they are unfairly on the receiving end of themselves.

Leadership involves “motivating a group of people to achieve common goals” as indeed does management further down the organisational ladder, with the supervisor of a group of people in effect their “leader” too. So it could be expected that the leader or manager be adept at not only motivation but perhaps even “inspiring their people to produce their best” based on a genuine interest in the people they are responsible and a desire to see them perform well, perhaps close to their peak abilities, combined with a willingness to help them achieve their best when they fall short, perhaps due to inexperience or extenuating circumstances, which could include a “disordered colleague” or coworker.

Narcissistic leaders have to start somewhere and astute managers make sure they do not rise up the ranks. Those who cause trouble in a small team nearer the entry level in the organisation will just go on to do the same in more advanced roles if afforded the opportunity.

When managers are good at praising and encouraging and rarely criticise except when warranted, and then tactfully and privately, they have mastered some of the key aspects of managing people.

Indeed throughout my career I have been a strong advocate of “public praise and private criticism” which if considered carefully should not need further explanation, as those who perhaps unwittingly practice this display a degree of consideration for the interest and needs of both the entire group they are responsible for as well as the individuals, perhaps “natural managers” or “natural leaders”.

There may well be many other characteristics too, but can a manager or leader really garnish the respect of those managed or led if they have no interest in them at all as people, a characteristic of psychopaths and perhaps other narcissists low in empathy?

Another of the earliest aspects I learned about management was that “everyone is different and hence needs to be treated slightly differently”.

I took for granted that this also meant “always with respect” and “with the respect I would like to be treated myself”, but nevertheless failed to properly understand those who seemed to disregard this mantra and appeared to derive pleasure from treating others disrespectfully, even humiliating them both privately and quite publicly, satisfying their ego but setting a poor example for everyone else.

Indeed what I most failed to understand was how a minority could “cheat others in business without scruples”, until a practicing psychoanalyst explained Narcissistic Personality Disorder to me in 2013.

Now with a better appreciation of Personality Disorders I would suggest that most people derive their happiness from making others happy, but we should be concerned about those who seem to be happy or even at their happiest when making others unhappy.

Indeed it is those who persistently treat others with disrespect that we need be concerned about, no matter their level in the organisation, especially those who seem to believe in “public criticism and little or no praise, even when most warranted”.

There may be something wrong with those “lacking a sense of what may be wrong”, but there may also be something wrong with those who prefer to criticise those who have performed well or achieved something significant, rather than give them what may be most deserved – praise and acclaim, both private and public. This is one sign that others could seek as possible evidence of a “Personality Disorder”, especially when this aspect of their behaviour is noticeable time and time again, rather than on the rare occasion the person appears to be in a bad mood and is otherwise generally encouraging of other people.

It is those who specialise in discouragement, disagreement, disrespect, disloyalty and disharmony we should be concerned about, and wonder how were they ever appointed to a managerial or leadership role in the first place.

None of the leadership literature advocates any of these matters or conflict instead of cooperation nor public (or private) disrespect and even humiliation of coworkers, yet these and many other manners of “demotivation” are far too prevalent in organisational life, usually not a reflection on the criticised but rather the personality of the criticiser.

Indeed when the perennial criticisers cannot seem to be able to cope with an iota of criticism when this is directed at them, or see criticism when there is none or none intended, then a “Personality Disorder” could be at play.

This could be particularly so when the criticiser is not only poor at praising others, especially when most warranted, but also seeks praise for himself (“wasn’t that a brilliant thing I said or did?”) or even praises herself when others are making the significant mistake of not persistently praising their Disordered Leader, even when totally unwarranted.

These and many other matters contribute to managerial colleagues being reduced to the role of sycophant and the “management team” as a reflective, creative, innovative force seeking newer and better ways of conducting huskiness made near redundant.

When the role of other members of a “management team” becomes that of agreeing with and purely “rubber stamping” what their Disordered Leader wants to so, whether appropriate or inappropriate, terrified of the retribution if they dare to disagree, what does this actually achieve?

Respected “Constructive Leaders” and managers seek new people with talents and opinions different or perhaps better than their own, to “grow the team” based on a wide variety of ideas and suggestions being aired, deliberated and in due course acted on.

In stark contrast, ‘Disordered Leaders” prefer those unlikely to show up their own inabilities and see bright, talented people as a threat rather than an asset, seeking those often referred to as “yes men” unlikely to differ from the leader no matter how inappropriate and irresponsible their decision-making and indeed behaviour may be.

It should be readily apparent when some people have a genuine interest in other people, with an abundance of both (emotional) empathy and emotional intelligence and are particularly adept at not only motivating but perhaps even inspiring them, both by words and deeds, setting an admirable example for everyone else within and beyond the organisation. These attributes are enhanced when they also seem to have an active conscience and are well capable of differentiating between what may be right or wrong, all aspects of what this research refers to as “Constructive Leadership”.

Indeed they can appear to be at their best when inspiring others to produce their best, one of their personal goals and what makes people want to follow them as leaders, which we may even take for granted when present and only notice when absent.

In stark contrast, it may not be so apparent when some people lack a genuine interest in other people, lacking in both (emotional) empathy and emotional intelligence, but this may become more apparent when they seem to be particularly adept at not only praising themselves but not others and demotivating and even humiliating others, also noticeable when their words and deeds set quite the wrong example for everyone else within and beyond the organisation. Their unsuitability for seniority of position is confirmed when they seem to lack an active conscience and appear incapable of differentiating between what may be right or wrong, all aspects of what this research refers to as “Destructive Leadership”.

Indeed they can appear to be at their worst yet happiest and seem to feel better from making others feel worse, which surely is not “normal” and far removed from the ideal of managers and leaders “motivating people to achieve common goals” that they are likely to deny people the pleasure of looking forward going to work, perhaps to the degree that their highlight could be looking forward to going home after an unnecessarily long day and unnecessarily arduous workplace experience.

There may indeed be something wrong with those who seem to lack a sense of wrong, indicative of what too few in society are aware that a minority lack – what others consider to be a “conscience”.

When “anything goes” once it makes money and satisfies the ego of the excessively proud, difficult and demanding leader, even if this consistently harms interpersonal relationships, impairs trust and risks damaging the organisation’s reputation, there is also clearly “something wrong”.

Yet such scenarios prevail throughout the business world and in other organisations too, given the penchant of those with a Personality Disorder to reach senior managerial levels in any type of entity, not least politics and government of nations.

These scenarios particularly prevail in what this research refers to as the “5C environments” of “Counterproductively Competitive and Combative Corporate Cultures” which are not a reflection of what is considered by managers, management consultants and management theorists to be “successful” management, rather the personality of those who may be “Disordered Leaders” who (mal) practice “Destructive Leadership”, far more interested in themselves than those they (mis)lead, who see nothing wrong with practices and policies coworkers may believe to be wrong, treating the people they are supposed to be responsible for disrespectfully and leading the entity itself in an irresponsible manner.

Remember that according to the “Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised” measure, Psychopathic traits include Coldheartedness, Fearless Dominance, Self-centred Impulsivity, Social influence, Stress immunity, Machiavellian egocentricity, Rebellious non-conformity, Blame externalization and Carefree non-planfulness, which collectively psychologists have also described as “consistent irresponsibility” and none of which would be on the list of attributes to seek in future managerial and leadership candidates.

Yet we continue to make such people leaders, with quite predictable consequences, partly because too few responsible for managerial and leadership appointments appear to understand the nature of what constitutes a Personality Disorder, notably Narcissistic and Psychopathy, and can be charmed, deceived and intimidated by those whose primary goal is achieving the most senior positions and the highest financial rewards, even if fundamentally deeply self-centred with little real interest in anyone or anything but themselves.

Secondary Psychopathy” as assessed by the “Psychopathy Checklist – Revised” or “PCL-R” is associated with risky and impulsive behaviours, including the extraordinarily spontaneous nature of their impulsivity, preference for taking risks rather than being considerate and cautious, potentially resulting in unnecessary dramas and crises.

Poor behaviour controls” includes un-prompted temper and a preference for conflict, aggression, hostility and intimidation, which somehow have become acceptable in business and even associated not only with “strength of leadership” but also “ruth-less-ness”, which some even believe to be necessary for business “success”, not realising these are indications of a deep Personality Disorder and that “ruth-less” means a lack of compassion and sympathy for others, which many people better respond to than when intimidated and humiliated, more associated with callousness than empathy.

As well as “Impulsivity” and “Poor behaviour controls”, the list of traits not associated with “successful” leadership continues with a “Need for stimulation” and “Irresponsibility”, all aspects of Factor 2 or “Secondary Psychopathy”.

Primary Psychopathy” refers to Interpersonal and Affective or emotional factors such as coldness and callous manipulation.

 

Recall that the Interpersonal traits consist of Glibness or superficial and insincere charm and a Grandiose and exaggerated sense of self-worth. This category also includes Pathological lying, which goes hand in hand with the Devious and Manipulative “talents” by which they charm and deceive their way into positions of responsibility which unsurprisingly they subsequently transpire to be incapable of fulfilling in the responsible manner expected.

The Affective or Emotional facet consists of a Lack of remorse or guilt, Shallow affect or Cold emotions, Callousness or Lack of empathy, together with a Failure to accept responsibility for their words, actions and (mis)deeds.

When leaders possess these personality traits, a “blame culture” can develop throughout the organisation, starting with the poor example set by the unaccountable leaders who blame all their mistakes and failings on anything and everyone but themselves.

This is in stark contrast with “Constructive Leaders” who accept responsibility not only for their own errors but also those of the people they responsibly lead, which enhances rather than diminishes the respect in which they are held by those fortunate to work with and for them.

But when those outside an organisation associate a leader or indeed senior management and perhaps even an entire organisation with a “lack of accountability and responsibility”, how many consider that the organisation may be (mis) led by a psychopath or someone with one or more of the Cluster B or Dark Triad Personality Disorders?

Primary psychopathy” has been considered to contribute to “successful” or “sub-criminal” psychopathy, as possessing low guilt and empathy can be advantageous in achieving powerful roles across society.

With “success” defined as “favourable or desired outcome” (Merriam Webster)1, psychopaths may well achieve their “desired outcome”, but when there are concerns about this being “favourable”, especially when there may be “unfavourable” consequences for others, it must be doubted whether the term “successful psychopath” may be appropriate and in itself perhaps another oxymoron.

Undoubtedly, though, psychopaths can be (very) successful at avoiding both detection (by peers unaware how to identify them) and detention by those tasked with rules and law enforcement.

The damage they do to other people, organisations and the fabric of society may be unfair, unjust, unethical and immoral, but not always illegal, with their “crimes” often difficult to prove, especially given their prowess at deception, their tendency to spread doubt and confusion and by way of their inclination to “attack their accusers” often “succeed” in persuading others that their victims are actually the culprits, which can make it all the harder for them to argue their innocence, especially when the matter concerns “who said what”.

If this is “success”, it is not that which most people in society seek.

Indeed perhaps it these very “achievements”, which can make the “destructive” psychopath so proud, could be considered to be one of the methods by which they can be identified, especially by those far more “constructive” people who are only satisfied when their successes are achieved fairly, responsibly and without being to the detriment of others.

This is especially so of those who prefer “win-win” and mutually satisfactory compromise to “win-lose” and victory over others, notably in the commercial context over those who are never likely to “do business” with them ever again and may even “badmouth” them to others, quite the opposite of the positive word-of-mouth and now online referrals which most businesses seek and indeed need.

This however is a disadvantage which does not seem to concern the psychopathic businessperson, given the satisfaction they receive from “getting one over others” may be attributed to their Need for stimulation, Lack of realistic long-term goals, Impulsivity and Irresponsibility, all indications of Secondary Psychopathy.

Many astute and responsible leaders and managers are well capable of taking the long-term view to preserve the organisation’s reputation, even if this means declining short-term opportunities, especially if in some way dubious.

In contrast, the approach of the psychopath to business matters and decisions may be far too short-term to be even described as “short-term”, rather risky and impulsive behaviours designed to satisfy what this research refers to as their “IPG Goal” of Instantaneous Personal Gratification, even if this risks damaging relationships, trust and reputation, matters which in the instant that they decide to do something hasty given the sudden opportunity for a “quick win, do not even appear to be on their very unique radar, no matter how “unsuccessful” the subsequent outcome transpires to be for their organisation and its stakeholders.

Emeritus professor Robert D Hare, who spent his entire professional life researching psychopathy and guiding others how to better identify psychopaths, with some justification dislikes the term “successful psychopath”, contending that their negatives outweigh their positives, especially as their “success” is typically at the remorseless expense of others, given that they prefer conflict to cooperation, character assassination to encouragement and “win-lose” to “win-win” outcomes.

Hare prefers and uses the term “sub-clinical”, defined by Merriam-Webster as “not detectable or producing effects that are not detectable by the usual clinical tests”.2

Lexico 3however describes “subclinical” as “denoting a disease which is not severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms”. Their subclinical nature may not result in judicial imprisonment or incarceration in a mental hospital (somewhere their victims may feel like seeking respite) given that the consequences of their antics on others may be “severe” and the “symptoms” may indeed be “readily observable”, but only when far more responsible and perhaps concerned others learn what “readily observable” behavioural traits to look for.

Secondary psychopathy” though, being associated with risky, impulsive and anti-social behaviours, may better warrant being referred to as “unsuccessful” psychopathy, as the traits can contribute to a life frequently involving crime, punishment and imprisonment, as well as other people’s lives being adversely effected, sometimes significantly.

This is an outcome shared by those who fall victim to psychopaths (and other members of the Cluster B and Dark Triad groupings) who “successfully” hold responsible roles in any number of societal institutions, extraordinary in itself given the psychopath’s typically deep irresponsibility, whose true mentality and emotional depth may be more labile and shallow than the typical adult and indeed more akin to that of a primary school child (McCord and McCord, 1964; Hare, 1993).

Ageing – decline in troublemaking

If there is one positive aspect of psychopathy and perhaps other Personality Disorders, it is that the magnitude and degree of their antisocial behaviour can seem to diminish over time. Psychopathy in the severely disordered appears to change over time, with its component traits following a unique life course, mirroring research with other Personality Disorders (Gill & Crino, 2012).1

This may be due to “morbidity”. The ageing psychopath just no longer feels the necessity to cause the same degree of disruption and disharmony that they did earlier in life.

This however may not always be the case. With some, as the opportunity to be disruptive in larger settings declines, they may choose to damage people in other walks of life, including their own family members. Indeed they are well capable of causing covert or overt confusion, distrust, disharmony and havoc anywhere they are afforded the opportunity to “win”, personally prevail and “get one over” a dwindling number of people available to be deceived, manipulated and used as pawns in their games of mental dominance, irrespective of the consequences, including for themselves.

The life course of psychopathic traits may be due to changes associated with ageing experienced by those without a disorder, an age-related decline that also occurs in non-clinical populations (Gill & Crino, 2012).2

Not all psychopathic traits are associated with age related decline.

Factor 2 traits, labelled as “chronically unstable, antisocial and socially deviant lifestyle” have been found to decline with age while Factor 1 labelled “selfish, callous and remorseless use of others” have been found to be more stable across age spans, suggesting that “age-related differences in traits related to impulsivity, social deviance and antisocial behaviour are not necessarily paralleled by differences in the egocentric, manipulative and callous traits fundamental to psychopathy” (Harpur & Hare, 1994).3

The intensity and extent of antisocial behaviour typically declines as people get older. As a consequence it has been suggested that the most effective “treatment” for psychopaths is to give them long sentences and permit them to age while they are imprisoned, especially given that their rate of recidivism or reoffending including violently has been found to be higher than with non-psychopathic criminals. (Harris, 1991; Nadelhoffer, 2012). 45

So older, incarcerated psychopaths may remain as coldly indifferent about other people as ever and, being deeply self-centred, solely concerned with themselves and achieving their personal satisfaction, but generally don’t behave as antisocially or in as overtly a cruel manner as they used do when they were younger.

Older psychopaths may have achieved significant positions of responsibility during their careers, including leadership roles, and avoided incarceration either because their misdemeanours were in organisational, business, professional, governmental, educational, religious, sporting and other fields of endeavour less likely to result in imprisonment or availed of a variety of unsavoury techniques including lies, deceit and blaming others for their failings, they still remain emotionally cold, unable to love and know what it is like to be loved, preferring to hate, hold grudges and damage rather than build relationships.

Even when the organisation(s) they mis-led have collapsed, with other people’s lives adversely affected, they may still struggle to consider what they did wrong, perhaps proving that those lacking a sense of wrong may have something wrong with them.

They might also have upset so many people during their self-centred ascendency that they may hanker for that quality their more honest and perhaps revered counterparts can possess in their retirement – genuine affection and respect.

They may even die more lonely than those empathetic people who spent their lives showing a genuine interest in others and treating them with the courtesy and kindness they would like to be recipients of, achieving “success” in many more aspects than purely positional and financial as they used the power they were trusted with for the purposes intended.

Prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.

 

Treatment for Psychopathy

Those with a narcissistic related Personality Disorder pose a significant challenge to society, notably members of the Cluster B or Dark Triad groupings, not least when they hold significant roles of responsibility and meet the requirements of a “Disordered Leader”, all of which will be discussed in due course.

One indication of the challenges such people present others and perhaps any societal grouping with which they are involved is the fact that they are generally considered to only minimally at best respond to treatment, which few if any volunteer for as they genuinely believe there is nothing wrong with them as they blame anyone and anything else for the many problems they create.

Indeed too few are ever even required to attend for professional psychiatric and psychological assessment and treatment as they charm their way into positions for which they may transpire to be unsuitable, but few of their associates have the knowledge or skills to identify “what may be wrong”, in particular that their peculiarly self-centred and callous behaviour could potentially be attributable to a “Personality Disorder”.

How to identify and understand this group of society could be one of the world’s greatest secrets, given that so many narcissistic and psychopathic individuals can achieve positions of significant responsibility across global society, despite being innately self-centred and deeply irresponsible.

As well as safeguarding and advancing the role, aims and reputation of the entity which employs them, seniority of position in essence also assumes responsibility for the lives and emotions of other people, which in their case is remarkable because those who know them well are likely to consider that they struggle to manage even their own emotions and that this inability can result in damaged interpersonal relationships and unusual decision-making.

While many people with a variety of mental illnesses and Personality Disorders are capable of responding to a combination of treatment and medication, the Cluster B group of Personality Disorders have proven to be a far tougher “nut to crack”.

Borderline is one such disorder and as some treatment progress has been achieved by way of “Dialectical Behavioural Therapy”, developed by U.S. clinical psychologist Marsha Linehan, this method may gradually also make some inroads into treating psychopaths, who share traits with borderlines including fractious interpersonal relationships, especially with those few who may see the need for and genuinely seek improvement, not just for themselves but also for the success of their relationships with other people.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy or DBT was “originally developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in 1993, as an alternative treatment for individuals for whom other therapies may not have been effective. More than 20 years of worldwide research have supported this approach. Over time, DBT has been adapted to treat a range of disorders” (Irish Health Service).6

DBT is “a flexible, stage-based therapy that combines principles of behaviour therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, and mindfulness. It establishes a “dialectic” between helping individuals to accept the reality of their lives and their own behaviours on the one hand and helping them learn to change their lives, including dysfunctional behaviours, on the other. Its underlying emphasis is on helping individuals learn both to regulate and to tolerate their emotions. DBT is designed for especially difficult-to-treat patients, such as those with borderline personality disorder.” (APA or American Psychological Association).7

While DBT offers a tad of optimism or glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel, “the received dogma has been that psychopathy is untreatable, based on study after study that seemed to show that the behaviours of psychopaths could not be improved by any traditional, or even nontraditional, forms of therapy. Nothing seems to have worked— psychoanalysis, group therapy, client-centred therapy, psychodrama, psychosurgery, electroshock therapy or drug therapy (Hare, 1970)8– creating a largely unshakable belief among most clinicians and academics, and certainly among lay people, that psychopathy is untreatable.” (Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011).9

“More direct forms of therapy—surgery, electroshock, drugs—are shots in the dark. No one yet knows how to restore the brain functions which seem to be so impaired in psychopathy.”

“Most “talking therapies”, at least, are aimed at patients who know, at one level or another, that they need help. Psychotherapy normally requires patients to participate actively in their own recovery. But psychopaths are not distressed; they typically do not feel they have any psychological or emotional problems, and are not only generally satisfied with themselves but see themselves as superior beings in a world of inferior ones. Clinicians report that psychopaths go through the therapeutic motions but are incapable of the emotional insights on which most talking therapy depends” (Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011).1

The psychopath may have an intellectual appreciation of morality, including in hypothetical situations which do not concern them personally, but cannot emotionally understand the societal implications of behaving in a moral manner, so fail to see that they may have a responsibility to improve.

Indeed as they often prefer to do the opposite of what others want, therapists may even need to try to persuade them to do something which appears to be in their best interest and not in that of the therapist.

As one psychotherapist wrote, his psychopaths in treatment:

“have no desire to change, … have no concept of the future, resent all authorities (including therapists), view the patient role as … being in a position of inferiority, and deem therapy a joke and therapists as objects to be conned, threatened, seduced, or used.” (Maxmen et al, 2009)2

Therapists may aim to use strategies targeting specific antisocial behaviour, such as stealing, physical violence and manipulation of others, but these are ineffective because the therapists are failing to treat what is a Personality Disorder with a biological component (Hare, 1993).3

Psychopaths are also difficult to “therapeutically alter” because they tend to just go through the motions and don’t make serious attempts to get better, because they don’t see the need to do so. They may go along with doing what the clinician asks, or give the impression that they are complying, but ultimately don’t really care about changing or fixing their relationships. (Hare, 1993) 4.

Indeed treatment not only doesn’t appear to work, but there is evidence that some forms of treatment may actually make matters worse and make them even more dangerous.

In a 1991 study which produced what at the time were surprising results, incarcerated psychopaths who were due for release from a therapeutic community and who had received group therapy, in due course transpired to have a higher violent recidivism rate than those who had received no treatment at all. (Harris et al, 1991)5

Might treatment augment their abilities to achieve personal goals at the expense of others?

Might they approach treatment as being a training course in how to better understand normal people and consequently more successfully deceive and manipulate them in the future?

Devious manipulation is one of the key traits of psychopathy. Indeed one of their greatest “talents” is the ability to “successfully” lie and deceive, meaning succeed in fooling others that what they are saying or portraying is true, even if it may be a figment of their active imagination and distorted sense of reality, which can even change from hour to hour.

That is one of the reasons this research suggests that the first step in hearing anything is to “FIRST BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE” until verifiable third party confirmation becomes available. This can particularly be the case when something may initially sound implausible or fantastic before they spin what may sound like a plausible but entirely fictitious explanation, or the good name of someone previously considered to be of good character is in any way slandered.

That person may have committed the deadly mistake of angering the psychopath even in some trivial manner, leading to a long-term grudge being held which may result in a disproportionate campaign of “character assassination”, the extent and reason for which the perhaps quite innocent victim may never fully comprehend.

Yet when confronted by the victim or others loyal to or caring for the plight of the victim, the initial reaction of the psychopath can include both being very proud of the lie, admitting to it and providing a reason for their deceit, perhaps in a quite conceited manner showing no semblance of guilt or remorse for their mis-deeds, not feeling that they have done wrong being unable to experience the degree of hurt they have caused others, or alternatively totally denying that they said what others actually heard them say, which can cause even more confusion and making others unsure quite who or what to believe, one of their greatest talents.

Unless other people are aware what traits to look for, including prior experience of being deceived by this person, given no reason to suspect them, their lies and deceit may find a receptive audience and in being believed cause a variety of forms of difficulties and trouble, amongst their most insatiable personal goals.

When others perceive them as being “troublemakers” they may have taken a first step along the path of diminishing the harm they can do.

A very plausible explanation for treatment appearing to make matters worse is that being exposed to the frailties of normal people in group therapeutic settings appears to give psychopaths a wealth of information on how to even better succeed at manipulating normal people.

Teaching psychopaths which of their behaviours are socially unacceptable and which behaviours they should display instead gives new ideas to the antisocial patient of how to better disguise their true nature. Informing them about the social undesirability of certain cognitions that they share aloud can help with this too. They will continue to have the thoughts but be wiser and not tell them to other people. Learning more about proper ways to act and what behaviours are approved by others can just provide psychopaths with better tools to manipulate and use people (Hare, 1993) 6.

Instructing them in empathy doesn’t make them more empathetic, rather how to better pretend to have something they can never possess, including showing an interest in people they couldn’t care less about.

A psychopath cannot be taught or conditioned to empathise; it simply is not a possibility with the way that their brains are wired (Hare, 1993) 7.

They know what they should do and can say so to the satisfaction of therapists during treatment sessions, but their lack of inhibition and self-control allied to their necessity to win and personally prevail in many situations, trivial and significant, means there doesn’t appear to be anything which prohibits them from impulsively doing what they want to do when the opportunity arises.

“Group therapy can provide an endless source of excuses—my parents didn’t love me, I was abused, my wife left me, I am numb and empty inside, I am useless—none of which the psychopath actually feels but all of which he can use to his or her tactical advantage at the right moments, especially when trying to manipulate mental health professionals…

As one psychopath puts it: “These programs are like a finishing school. They teach you how to put the squeeze on people” (Kiehl and Hoffman, 2011).

Researchers though do suggest that catching the traits earlier in life may meet with some success in not fully developing into adult psychopathy. While violence towards siblings and animals can be “tel-tale” signs, when this is rewarded by way of parents giving them what they want this may deepen their association between violence and reward and lead to its persistence, contributing to a potential diagnosis with conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder, especially if their social environment features other people being violent or cruel.

While many psychopathic adults met such diagnostic criteria earlier in life, not everyone diagnosed with conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder become psychopaths, especially if they are growing up in a warmer and more socially satisfying home environment and this is augmented by some form of intervention by way of treatment. While all children can be rude and disrespectful or fight with siblings, friends and classmates occasionally, the longer that more serious antisocial behaviour remains untreated, the more difficult it will be to successfully provide treatment, socialise the person and prevent them from becoming a psychopath (Hare, 1993) 8.

Again, prevention is preferable to the improbability of cure.

Honesty & Humility are timeless

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

Do we insufficiently appreciate Honesty-Humility?

Do we take honesty as a “given” when considering people for seniority of position?

Do we accept devious, deceitful and manipulative behaviour as “part and parcel” of senior management?

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

Do we insufficiently understand the nature of Personality Disorders (perhaps one of the world’s best kept secrets?) and thus fail to identify those who minds may be disordered, thinking distorted and emotional depth shallow?

Indeed when considering the personality and indeed personal integrity of leaders, it may be worth revisiting questions I posed in prior papers published in 1998, 2007 and 2017:

In 2007 I posed the following question in an article “Trust, Reputation, Integrity and Professionalism”:

Would you do business with someone you don’t trust? Most wouldn’t. Yet although trust is fundamental to building long term relationships, it may not be the primary driver in evaluating and making business and other decisions.

Many of these decisions appear to be taken without fully assessing the likely impact on relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, investors, local communities and other ‘stakeholders’ – the very people who contribute to an organisation’s reputation.

Few engage in business not caring whether people trust them or not. Yet when an opportunity to take unfair advantage of another arises, it is often grasped.

Integrity is a characteristic that is much admired and valued, not just in business and politics, but also in other areas of life including education, religion, sport and amongst family and friends.

Classical scholars will be aware the word is derived from the same Latin root as “Integer” – a sense of “wholeness”. A person of integrity, like a whole number, is a whole person, a person somehow undivided.

With all power comes responsibility…and again most power is used responsibly. Many scandals – reported and unreported – arise from the abuse of corporate power.

The abuse of power often arises when those entrusted with it make its preservation their primary concern. They don’t appreciate it is bestowed on them for the purpose of service. Those who want to keep it most are most likely to compromise their integrity” (Clarke, 2007).1

Indeed this could have been in response to some questions I asked a decade earlier in a 1998 article “Ethical Hypotheticals” also written for the journal of my profession:

The foundation for poor “business ethics” is likely to be doubtful “personal ethics”.

A common denominator in reading about disgraced high profile “entrepreneurs” seems to be that they appear to have had little or no scruples. It is difficult to trust someone’s commitment to ethics in business if one has reservations about their personal integrity.

Many corporate criminals may not believe they have done anything wrong. As the dealer imprisoned for insider dealing asked “what other kind is there?”

One could ask is it possible to be highly profitable and always honest? Those who not only behave ethically and legally but also strive to appear to be doing so may be at a commercial disadvantage.

Are extra profits earned by being ‘slightly’ unethical? It seems many opportunities present themselves to those who are prepared to be at least a ‘little unethical’.

Perhaps people don’t become dishonest overnight – it may be a gradual process which involves being deceitful for corporate or self advancement.

Maybe the more often one crosses the ethical line, the more often wrong decisions are either ordered or carried out, the more the conscience becomes dimmed to ethical concerns?’” (Clarke, 1998). 2

While aware that some people appeared to have a more active conscience than others, what I insufficiently considered in 1998 was that some people may not actually possess a conscience at all and were able to behave within and outside the fascinating world of business with what psychologists refer to as “emotional impunity”.

It was in 2013 while organising “Corporate Conscience” in Dublin at the then Vincentian owned All Hallows College that a psychology lecturer and practicing psychoanalyst answered my 25 year query: “how could someone set out to damage another in business, without scruples?” which led me to switch the psychological study and research I had been engaging in since 2010 to Personality Disorders in particular.

A decade later following a great deal of psychological research I posed a further question about the personality of trustworthy and untrustworthy leaders (these paragraphs unpublished by Springer, January 2017):

Given the quite extraordinary occurrence of sub-optimal business practices in far too many organisations, it may be worthwhile repeating what should be the obvious observation that the degree of personal integrity of an organisation’s dominant individuals contributes significantly to the prevailing level of corporate integrity,

with some cultures facilitating and promoting and others prohibiting and hindering the personal integrity of employees coming to the fore.

It is very apparent in many organisations that intolerance of low integrity by leaders of high personal integrity ensures unethical instances are not condoned or repeated.

Yet despite extensive media coverage of the often extreme cost of the damage, including reputational, resulting from reported ethical failures, somehow lesser leaders fail to recognise that it is their acceptance of low integrity which ensures such instances are not only permitted but also more likely to recur by the corporate culture prevalent within their organisation.

What is it about such leaders that they fail to appreciate the link between ethics and success and lack of ethics and business failure?

While many leaders appreciate the benefits of fairplay and internal harmony, could the personality of others result in their actually thriving on disharmony and even deceit between colleagues?” (Clarke, 2017).3

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

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

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

As “the Honesty-humility factor (and the HEXACO model in general) is only moderately correlated with the Big Five model of personality, but is highly correlated with the Agreeableness factor of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), which is one of the factors of the Five-Factor model of personality”4, I would strongly argue that from the business ethics perspective the “Big Five” model needs to become the “Big Six” by way of including a strong measure of both Humility and Honesty, especially as the Dark Triad research suggests the related traits are related to (low) honesty and (low) modesty, as well as disagreeableness, social exploitativeness, lack of empathy (callousness) and interpersonal antagonism.” 5

This proposal both from my own widespread business experience as well as personal reading and research would appear to have the backing of Ashton MC and Lee K (2008) 6who believe that the strong correlation between the Honesty-humility factor (and the HEXACO model in general) with the Agreeableness factor of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R), being due to due to the Straightforwardness and Modesty subscales of the NEO-PI-R, may by forcing the NEO-PI-R to extract separate factors for Honesty and Agreeableness allow experimenters to better predict Social Adroitness and Self-Monitoring, important in the business arena.

Indeed one study “found that adding the HEXACO Honesty-humility factor to personality measures improves predictive validity for both self- and other-reports of personality, and that simply creating an honesty factor from the FFM measures improves predictive validity for some measures (mainly social adroitness and sexuality measures), but not all (e.g. materialism and delinquency), which indicates that the HEXACO model is a better measure of personality than either the Big Five or the FFM”.7 8

 

History – What Has Changed?

Neurobiology and neuroscience may be fairly recent phenomena, but observing and trying to understand human behaviour is not!

Over 400 years ago Teresa of Avila wrote a “handbook” providing guidance for her Carmelite Sisters in a variety of locations, perhaps one of the first “Corporate Codes” both advocating and guiding similar virtuous behaviour throughout an organisation’s disparate geographic locations, notably during an era of non-instantaneous communication.

The Way of Perfection” not only suggests that one of the antidotes to excessive pride is humility, but also cautions against keeping people so afflicted “in your community”:

I am thinking of people who are of such temperament that they like to be esteemed and made much of; who see the faults in others but never recognise their own; and who are deficient in other ways like these, the true source of which is want of humility.

If God does not help such a person by bestowing great spirituality upon her, until after many years she becomes improved, may God preserve you from keeping her in your community. For you must realise that she will neither have peace there herself nor allow you to have any… ” 9

Did Teresa of Avila recognise “Cluster B” or the “Dark Triad” in 1583 without the benefit of a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or functional MRI?

Might the behaviour of some people in businesses and many other forms of organisations including religious orders be due to their innately being “deficient in other ways like these”?

Psychological research would suggest that Teresa was right to conclude that their ability to torment others may not allow them to have peace in their company, but the degree to which they may be tormented themselves may be open to question as some such troublemakers may not be troubled themselves, as they seldom believe there is anything wrong with them, deny the necessity for psychological assessment or treatment and show little sympathy to those they have troubled, the very essence of being “ruth-less”, meaning free or devoid of compassion and sympathy.

While it has been suggested the difficult behaviour exhibited by some could be due to low self-esteem and a need for praise, including self-praise, could their high and narcissistic opinion of themselves as being the most important person in the room prevent them from seeing their faults which are so visible to others?

John Milton observed in ‘Paradise Lost’ a hundred or so years later in 1667 that:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Let us hope that psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts, neurobiologists and neuroscientists may help people who prefer a more peaceful and harmonious life better understand those who thrive on making “a hell of heaven” and, by way of better understanding the “place” of their minds, somehow learn how society may benefit by guiding both the more responsible and perhaps even the most “consistently irresponsible” culprits “make a heaven of hell”, however implausible that may be.

Furthermore many of the descriptions of people and behaviour described in the Psalms and Proverbs as “wicked” would appear to refer to both narcissism and psychopathy – with these pearls of wisdom written 2-3,000 years ago contrasting such behaviour with what they and many leadership experts and authors of the more modern age also advocate – humility and integrity.

If indeed this suggests that narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies were observed perhaps three millennia ago, it could confirm this author’s belief that many of the conflicts within groups (including families and people living in some form of community, well before the invention of the company or corporation) and between first tribes and then in due course nation states could be attributable to the group of people meeting the modern criteria of Personality Disorders, including those this research refers to as “Disordered Leaders” who (mal) practice “Destructive Leadership”.

Yet as global society continues to appoint perhaps the most inappropriate people possible, described by psychologists as “consistently irresponsible”, to many positions requiring significant responsibility, it begs the question WHEN WILL WE LEARN? Preferably before their true tendencies and mindset become more apparent, when it can typically be too late, especially when they go to great lengths to hold on to the positions of power they have already significantly abused, notably to satisfy themselves at the expense of others who transpire not to be their concern at all.

Indeed one of the primary reasons for engaging in this research was to explain to the world what a “Personality Disorder” actually is, so more decision makers could (a) IDENTIFY those who could be so disordered AND DENY them the positions of power and authority they will inevitably abuse and (b) learn how to adapt their own behaviour to IDENTIFY AND DIMINISH the degree of harm such people can do when already holding positions they should never have even been considered for.

Both IDENTIFY AND DENY and IDENTIFY AND DIMINISH require that normal, responsible people better appreciate how to identify those whose behaviour and mindset may differ fron the norma and whose personality may in fact be “disordered”. That is one of the primary goals of this research, given that one of the world’s leading authorities in this field contends that this often Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent subgroup may also be ICE-COLD and quite untrustworthy, irresponsible and indeed quite dangerous in any group situation, especially when trusted with positions of responsibility.

Pride versus Humility

Conscious throughout my entire career of the challenges which businesspeople with “selfish, difficult and proud” personalities cause not only for their own colleagues, especially when in senior managerial roles, but also other stakeholders, sometimes their entire organisation and even its reputation, for a few decades I believed this was primarily due to “excessive pride”.

This led me to describe the bad and good behaviour and practices I had both experienced personally and observed elsewhere, which seemed to arise as a result of the malign or benign personalities of the people who displayed or were most responsible for them, as being due to some form of “pride-versus-humility spectrum.”

The most challenging people I had met (or encountered) seemed to be excessively proud, irresponsible, believed the organisation and its people owed them something and was not their primary concern, full of their own importance and dismissive of if not downright rude to almost everyone else, including blaming anyone and everything else for the many problems they created, seemingly oblivious to their own errors and the trouble that resulted, which in the more extreme cases even seemed to be their goal.

Now that I can recognise that I have worked with over 50 such irresponsible, untrustworthy and self-centredly unethical people during my career, because they were at their most unethical when primarily pursuing their self-interest oblivious to other factors including the consequences of their actions and decisions, I describe them as “Disordered Leaders who practice “Destructive Leadership”.

At its most basic, their primary goals appear to be “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs”, while their decision-making seemed to be based on a rapid evaluation of “what’s in it for me”.

The consequences for anything and everything other then themselves appeared to be inconsequential, except when they got the opportunity to “personally prevail” over other people, even if what they wanted to do or were proposing was the right course of action for the entity and its people.

Unless the “great idea” was demonstrably theirs, and others praised them for it, it would not be actioned and indeed the opposite course of action was likely to be preferred. Perversity personified.

In due course their smarter colleagues learned how to deal with their idiosyncrasies and adapted their own behaviour to diminish the harm they could do both to other people and the organisation itself.

In stark contrast, the people I most admired, the truly inspirational leaders who their colleagues deeply respected and who consistently seemed to be able to appraise both people and situations astutely and accurately, then act accordingly in the best long-term interests of their organisation, often possessed an extraordinary combination of being interesting and dynamic yet at the same time, quite humble.

They had a deep rooted passion for the success of both their business and the people they led, yet sought no credit for themselves.

They passed on praise to their colleagues at all levels of of the organisation who had contributed to whatever was deemed praiseworthy, yet accepted responsibility for their errors and failings even if they could not possibly have known about them in advance.

Fortunately such people in varying degrees have constituted the vast majority of people I have had the good fortune to work with and for, leading me to now describe these highly responsible, trustworthy, ethical and often quite selfless and considerate people as “Constructive Leaders”.

What I wondered for many years was “what made these people different from each other?”

While the answer was clearly “personality”, surely the answer ran deeper than some being self-centred and proud, with no qualms whatsoever about being dishonest when the opportunity arose, while others were genuinely interested in the people and organisation they led, were passionate about their mutual success, once this was achieved fairly and honestly, yet were often personally low key, did not seek the limelight and indeed were quite modest and indeed humble, characteristics which were very well received and respected by those they led, leading to welcoming corporate cultures whereby people enjoyed coming to work, felt their contribution was appreciated and ideas they may have would both be sought and considered, resulting in a mutually beneficial experience.

Surely this was the scenario all leaders should be seeking?

Yet some just didn’t see it that way.

They seemed to believe they were the most important important person in the organisation, the role of everyone else was to serve and respect them and their decisions, even if respect was unwarranted and their decision-making was poor. If they did seek the advice of their “management team”, they were as likely to ignore it and do the opposite, sometimes seemingly purely out of spite so they would be seen to “win” and personally prevail, notably as situations which should have been cooperative and well-deliberated became unnecessarily combative and impulsively decided. When the decision transpired to be wrong it would be pursued with even greater venom. Anyone who tried to “do the right thing” would be criticised, disparaged, humiliated and even fired.

Yet we continue to make such people leaders and their management teams become quite redundant, realising that they have no option but to be subservient and sycophantic.

But how many humiliated colleagues realise the irresponsible, self-centred and challenging “leader”, so capable of taking rash and disastrous decisions for the organisation, was far more than just “selfish, difficult and proud” and may actually have a “Personality Disorder”?

Personality Traits and Models with and without Honesty-Humility

Extraordinarily perhaps I started researching Social Psychology in 2010 and Personality Disorders in 2013 before I turned to examining the far broader area of Personality and its various constructs. That is because in 2013 a respected psychology lecturer and practicing psychoanalyst’s explanation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder at last provided me with a rational reason for the most unethical people I had encountered during my career.

Ironically this was while planning an international invited Business Ethics Conference in Dublin in 2013 entitled “Corporate Conscience”. Although I had witnessed sufficient “unconscionable” conduct during may career I had not considered that there may be some in society devoid of a conscience, something Personality Disorder researchers and practitioners are convinced of. This led me to query whether there may be people in society incapable of “moral reasoning” in a paper written during 2015 and published by Springer early 2017 which suggested the challenges such people posed both business managers and business ethics researchers who would appear to assume that everyone is at least capable of reasoning morally even if they then decide to behave unethically.

Indeed it was those who didn’t appear to know or care that they were doing wrong that most intrigued me and which I primarily researched, eventually recognising through recall of too many tough experiences that I had encountered over 50 such people during my career, but whose behaviour and apparent way of thinking I had failed to understand during most of this period, indeed for over 25 years.

Before I heard of the Five Factor model of Personality (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness & Neuroticism.) which we will soon discuss, I was already convinced from my experiences with over 300 organisations on all continents (bar Antarctica) of the key role that Honesty, Integrity, Trust and Reputation played in longer-term business success and how their absence from the “tone at the top” could be detrimental for businesses, organisations and nations.

It was also very apparent to me that leaders who were more Humble than Proud were more likely to captain their ship harmoniously and collaboratively, while steering their ship and its crew away from stormy waters which they seemed to have an innate sense of avoiding. They were also well capable of restoring calm after any storms they did experience, notably those caused by “ultra-proud” colleagues.

So when I studied the Five Factor Model (FFM) or Big Five Personality I could relate to many of the traits and adjectives as far as daily living was concerned, and indeed considered it to be very comprehensive (at a general level) and a great achievement to whittle down thousands of possible aspects of personality to so few. By and large it has been well received by those whose specialism involves some aspects of personal psychology, from personality researchers to industrial psychologists, practicing psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts as well as others involved with mental health.

It was only when I considered the FFM from the organisational perspective in general and business ethics in particular that I realised that something was missing. Other than Agreeableness and especially Disagreeableness and some aspects of Conscientiousness and Neuroticism, it didn’t seem to explain either the most honest or dishonest people I had met during my career.

The Five Factor Model seemed to be missing measures of business ethics which catered for the most and least ethical business people. Where were the measures that would explain the people that captained their ship away from and successfully through storms and those who created them, damaging trust and reputation along the way, perhaps irreparably?

I even wrote about what seemed to me to be a glaring omission from this very well accepted personality model as it didn’t seem to allow for the people with especially Cluster B Personality Disorders who I knew were responsible for almost all of my worst experiences in business.

Then I read about the HEXACO model and felt alleviated.

Personality Researchers (including those work was in countries which were not primarily English speaking) had already noticed what had seemed to me to be a glaring omission – a sixth factor.

Indeed I was quite relieved that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel myself. This had already been done by Kibeom Lee & Michael C. Ashton by way of their HEXACO model.

Although it initially seemed this was the Five Factor Model (FFM) plus the addition of the “Honesty-Humility” factor I had unwittingly and perhaps subconsciously appreciated throughout my entire business career, it transpired their model is far more than that. While four of their six terms match those of the FFM, there are subtle nuances which make their model more appropriate to the world of business, not only Honesty-Humility but also Emotionality as “fearlessness” and “shallow emotions” would appear to have contributed to the challenging personality and inconsiderate behaviour of the most unethical people I have experienced.

It does not appear to be a substitute for the tests and measures designed to identify the various Cluster B / Dark Triad traits, especially the most conscience-free people in society, but it does contribute to results which better explain and perhaps predict those who are more likely to be either fundamentally Honest or Dishonest as well as Humble or Proud and (the holy grail for both business ethicists and business decision-makers, especially those tasked with hiring and promoting) identifying people of integrity who can be trusted to manage and lead responsibly, honestly and constructively, while separating or differentiating these from those who cannot and who in due course may transpire to cause more harm and damage, especially when they prioritise themselves over the organisation and its people.

Honesty-Humility, Pride and Power

With the minds of some with a Personality Disorder appearing to take “emotional short-cuts” I decided to take a short cut. Why write about some of the key factors at an introductory level when I had already done so, including Honesty (1988) in “Ethical Hypotheticals” for the journal or magazine of my own profession, “Accountancy Ireland”, Pride and Power (written 2006, published 2007) in “Trust, Reputation, Integrity and Professionalism” for the same publication.

Even more relevant now perhaps are the sections on Pride and Humility I wrote in “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives: Is Self-Interest a Conscious Decision or a State of Mind?” (written 2015, published early 2017) for a Springer business ethics book, “Perspectives on Philosophy of Management and Business Ethics.”1

Here are some relevant extracts from my prior writing on Honesty, Integrity, Pride, Power and Humility:

 

Honesty (1998)

The vast majority of those engaged in business would regard themselves as fundamentally honest. Yet with ever increasing competitive pressures it becomes more tempting to cross legal or ethical lines, particularly if the risk of exposure is presumed minimal.

Whilst this era of globalisation and improved communications has created many business opportunities, it has also been evidenced by exposure of much corporate wrongdoing.

Financial scandals have contributed to a general belief that white-collar or corporate crime pays. The perception seems to be:

  1. the risk of capture is slim

  2. guilt is extremely difficult to prove and

  3. the penalties appear slight, particularly compared with the significant rewards.

One result of this has been an erosion of trust in the whole business sector and those involved in it. Members of professions such as accountants and lawyers have not been above implication. There is less respect for a legal system which appears to permit corporate dishonesty to be lightly punished, if at all. Nor is it just the business sector that suffers. Belief in government and the public sector is damaged when positions of public trust are seen to be used for private advantage.

Media coverage of scandals may offer greater scope for sensational reporting, yet business ethics are also about smaller scale acts of ‘dishonesty’ or ‘deception’ which receive little media attention.Indeed many wrongdoings in business would be too minor to warrant exposure in the media.

One could ask is it possible to be highly profitable and always honest? Those who not only behave ethically and legally but also strive to appear to be doing so may be at a commercial disadvantage.

Are extra profits earned by being ‘slightly’ unethical? It seems many opportunities present themselves to those who are prepared to be at least a ‘little unethical’. Perhaps people don’t become dishonest overnight – it may be a gradual process which involves being deceitful for corporate or self advancement. Maybe the more often one crosses the ethical line, the more often wrong decisions are either ordered or carried out, the more the conscience becomes dimmed to ethical concerns?” (Clarke, 1998). 2

Pride and Humility (2006/2007)

I then wrote about “Trust, Reputation, Integrity & Professionalism” in 2006 (published 2007) suggesting that the integrity challenges business people face included power and pride, countered by way of “good managerial skills combined with a touch of humility”: 3

 

Integrity (2006/2007)

Integrity is a characteristic that is much admired and valued, not just in business and politics, but also in other areas of life including education, religion, sport and amongst family and friends.

Classical scholars will be aware the word is derived from the same Latin root as “Integer” – a sense of “wholeness”.

A person of integrity, like a whole number, is a whole person, a person somehow undivided.

Why is integrity in such demand? Why is it so admired as one of the key attributes that contribute to a good character?

Perhaps because the rest of what we are or do is less relevant if we lack essential integrity, the courage of our convictions, the willingness to act and speak for what we know to be right.

Integrity is usually not lost overnight. It is a gradual process, often starting with minor issues.

One of the greatest aspects of the trait, though, is that a person of integrity rests somewhere inside all of us. Maybe that is why we appreciate it in others? And even if it has been a tad dormant, integrity can be brought to the surface!!

One of the reasons integrity is in demand is that its absence is widely reported in the media. Whilst many occasions of behaviour with integrity will never be reported, there is no doubt that whatever the arena – business, politics, religion, et al – a bad name is often given to the majority by the behaviour of a minority.

The Chief Administration Officer of an Energy Company in Houston, Texas (El Paso Corp, not Enron!) represents the vast majority of businesspeople when he says:

It’s difficult when you introduce yourself as a corporate executive…and have to apologise for it. Now the general public tends to paint all business executives with the same brush – we have no integrity, we are all crooks.

That’s unfortunate because it is just not the case among the majority of business executives. For most of us, integrity is very important”.

Barriers To Integrity

Whilst integrity in business is far more prevalent than many critics would like to believe, many barriers prevent it being even more prevalent, including pressure, pride, profit and power.

Barrier – Power

Of course leaders of organisations need power – they need it to galvanise the troops and make progress in attaining the organisation’s strategy and goals! Like money, power itself is neutral – it can be used and abused.

With all power comes responsibility…and again most power is used responsibly. Many scandals – reported and unreported – arise from the abuse of corporate power.

The abuse of power often arises when those entrusted with it make its preservation their primary concern. They don’t appreciate it is bestowed on them for the purpose of service. Those who want to keep it most are most likely to compromise their integrity.

Political leaders such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe spring to mind but many of the high profile business scandals arose when the executives developed a sense of ‘entitlement’. Leadership expert Abraham Zaleznik says such leaders

come to believe he and the firm are one… so he can take what he wants, when he wants”.

Someone himself entrusted with a great deal of power – former US President Harry Truman – provides an appropriate observation:

If a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it is only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination”.

Experts advise that the best test for a leader to ascertain whether he or she is guarding power too much is to examine whether there have been instances of breaches of integrity arising from the desire to maintain power. Fortunately even if this is the case they conclude that it is never too late to alter direction.

Inevitably people who abuse power, lose power. Abusive CEOs, like dictators, live on borrowed time. When their lack of integrity is found out, their personal reputation suffers and frequently that of their organisation too.

 

Barrier – Pride

Pride is an odd characteristic – it may create difficulties but it has many positives!

It is undoubtedly good to have pride in one’s work, achievements and family. It is also helpful to have a sense of self-worth and confidence in what one does. Nevertheless an exaggerated sense of self-worth can create difficulties. Pride has been described as the excessive liking of one’s own excellence.

CS Lewis well describes why pride causes problems:

Pride leads to every other vice… because it is competitive by nature…being better at something than someone else. Each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more than the next person”.

Pride can blind people to their own faults, other people’s needs and integrity pitfalls lying in their path. If one’s goal is to be richer, smarter or better, the focus will be entirely on self and own interests.

A common denominator among failed high profile entrepreneurs would appear to be excessive pride, allied to a lack of scruples. Benjamin Franklin said

the hardest of our natural passions to subdue is pride”

and the fact that it may require “subduing” shows what a challenge this is!

Subduing pride may require good managerial skills combined with a touch of humility, et al.

The self-interest that results from excessive pride is less likely to be an issue if the organisation has a strong set of core values and lives by them.” (Clarke, 2007).4

Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives

My interest in both people and organisational behaviour, especially in business and public life (thanks to a primary politics and economics degree before a masters in business and training as a chartered accountant), led me to start studying and researching psychology in 2010 and Personality Disorders in particular from 2013. Yet this was not a subject matter I had ever heard at a business ethics conference, despite at that stage a decade organising many in Ireland and speaking at them in UK, Europe and USA.

Indeed it was while organising “Corporate Conscience” in Dublin in 2013 that a respected psychology lecturer and practicing psychoanalyst explained Narcissistic Personality Disorder to me. At last I realised I had the solution I had been seeking for 25 years when questioning why the most unethical could behave most unethically, without any apparent scruples.

I also knew from experience that those with one or more of the narcissistic related Personality Disorders, especially “Cluster B”, were responsible for almost all of my most challenging experiences in industry with hundreds of organisations on all continents.

Ethics and morals were not even on their agenda as they sought personal victories over the best interests of the organisations they mal-managed and mis-led.

Yet as this small subgroup were often quite invisible in society and considered to be intelligent, charming and eloquent by those who did know what behavioural traits to look for, I felt a responsibility to share what I had learned from my research with the wider business ethics community, especially as I appreciated the dangers they presented after gradually realising that I had worked with over 50 such people, with their behaviour baffling me for around 25 years.

As my varied experiences with such people (good and bad) greatly facilitates my understanding of the available research, now that I do have a better understanding of their likely mindset which contributes to their quite predictable demanding and self-centred behaviour, I first wrote “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives” during 2015. 1

That paper proposed that some in society may be incapable of properly engaging in “moral reasoning”, especially when their self-interest was involved. As they are “maladaptive” there is a consistency in their apparent inconsistency (an appropriate phrase I believe coined by psychiatrist Prof Hervey Cleckley)2 which makes them identifiable, both before and after appointing them to positions of responsibility.

Thus one of the aims of my research has been to explain not only their distinctive behavioural traits but also their peculiar mindset, which alas I understand too well having had exposure to more than 50 of them in business during my own career.

When more emotionally intelligent and ethical colleagues and decision-makers learn what behavioural (and cognitive) traits to look for, they can then begin to deny those I now categorise and define as “Disordered Leaders who practice Destructive Leadership” from holding positions of responsibility their very irresponsibility should deny them even consideration for.

However, being positive and constructive (and perhaps idealistic) by nature myself, I also describe in great detail the traits and mindset of their total antithesis, those I describe and define as “Constructive Leaders” who can be trusted to manage and lead society’s organisations.

Having been fortunate to have worked with very many such positive, responsible, empathetic and often enthusiastic, motivational and even visionary people during my career, who epitomise many of the acknowledged (successful) leadership criteria, it is just as important that those who hire, promote, select and elect better appreciate their finer qualities, including humility and an absence of arrogant bragging, to ensure it is such people they appoint to positions of responsibility throughout society, with many subsequent benefits discussed throughout this research, including responsibility itself, a quality perhaps like honesty and integrity we may tend to only appreciate when absent.

It is now two decades since Jim Collins and his team’s research found that many of the most successful leaders (especially in terms of longer term success) sought little attention for themselves and displayed a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will” who “channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company” (Collins, 2001).3

Yet somehow despite the trail of ruined businesses (and lives) and damaged nations (epitomised by excessive conflict, who may even have been taken to war unnecessarily), in choosing who we hire, promote, select, elect and indeed vote for, we continue to favour the arrogant, eloquent and charismatic.

At the same time we somehow seem to insufficiently appreciate the many merits associated with those who may be more talented, responsible and selfless, often modest too, who don’t invent or brag about their achievements and pass on rather than accept credit for the accomplishments of others, who prefer to praise, encourage and motivate than unnecessarily criticise, discourage and demotivate, whose charisma may be more subtle, interpersonal and sincere and whose eloquence is more likely to be connected with intentions to actually do what they say they will do and practice what they preach, and who may be more genuinely interested in satisfying the interests and need of those they lead, than their own.

I strongly argue we should be seeking selflessness as a desirable attribute, as what Collins described about humility versus visible ego could also outline my own favourable and unfavourable career experiences with both effective and ineffective leaders.

In turn I readily associate with the Honesty-Humility research of Lee and Ashton, which I endorse and in principle and key arguments I could have written myself based on my own commercial experiences.

Well before I heard of their HEXACO model, what follows is what I wrote about humility during 2015, not just because I associated that quality with the most inspirational and effective leaders I have had the pleasure of working with, an admiration shared by their colleagues, but humility was also the antithesis of pride, which is the term I associate with the least effective people I have worked with, including the most “selfish, difficult and proud” who could do more damage than good, yet be incapable of seeing this for themselves.

Self-centred people holding positions of authority also fail to appreciate that respect is earned and their role is actually to serve and not be served.

It is not that organisations need to select the most humble or modest people possible, together of course with many other qualities (discussed in this research), rather that they would be better served by ignoring the most proud, especially those associated with ego and hubris, as by this measure alone they better guarantee avoiding those likely to use entrusted power to satisfy themselves while ignoring the interests and needs of anyone but themselves, at times of both trivial and key decision-making, rather than for the purposes intended, prioritising the interests and needs of the organisation, its people and stakeholders while sensibly guiding the entity in the most appropriate direction and creating the positive, encouraging, creative culture which best “motivates people to achieve common goals”, or “leadership.”

Power, Pride & Trust (2015/17)

Power is of course a critical component in business success. Leaders need it to galvanise their people and make progress in attaining the organisation’s strategy and goals. Like money, perhaps power itself may be neutral – it can be used and abused.

With all power comes responsibility and most power is likely to be used responsibly.

However, many scandals – reported and unreported – arise from the abuse of corporate power. Such abuse of power often arises when those entrusted with it make its preservation their primary concern.

They insufficiently appreciate that it is bestowed on them for the purpose of service.

Those who desire to keep it most may themselves be the most likely to compromise their integrity, often irrespective of the cost to others, with Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe being an unfortunate example.

One political office entrusted with a great deal of power is that of the US President. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that:

nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

One of his successors, Harry Truman, advises:

if a man can accept a situation in a place of power with the thought that it is only temporary, he comes out all right. But when he thinks he is the cause of the power, that can be his ruination” (Miller, 1974). 1

Many of the high profile business failures arose when the executives developed a ‘sense of entitlement’ which Abraham Zaleznik describes as being:

an aspect of a narcissistic personality who comes to believe that he and the institution are one. So this produces a sense of entitlement: that he can take what he wants when he wants it” (Zaleznik, 2002). 2

Ultimately, though, abusive CEOs and other leaders, like dictators, often live on borrowed time. When their lack of integrity is publicly exposed, their personal reputation and that of the organisation frequently suffer.

Yet for some corporate executives, this is not a concern.

If life were consistently fair and accountability was more firmly embodied in organisational cultures ‘those who abuse power, lose power’ would be a more frequent occurrence. But it is not. Many unacceptable practices become ingrained in the day-to-day business dealings of too many organisations. Instead many people choose to change organisations rather than continue to work for abusive and untrustworthy leaders.

Those with an active conscience who elect to stay, whether they remain silent or try to speak up and inspire a change in direction, may be consistently ethically challenged.

They may be more likely to face dilemmas – well described as “situations seemingly beyond satisfactory resolution” – which ultimately may force them to consider whistleblowing despite an awareness of the frequent personal cost when conscience prevails over culture.

Could it be that some corporate leaders are simply not concerned with the opinions of others or indeed whether they are trusted? And could it be that their ‘proud’ personality prevents them from considering that any wrongdoing they may engage in may ultimately be exposed?

Salient advice to such people is to suggest that before they engage in a course of action they first consider the potential impact on trust and reputation – personal and organisational – should their covert actions subsequently be publicised and to remind them of Blanchard & Peale’s assertion that

‘There is no right way to do a wrong thing’. (Blanchard & Peale, 1988) 3

An effective introduction to business ethics for business people is to ask them:

Would you do business with someone you don’t trust? Most wouldn’t. Yet although trust is fundamental to building long term relationships, it may not be the primary driver in evaluating and making business and other decisions. Indeed many of these decisions appear to be taken without fully assessing the likely impact on relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, investors, local communities and other ‘stakeholders’ – the very people who contribute to an organisation’s reputation”. (Clarke, 2007) 4

Leaders capable of associating with the mindsets of all these stakeholders breed trust by naturally displaying a greater interest in the affairs of others than their own. Just as ‘integrity’ is derived from ‘integer’, a whole number, their passion is directed towards the success of the organisation as a ‘whole’, achieved by recognising that genuinely appreciating the needs of their colleagues produces an enthusiastic commitment to co-operatively achieving common-goals far greater than that associated with leaders more interested in satisfying their personal needs.

Such leaders are described in this paper as “givers” in stark contrast to the firms where uninspired people struggle to motivate themselves to travel to work, often managed by “takers” more interested in themselves than their colleagues or the organisation at large.

For some reason, evaluated later in this paper, even when pride visibly does more harm than good, proud people can still persist in the behaviour that can cause damage, sometimes irreparable, even though they may be aware it could also result in their personal undoing. Others even appear totally unaware that their excessive pride is visible to others. It may be the only way they know how to behave and they relish using (and abusing) the power associated with their position, irrespective of the impact this may have on others.

Such behaviour, being part and parcel of human nature, is nothing new, with Shakespeare, Dickens and more recently CS Lewis observing the detrimental effects of excessive pride. As Shakespeare remarked in 1613:

I can see his pride peep through each part of him” (Shakespeare, 1613). 5

Pride has many positive and worthwhile qualities which inspire people to do better. It is undoubtedly good to have pride in one’s work, achievements and family. It is also helpful to have a sense of self-worth and confidence in what one does. Nevertheless an exaggerated sense of self-worth can create difficulties.

The writings of Dickens and Shakespeare perhaps endure because of their keen observations of human nature. Dickens noted the barrier presented by pride in 1839:

but struggling with these better feelings was pride.” (Dickens, 1839).6

The old expression, ‘pride comes before a fall’ can also be so appropriate. Shakespeare observed both the vagaries of business and the potential impact on ego of those who acquire position or wealth or both from business:

My pride fell with my fortunes.” (Shakespeare, 1600) 7

When humble people suffer a setback, people tend to be supportive. But when proud people fail at something, consider how many may be privately delighted.

While many may perceive Mission Statements, Values Statement and Corporate Codes to be a modern method of advocating and inspiring acceptable behaviour in organisations, Saint Teresa of Avila took such an initiative many centuries earlier.

While her Interior Castle is regarded as a work of great spiritual significance and indeed beauty, the simplicity of her writing in the context of guidance for those engaged in co-operative endeavour in groups may be as appropriate to the modern organisation as the religious order she was providing guidance to in the 1580s.

The “in-house manual” she wrote for her Carmelite Sisters, The Way of Perfection, astutely observed the dangers associated with excessive pride:

God deliver us from people who wish to serve Him yet who are mindful of their own honour. Reflect how little they gain from this for the very act of desiring honour robs us of it. There is no poison in the world which is so fatal to perfection.” (Teresa, 1583) 8

CS Lewis well describes why pride can also cause significant problems. During a series of 1941 radio broadcasts which were subsequently published he noted that:

Pride leads to every other vice… because it is competitive by nature… being better at something than someone else. Each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more than the next person. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” (Lewis, 1941) 9

Excessive pride would appear to be a common denominator among many failed high profile business people, allied to a lack of ‘scruples’.

Former ‘Australian of the Year’ Alan Bond was ‘blackballed’ when he initially applied to join the Royal Perth Yacht Club, deemed to be an unsuitable member. He subsequently used his then wealth and that of his Bond Corporation to form a team to build a yacht which became the first non-American to win the prestigious America’s Cup race.

The then national hero was subsequently accepted into the RPYC but in due course was imprisoned for his business dealings.

Much earlier in life Bond was reported to have been selling plots of land in a hilly rural location knowing there was little likelihood of sufficient running water being made available to many of the homes.

He didn’t seem to care that his future customers could be so disadvantaged. So when a ‘WA Inc’ Royal Commission of enquiry into dealings between government and business found some of his business dealings to have been unscrupulous, leading to imprisonment, this would not have been a surprise to those who had experienced his lack of scruples – or conscience – much earlier in life.” (Clarke, 2017).10

 

Humility (2015/17)

Prescient leaders are naturally aware that in setting an admirable “tone at the top” it is far preferable to assist, guide and inspire colleagues in their collective endeavours than seek personal gain and advancement from situations, although this by-product may well also be the eventual reward when collaborative efforts prevail.

As Blanchard and Peale observe in ‘The Power of Ethical Management’:

People with humility don’t think less of themselves… they just think of themselves less”. (Blanchard & Peale, 1988) 1

However, when leaders find it impossible to praise or encourage others or admit to failings, a ‘blame culture’ can develop which can be a significant barrier to progress, personal and organisational. People find it difficult to trust such leaders and ‘fiefdoms’ and ‘silos’ can be particularly evident in their organisations which can often be as competitive internally between supposed colleagues as externally with their more overt competitors.

Irrespective of role in society, many would do well to consider whether a touch more humility would work better than a dose of ego, arrogance, hubris or pride.

Pride can blind people to their own faults, other people’s needs and integrity pitfalls lying in their path.

Benjamin Franklin said:

The hardest of our natural passions to subdue is pride” (Franklin, 1784)

and the fact that it may require “subduing” shows what a challenge this can be. Indeed the full section from his autobiography indicates he well recognised its antithesis is humility:

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility” (Franklin, 1784). 2

While excessive pride may indeed be the barrier which Lewis predicted, awaiting the next opportunity to present itself, often when least appropriate, contrary to popular belief the hallmark of many successful leaders is actually humility, not the pride, ego and arrogance which may provide some personal satisfaction but which ultimately commands less respect.

This was well recognised over 400 years ago by Saint Teresa of Avila in the “handbook” she wrote providing guidance for her Carmelite Sisters. The Way of Perfection not only observes the antidote to excessive pride being humility but also cautions against keeping people so afflicted “in your community”:

I am thinking of people who are of such temperament that they like to be esteemed and made much of; who see the faults in others but never recognise their own; and who are deficient in other ways like these, the true source of which is want of humility.

If God does not help such a person by bestowing great spirituality upon her, until after many years she becomes improved, may God preserve you from keeping her in your community. For you must realise that she will neither have peace there herself nor allow you to have any.” (Teresa, 1583) 3

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

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

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

Citing five leadership levels, Collins notes that:

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

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

In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.” (Collins, 2001) 4

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

If Abraham Lincoln was right to remark that:

Human action can be modified to some extent but human nature cannot be changed” (Lincoln, 1860),5

great caution should therefore be shown before appointing “takers” to leadership positions, irrespective of their other talents, lest their personal agendas and inability to empathise with colleagues or show remorse for their actions should lead their firms down a slippery ethical path.

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

Undoubtedly people better respond to leaders who show a greater interest in others than themselves. Of course being a “giver” alone does not make a great leader; many other characteristics are also required. Having been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of leaders, perhaps the most critical other characteristics in the author’s opinion would be integrity, vision and courage, because without these all their other talents have little value if the organisation is to make real progress.

However, all things being equal, in this era when corporate values and those of their leaders are deemed to be of such importance, which ‘tone at the top’ is most likely to be preferred? The values displayed by those with the personality of “givers” or “takers”?

And in advocating humility in management another key question which arises is whether the proudest of “takers” are indeed capable of displaying humility? Or even considering the interests of others let alone society? (Clarke, 2017).6

Numerous Negative Effects

Leading management researchers Charles A. O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer reported quite recently (April 2021) that:

Research over the past decade has shown that grandiose narcissists are often successful at attaining leadership positions in organisations. However, there is no evidence that narcissists lead higher performing firms, and while they see themselves as more competent leaders, there is no evidence for this, either.

In fact, research shows that narcissistic leaders have numerous negative effects on the entities they lead. This raises a question: Why are narcissists so successful in attaining leadership positions?”

That is a question this research paper also asks, arguing that narcissists may be “successful in attaining leadership positions” but for many reasons and across many measures, including long-term financial performance, do not make for successful leaders.

Indeed this research argues that when they meet certain criteria they may warrant being classified as “Disordered Leaders who practice Destructive Leadership”.

O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer suggest that:

The defining characteristics of grandiose narcissism (grandiosity, self-confidence, entitlement, and a willingness to exploit others for one’s own self-interest) may make them more effective organisational politicians than those who are lower in narcissism.”

They “report the results of three studies that show:

1 – those higher in narcissism are more likely than those who are lower to see organisations in political terms (opportunity),

2 – they are more willing to engage in organisational politics (motive), and

3 – they are more skilled political actors (means).” (O’Reilly and Pfeffer, 2021)7.

This paper will also discuss many of the ways “narcissistic leaders have numerous negative effects on the entities they lead”, many from personal experience with over 50 such people during a career in industry with over 300 organisations on all continents (bar Antarctica), but which for over two decades I was unaware may be due to one or more “Personality Disorders”, societal unawareness of which permits such people to reach seniority of position they are psychologically incapable of performing in the manner expected of “leaders”.

Rectifying such societal unawareness is perhaps the primary reason for this decade-long research. By decision-makers being better informed how to identify “Constructive Leaders” by way of their many positive qualities and trusting them to manage and lead responsibly, they may also be better equipped to deny “Disordered Leaders” positions which their fundamental self-centredness, irresponsibility and disrespect of others is more likely to lead to broken trust and tarnished reputation.

I too will argue that such people “are more willing to engage in organisational politics” because those I categorise as “Disordered Leaders” ultimately prefer conflict to cooperation, some even thriving on disharmony, they “see organisations in political terms” partly because they see people as objects to be used and manipulated, lacking the critical quality of empathy are incapable of experiencing people as people in all their humanity, nor showing a genuine interest in those they lead, nor indeed in the organisation itself and its goals and values, which reduces life to a series of games which makes “winning at all costs” a priority, inconsiderate of the consequences, none of which (amongst many other aspects of their behaviour, to be discussed) could be associated with “motivating a group of people towards achieving common goals”.

All three of O’Reilly and Pfeffer’s conclusions refer to “political”, which of course goes hand in hand with their primary personality trait – their self-centredness, the reason they are referred to as narcissistic. Of course they are “more skilled political actors”, with many possessing what I refer to as their ICE characteristics – Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence – which they avail of primarily for their personal advantage and to satisfy their personal goals and ambitions, as they engage in tactics perhaps best described as doing “anything it takes” to rise up the ranks to positions associated with ever increasing responsibility.

If only they were actually responsible… and genuinely interested in building a great business capable of going from strength even after they are long gone.

However, being fundamentally irresponsible by nature and ice-cold emotionally, their talents are ultimately wasted when they are primarily used to satisfy themselves at the expense of others, especially anyone who crosses their path en route to they gaining positions of power which they are incapable of using for the purposes intended.

Identify Consistent Inconsistency

Fortunately these emotionally deficient and un-intelligent people can be identified, preferably in advance of they achieving seniority of position, by way of what they struggle most to change – their own behaviour.

When other people, especially those with an abundance of emotional intelligence, learn what to look for and how to identify “Disordered Leaders” by way of their behaviour, actions, reactions, words disconnected from actions and intentions frequently changing (saying one thing one minute and doing the opposite the next), they will appreciate that there actually is a consistency in their apparent inconsistency.

Because “Disordered Leaders” are “maladaptive” by nature, meaning inflexible, and can behave in a similar manner in similar situations, irrespective of time or place, seemingly lacking the ability to learn from their prior experiences (especially mistakes which they are well cable of regularly repeating), their very predictability can, with greeter familiarity, be predicted by astute coworkers or companions.

When others learn how to adapt their own way of thinking and consequently behave differently themselves in the presence of their “Disordered Leader” (such as believing the opposite of what they say and advising them to do the opposite of what others actually want them to do), the degree of harm they can cause can be minimised.

Better still, when others become familiar with the behavioural traits this minority of society typically display, they can be denied the positions of power they will inevitably abuse.

Even better still, when others become familiar with the traits associated with “Disordered Leadership” they may better appreciate the many finer aspects and traits associated with “Constructive Leaders” and instead choose these far more appropriate people for managerial and leadership roles, with far better, safer and more responsible and considerate outcomes, even if they may initially seem less dynamic or exciting, their greater humility or modesty may increasingly be seen as a strength and most certainly not a weakness.

Indeed one of the primary aims of this decade long research has been to alert normal people how to identify abnormal people and deny them the opportunity to cause harm and havoc, while ensuring that those selected or elected to responsible roles throughout global society actually are fundamentally responsible.

Vanity or Sanity?

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

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

Surely leaders are even better respected when they possess the combination of personal drive, talent, vision, motivational and communication skills and humility to achieve “success” across so many measures, yet seek little or none of the limelight for themselves, as they accept responsibility for whatever goes wrong yet pass credit for successes on to those whose endeavours were also responsible for them, at all levels of the organisation?

Surely leaders are respected for having the vision to see how great the entity could be with the wisdom and courage to take it there, perhaps building roads to places and sectors they have never gone before, rather than their myopic focus being on themselves and boosting their self-esteem (and bank balance) at the expense of others and even the organisation they mis-lead?

Surely leaders are respected not for being “skilled political actors” but for being those who:

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

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

In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company” (Collins, 2001) 1

Leading clinical psychology researcher Robert Hare suggests that the most malignant narcissists should not be considered as being “successful”:

Some commentators refer to them as “successful”… Whatever the merits of this argument, they are more than offset – in my view – by the broken hearts, shattered careers and used-up people left in their wake as they cut a zig-zag route through society, driven by a remorseless need to “express themselves” … After all, their success is often illusory and always at someone else’s expense” (Hare, 1993) 2.

 

What is “Success”?

Is being a “more effective organisational politician” what organisations really need?

Do they not need “more effective, responsible, visionary and motivational” leaders capable of positively and constructively harnessing the many and varied talents at their disposal – their people – to collectively devote themselves to achieving the goals of the entity and its stakeholders?

Surely “success” includes:

  1. employees relishing coming to work and giving their individual and co-operative best,

  2. with their contribution no matter their role valued and respected,

  3. customers queuing up to buy their products or avail of their services in preference to those of their competitors,

  4. delighted to pass on the favourable referrals all businesses need,

  5. suppliers enjoying a fruitful, trustworthy and mutually satisfying relationship,

  6. local communities glad to have the business in their neighbourhood, displaying admirable and genuine social responsibility,

  7. trust between all parties healthy and strong,

  8. reputation so robust that people want to be associated with the brand, its good name a strength and bedrock foundation for coping with and indeed surviving unanticipated crises,

  9. with financial performance, a byproduct of all of these features, strong enough to pay bills when due, reward staff for their efforts, permit whatever reinvestment is required, attract external investment and safeguard the organisation’s future

  10. with sufficient revenue reserves built up during astutely managed and not too extravagant good times to survive difficult times, including recessions and pandemics.

Surely it is leaders who contribute to scenarios such as this who warrant being considered as “successful”?

 

Constructive Leaders

While “Constructive Leaders” could not be more different from “Disordered Leaders who practice Destructive leadership”, their total antithesis in almost every respect, except they too can be Intelligent, Charming and Eloquent, potentially high in Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and low in Neuroticism, they are far more than the opposite of the dangerous people with personality leaders who (if their true personality was known) would not be let near a corner shop let alone lead a multinational corporation or nation.

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

  1. vision to realise how great the group they are responsible for could be, with the

  2. strategic insight to know what direction(s) to take,

  3. perception to not only know how to get there, but when a change of direction may be needed,

  4. integrity to set the right tone at the top,

  5. moral compass to guide everyone in the right direction and avoid short-term gain which may result in longer-term pain,

  6. honesty to speak truthfully, not deceptively, and only make promises likely to be able to be met,

  7. remorse to be able to know when wrong has or could be done and rectify or avert it,

  8. courage to avoid wrongdoing and own up and say “sorry” when things do go wrong (as they will) or promises can’t be met, rather than make the mistake of covering up and “denying the undeniable”, hoping no-one will ever find out (although they do), and

  9. creativity to explore new opportunities,

  10. (emotional) empathy to understand people in all their humanity,

  11. interest in others to encourage and willingly provide support,

  12. perception to offer astute guidance and appreciate the importance of trust and reputation,

  13. wisdom to know what new opportunities to explore and what to change and when,

  14. patience not to impulsively over-react to situations as soon as they arise, to wait for results rather than curtail prematurely, or know when the timing may be right to initiate change or introduce new policies,

  15. humility to seek no personal acclaim and (being the opposite of pride) ability to admit to error rather than persist with doing the wrong thing,

  16. strength to tackle the issues others might ignore and own up to rather than cover up mistakes or wrongdoing,

  17. persistence to surmount obstacles and “never give up” on worthwhile matters which may be in the longer term best interest of all involved,,

  18. resilience to tough out difficulties, remain positive and constructive in seeking to find optimal solutions,

  19. tact to deal with matters diplomatically rather than rudely and crudely, and knowing when saying nothing may be preferable, especially words now could cause damage later or when there may be nothing positive or constructive to say,

  20. attitude of gratitude to be able to genuinely praise and know when to do so, especially when people have tried their best even when the outcome isn’t as good as it might have been,

  21. modesty to deflect praise to others. yet accept responsibility for their mistakes,

  22. emotional intelligence to know how best to deal with the wide variety of people and situations which arise, supporting and pointing them in the right direction, with the

  23. charisma which endears people to their leader and makes people feel important, warmly welcomed and appreciated,

  24. enthusiastic personality which creates the positive culture and sets the

  25. admirable example which encourages and maybe even inspires everyone to want to follow their leader in top gear, as they build bridges and roads to places that people with less vision and insufficient understanding of the mission never even considered.

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

Yet, although such “Constructive Leaders” set an admirable example for not only those they work with, manage and lead, but many others too, we somehow just don’t seem to hear too much about these role-models, especially not from themselves.

They don’t feel the need to speak about themselves, just the group they inspire to produce their best, whose success built on respect and cooperation gives them their greatest personal satisfaction.

 

Society’s Greatest Mistake

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 discouragers may possess neither good character nor genuine managerial or leadership ability.

Talking the talk is no substitute for actually being capable of walking the walk.

Those “charming liars” who suffer a deep disconnect between their talk, deeds and reality, confuse fact and fiction, struggle to differentiate between right and wrong, seem more interested in themselves than others, thrive on humiliation and see humility as weakness and ruthlessness as strength, should no longer be seen as strong and effective leaders, rather weak, childlike, ineffective and ultimately destructive, not only in terms of people and healthy, mutually beneficial relationships, which they seek to “damage”, but also in respect of the over-competitive corporate cultures they engender and indeed thrive on, the inevitability of impaired trust and perhaps irreparable reputation.

All because those in charge chose the wrong type of person to provide the responsible and constructive leadership they talked about being capable of, but transpired to be incapable of because at the end of the day they proved to be far more interested in themselves than either the people they were mis-trusted with responsibility for and the organisation they mis-led.

When other people consider “there seems to be something wrong here but we’re not quite sure what this may be” they may well be dealing with someone with one or a combination of the various “Personality Disorders”, with many “warning signs” quite visible except others were unaware how to identify them, including a sense of right and wrong that differs from that of most other people:

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

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

Most of the time.

Then someone crosses their path or challenges their self-interest when their true nature and covert characteristics may be exposed. Their thinly veiled lack of concern for others, camouflaged emotional poverty, hidden hatreds, cloaked or even absent conscience and other previously concealed attributes and clandestine traits are no longer obscured by their charming veneer and disguised by their “Mask of Normality” which often consists of some combination of their ICE characteristics – “Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence” – which goes some way towards hiding their fundamentally ice-cold nature which permits them not only to be “ruth-less”, meaning “sympathy-free”, but even derive their own happiness from making others unhappy, if not downright miserable, which they may even perceive to be a “success” (Clarke, 2017).1

Yet we continue to appoint, elect and select such people for supervisory, managerial and even leadership roles throughout global society, with quite inevitable consequences, especially when they see nothing wrong with behaviour, actions, decisions and mis-deeds which others wouldn’t or couldn’t even countenance, especially “Constructive Leaders” with a genuine concern for the best interests of the organisation including its reputation and the needs of its people. Ultimately none of these are the priority of “Disordered Leaders”.

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

They blame everyone and everything else for their many failings, seek praise for themselves but struggle to encourage others even when most warranted, preferring to persistently disparage and criticise, yet cannot cope with an iota of (warranted) criticism when this is directed at them.

They hold deep grudges against anyone who ever offended them (even if they didn’t) and prefer conflict to cooperation, disharmony to harmony and themselves to others, thriving on both covert and overt troublemaking and negativity.

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

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

At the end of the (excessively long) day though it isn’t all about them, although they persist in believing that it is, even after being removed from the positions of power they craved but inevitably failed to use for the purposes intended. The damage they did could take some time to unravel and recover from, if possible at all.

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

Why? And what can we do about this?

Perhaps by appreciating HOW to identify and predict those more likely to be either Constructive or Destructive Leaders by way of their positive or negative personality traits and their more selfless or self-centred behaviour?

And by being more impressed by character and competence than charisma alone, although all three when combined and displayed by Constructive Leaders have the potential to contribute positively to the success of the group, not just the self-esteem of the individual.

How many apparently charismatic people have transpired to be truly appalling and deeply irresponsible leaders of businesses, organisations and nations, especially when they considered themselves to be more important than the people and entity they were supposed to be responsible for and prioritise?

Whose sense of entitlement was such that they believed their people’s role was to applaud and serve them, rather than their role being to serve their people and “motivate the group to achieve or exceed their common, collective, organisational goals” and satisfy the needs of the stakeholders the entity was formed to provide for? It’s purpose for existing.

The covid pandemic has proven the basic premise that without its customers or clients, there is no business.

Yet far too often self-centred leaders “take their eye off the ball” when their decision-making is based on “what’s in it for me?” or maximising the financial return for the senior management team, even at the expense of the interests of the customers, suppliers or employees.

Or they become so focussed on “growth” that they forget to keep “super-serving” the customers they already have, whose custom and referrals can be as critical as any new initiatives, yet they take for granted allowing them to drift away to their competitors.

Or they become so focussed on themselves that they forget to praise, encourage, include and motivate the people whose day-today endeavours including customer-service and internal cooperation actually produce the successful “results” that they also insufficiently appreciate.

We can all remember how good we felt when our boss unexpectedly said “well done” to us for an achievement we didn’t even now they were aware of, yet this is at the very core of what makes for “Constructive Leadership” – showing an interest in their people and whatever they may be interested in.

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

As “self-centred” has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests” and “independent of outside force or influence”, one of my primary arguments is that, at its most basic, global society needs those I describe as

  1. GIVERS” in leadership roles throughout global society, being “more interested in others than themselves” and

  2. most certainly not “TAKERS” who, being “more interested in themselves than others”,

are unlikely in either normal or more challenging times to prioritise the interests and needs of the organisation or entity and the people they lead over their own. What is the primary difference between Givers and Takers?

Egocentricity is “the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns and outcomes rather than those of others” and furthermore “the tendency to perceive the situation from one’s own perspective, believing that others see things from the same point of view as oneself and that events will elicit the same thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in others as in oneself.2

As people with identifiable Personality Disorders can be “found in every race, culture, society and walk of life” (Hare, 1993) 3, one of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as “Disordered Leaders” see things differently, experience people differently, perceive many matters differently, think differently, behave differently and inhabit a quite different world from most others in society, it is imperative they be recognised by decision-makers as being substantially different from the norm, consummate actors hiding their true selves much of the time, hence need to be dealt with significantly differently, including denying them positions of power which they can only abuse, if they are no longer to be permitted to continue to damage the world that everyone else inhabits.

 

What is Personality?

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

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

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

Personality has been defined in many ways, but as a psychological concept two main meanings have evolved.

  1. The first pertains to the consistent differences that exist between people: in this sense, the study of personality focuses on classifying and explaining relatively stable human psychological characteristics.

  2. The second meaning emphasises those qualities that make all people alike and that distinguish the psychological human from other species; it directs the personality theorist to search for those regularities among all people that define the nature of man as well as the factors that influence the course of lives.

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

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

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

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

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

The systematic study of personality as a recognisable and separate discipline within psychology could be said to have begun in the 1930s with the publication in the USA of two textbooks, Psychology of Personality (1937) by Ross Stagner and Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (1937) by Gordon W. Allport, followed by Henry A. Murray’s Explorations in Personality (1938), which contained a set of experimental and clinical studies and by Gardner Murphy’s integrative and comprehensive text, Personality: A Biosocial Approach to Origins and Structure (1947).”1

Personality has also been described by the American Psychological Association or APA as: “the enduring configuration of characteristics and behaviour that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities and emotional patterns.

Personality is generally viewed as a complex, dynamic integration or totality shaped by many forces, including hereditary and constitutional tendencies; physical maturation; early training; identification with significant individuals and groups; culturally conditioned values and roles; and critical experiences and relationships. Various theories explain the structure and development of personality in different ways, but all agree that personality helps determine behaviour”.2

 

Five Factors

Psychologists for many decades, along with other social scientists, have been trying to determine if people universally exhibit identifiable clusters of personality traits. Applying factor analysis to many questions about personality traits to large samples of people throughout the world has led researchers to a high degree of high level consensus.

Specifically, at the highest order of generality, there appear to be five major personality dimensions which have come to be known as the Five Factors or Big Five.

In alphabetical order, the Big Five are: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional stability, Extraversion and Openness to experiences (Goldberg 1993; John & Srivastava 1999; McCrae & Costa 1999; Gurven et al. 2013).1 2 3 4

Emotional stability is often referred to by way of its opposite: Neuroticism.

While the other four are predominantly healthy factors, Neuroticism is the most disturbing element or dimension of the Five-Factor personality model and the related Big Five personality model, characterised by a chronic level of emotional instability and proneness to psychological distress.5

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

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

In psychoanalysis, “neuroses” are generally viewed as exaggerated, unconscious methods of coping with internal conflicts and the anxiety they produce. Most of the disorders that used to be called neuroses are now classified as anxiety disorders.”6

A “personality trait” is a characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, or behaving that tends to be consistent over time and across relevant situations. The Big Five are a set of five broad, bipolar “trait dimensions” that constitute the most widely used model of personality structure.

A considerable body of research has examined personality stability and change across the life span, as well as the influence of personality traits on important life outcomes, in terms of the Big Five. (Soto, 2018).7

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

The Big-Five model of personality traits may be the most popular model of personality traits among personality psychologists. There are a variety of measures of the Big Five factors, with the Big Five Inventory of BFI, a frequently used 44-item assessment developed by John & Srivastava 8, using both facets and “trait adjectives” for each of the five factors:

This is a short outline of the five factors together with the facets and trait adjectives often used to explain and analyse them:9

Openness to Experience: Highly open individuals have a broad rather than narrow range of interests, are sensitive rather than indifferent to art and beauty, and prefer novelty to routine.

The Big Five Inventory Openness (as opposed to closedness to experience) facets (and correlated trait adjectives) are Ideas (curious), Fantasy (imaginative), Aesthetics (artistic), Actions (wide interests), Feelings (excitable) and Values (unconventional).

Conscientiousness: Conscientious individuals are task focused and orderly, rather than distractible and disorganised.

The Big Five Inventory Conscientiousness (as opposed to lack of direction) facets (and correlated trait adjectives) are Competence (efficient), Order (organised), Dutifulness (not careless), Achievement striving (thorough), Self-discipline (not lazy) and Deliberation (not impulsive).

Extraversion: Highly extraverted individuals are assertive and sociable, rather than quiet and reserved.

The Big Five Inventory Extraversion (as opposed to introversion) facets (and correlated trait adjectives) are Gregariousness (sociable), Assertiveness (forceful), Activity (energetic), Excitement-seeking (adventurous), Positive emotions (enthusiastic) and Warmth (outgoing).

Agreeableness: Agreeable individuals are cooperative and polite, rather than antagonistic and rude.

The Big Five Inventory Agreeableness vs. (as opposed to antagonism) facets (and correlated trait adjectives) are Trust (forgiving), Straightforwardness (not demanding), Altruism (warm), Compliance (not stubborn), Modesty (not show-off) and Tender-mindedness (sympathetic).

Neuroticism: Neurotic individuals are prone to experiencing negative emotions, such as anxiety, depression and irritation, rather than being emotionally resilient. They tend to worry or ponder a great deal and are prone to having their feelings easily hurt.

Emotional stability is concerned with being comfortably rather than excessively or inadequately self-confident, not prone to major mood swings and being even-tempered, especially when facing challenges and in coping with threats.

The Big Five Inventory Neuroticism (as opposed to emotional stability) facets (and correlated trait adjectives) are Anxiety (tense), Angry hostility (irritable), Depression (not contented), Self-consciousness (shy), Impulsiveness (moody) and Vulnerability (not self-confident).

The Big Five/Five Factor Model was developed to represent as much of the variability in individuals’ personalities as possible, using only a small set of trait dimensions. Many personality psychologists agree that its five domains capture the most important, basic individual differences in personality traits and that many alternative trait models can be conceptualised in terms of the Big Five/FFM structure (Soho & Jackson, 2018).10

Six Factor HEXACO Model

For those interested not only in business ethics but indeed integrity in society in general, the Five Factors go a long way towards being able to describe the wide diversity of personalities.

But is there something missing?

While it is assumed that leaders of business and society are fundamentally honest, with a genuine interest in the entity they are leading, not all are.

So where is the measure of honesty versus dishonesty and humility versus pride which leads many to respect their leader and follow their ethical lead or disrespect them and be upset at the poor ethical example they set, yet sometimes be forced to face ethical dilemmas and perhaps engage in similar practices themselves?

I remember well the first time I read the Big Five factors with my first impression being that there was something missing, as it seemed to well describe normal behaviour but less so abnormal and deviant behaviour, especially in the organisational context.

For many years my mental classification of the most challenging people I had met (or encountered) during my career was “Selfish, Difficult and Proud”, or “SDP” (an acronym borrowed from “Social Democratic Party”).

SDP was also the term I used when discussing management and leadership with both university students and entrepreneurs, as in many respects this group of mis-leaders were quite the opposite of the Selfless, Easygoing and Modest people who followers typically like to follow.

This is especially so when they demonstrably know right from wrong, advocate, inspire and reward right behaviour and are heavily critical of both wrong behaviour and those who practice it.

Over two decades I also noticed that it was these “Selfish, Difficult and Proud” people who had less qualms about engaging in a wide variety of unethical behaviours, seeming to lack the “scruples” which “inhibited” or prevented others from doing wrong.

Over time I had developed my own adjectives to describe their behavioural traits before I was aware that trait adjectives were a feature of personality models. Here are a few developed over the last decade to describe the behaviour I had observed throughout my career:

Those with scruples and conscience who can experience SHAME I also describe as REMARKABLE and EMPATHETIC:

REMARKABLE Responsible Ethical Modest Accountable Reliable Kind Agreeable Benign Loyal Empathetic/Encouraging

EMPATHETIC Ethical Motivational Professional Agreeable Trustworthy Honest Easygoing Transparent Integrity Conscientious

SHAME Selfless Honest Accountable Modest Ethical or alternatively on the darker side:

SHAME Self-centred Harmful Antisocial/Antagonistic Manipulative Erratic

However it is their more morally dubious or unethical counterparts who provided a greater opportunity for wordplay and finding trait adjectives described by mnemonic short cuts:

None of the terms are admirable or those which those responsible for hiring and promoting (especially Human Resources professionals) would be seeking in their candidates, yet who indeed ARE employed and too frequently promoted to levels of seniority beyond their ability to perform responsibly:

RUTHLESS Rude Unethical Truculent Harmful Lying Evil Shameless/ Self-centred

SUCCESS Self-centred Unethical Coldly Callous Entitled Shameless/ Self-centred

CRUEL Crafty Rude Unethical Excessive Liars

SPARE Selfish Proud Arrogant Rude/Rash Excessive

CUCKOOS Cocky Unethical Cruel Knavish Obstinate Obstreperous Shameless (Selfish / Self-centred / Supercilious)

ACCIDENTAL Arrogant Crafty/Cruel Critical/Conceited Impulsive Deceitful Excessive Nasty Truculent Aggressive Liars

IMPRUDENT Immoral Manipulative Proud Rude Unethical Deceitful Evil Nasty Truculent

PRIDE Proud Rude Impulsive Deceitful Excessive

DISLOYAL Dishonest Impulsive Selfish Obstinate Yobbish Arrogant Lying

IMMORAL Irresponsible Maleficent Malign Obstinate Rude Arrogant Liars

CALM Crafty Arrogant Loquacious Moody

CALM Cruel Aggressive Lying Manipulative

ARRANT Arrogant Ruthless Rank/Reprehensible Abysmal Nasty Terrifying /Temperamental

This exercise in wordplay involving traits and behaviours may have started as a bit of “serious fun” with business school students, but hopefully not futility, as it does describe many of the traits which good, honest, well intentioned, kind and considerate business people (and those employed by non-business organisations) have to face with when dealing with the challenges posed by the less scrupulous.

Those on the receiving end of the behaviour such people typically display would not describe these people as such, whatever the environment, well beyond their place of work.

My key point is that when I was researching personality first and studied the Five Factor model, I couldn’t seem to find measures to describe these unethical and immoral traits, indeed what I refer to as the REMARKABLE or SHAME pairs, for remarkable leaders actually capable of experiencing shame, which may only be apparent when absent in remorseless, conscience-free leaders:

Responsible

Irresponsible

Ethical

Unethical

Modest

Grandiose/Proud/Arrogant/Conceited

Accountable

Unaccountable

Reliable

Unreliable

Kind

Cruel/Rude/Humiliating

Agreeable

Disagreeable

Benign

Malign

Loyal

Disloyal

Encouraging

Discouraging

   

Selfless

Self-Centred

Honest

Dishonest

Accountable

Unaccountable

Modest

Grandiose

Ethical

Unethical



My initial impression of the Big Five or Five Factor Model with greater knowledge has not altered, finding it even easier to concur with those researchers who believe (especially from the business ethics perspective) that the “Big Five” model needs to become at least the “Big Six” by way of including a strong measure of Ethical-Modesty, especially as the Dark Triad research suggests the related traits are related to (low) honesty and (low) modesty, as well as disagreeableness, social exploitativeness, lack of empathy (callousness) and interpersonal antagonism (Furnham et al, 2013).” 1

In 2019 I prepared a presentation for the IVBEC International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference entitled “The Business Ethics Fallacy” in which I argued that business ethics research appeared to make the unwritten assumption that all executives were at least capable of engaging in moral reasoning, whether they did or didn’t appear to do so at times of key decision-making.

This was also one of my key proposals or arguments when I wrote “Dispositional Attribution of Corporate Executives” for a visionary European professor in 2015 and the Springer book he initiated and edited.

A cornerstone assumption of business ethics research may be that all corporate decision makers are actually capable of reasoning morally. This paper seeks to consider whether this may be a valid assumption and what the implications could be for both business leadership and business ethics research if it transpires not to be.” (Clarke, 2017)2

Indeed I dared suggest that business ethics papers needed to include a disclaimer saying “this paper assumes all business people are capable of engaging in moral reasoning” or rather “this paper applies to all except the most unethical in society,” especially when normative in nature.

However those researchers who specialise in psychopathy know well that psychopaths can tell right from wrong but then just do wrong without any qualms or scruples. They can discuss ethical matters admirable in a hypothetical sense but then fail to avail of this knowledge when decision-making, especially when they perceive their self-interest to be involved.

This would appear to be due to neurological or cognitive deficits (discussed later), including but not limited to their impulsive nature, inability to learn from prior experiences and cold-hearted and dispassionate disinterest in anyone but themselves.

Together with their deep and fundamental requirement to satisfy themselves, especially when this is at the expense of others, this makes for dangerous leadership as those who know such people appreciate they cannot be expected to prioritise the interests and needs of the organisation they (mis)lead and its variety of stakeholders over their own. Hence the final line of my definition of a “disordered leader” proposed at the 2019 IVBEC conference:

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”.

Some avail of the abbreviation “PP” to describe psychopaths. This may be very apt as if asked to outline their personality in a mere two words it would be their necessity to Personally Prevail.

Those familiar with their behaviour could testify that their necessity to personally prevail would appear to be a “cognitive prerogative” which would appear to apply irrespective of :

  1. time, place or circumstance” (the very definition of a Personality Disorder) or

  2. any possible adverse outcomes for others, the organisation which employs them (or extraordinarily, even themselves), such is their deeply compulsive and impulsive nature

  3. which does not appear to engage in a proper evaluation of alternatives and consequences,

  4. due not only to their impulsivity and necessity to personally prevail, perhaps best described as “getting their win way” and “winning at all costs” but also

  5. their inability to experience fear, meaning they do not experience the anxiety associated with taking a risky decision

  6. and just do what THEY want to do especially if the course of action is the opposite of what the more learned or conscientious would consider wise.

While “getting their win way” and “winning at all costs” may sound quite childlike, this is because it is.

Their minds seem to consider matters primarily from the perspective of “what’s in it for me” and their facial expressions may even convey this as they are impulsively engaging in their version of moral reasoning – evaluating their self-interest to the exclusion of all other factors, no different to a primary school child.

Trying to reason with someone fundamentally reasonable is one matter. Trying to reason with someone fundamentally unreasonable and indeed utterly irresponsible by nature is quite another. Indeed it may well be futile, as many who have no option but to work with or for “Disordered Leaders” may eventually realise as they exhaust all possible methods to try and “reason” with someone who thrives on being unreasonable.

Indeed trying to reason with a “Disordered Leader” gives a whole new meaning to the term “moral reasoning”. This is an area where the overlap between moral philosophy and both social and clinical psychology is not only particularly interesting but when dealing with the mindset of those with Personality Disorders, quite intriguing, perplexing and exceptionally serious in terms of the integrity of societal leadership.

Moral reasoning” may “normally” be associated with a rational process by which individuals aim to evaluate the difference between what may be right or wrong in specific situations, by availing of practical reason and logic.

However this challenge becomes far greater when having to deal with those who could be considered by a psychiatrist or psychologist to be “consistently irresponsible”, illogical and does not respond to normal stimulae and moral argument. This is because they cannot, given that their (emotional and decision-making) minds differ from those of most “normal” people’.

Trying to morally reason with a Disordered Leader who may not have advanced cognitively or emotionally beyond the earliest of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, being self-interest, becomes problematic, given that Disordered Leaders with no real concern for anyone or anything other than themselves could never be associated with doing anything (good) for other people let alone larger society, unless this also coincides with maximising their own perceived benefit.

The solution (at its most basic) involves:

(a) recognising that in effect they are “morally reasoning” with someone whose true mentality is more akin to that of a primary school child (McCord and McCord, 1964)3, and

(b) trying to deliberate in the manner that the organisation’s / stakeholders’ best interests are somehow perceived by the Disordered Leader(s) as coinciding with their own self-interest,

(c) believing the opposite of what they say, doing the opposite of what they want and proposing the opposite course of action than the more rational and responsible others believe to be most appropriate, given that the Disordered Leader(s) very perversity is more likely to drive them to do the opposite of what their advisers or colleagues suggest.

US psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed that people personally develop through six stages and three progressive levels of moral reasoning, with perhaps those most suitable for leadership being well capable of making moral choices from a genuine interest in others and respect for laws which, if unjust, may need changing (“social contract orientation”) and who can generalize moral principles beyond their own specific interests (“universal ethical principles”). Such people could be described as being principled and having a social conscience, making them appropriate for leadership roles in society.

However some adults do not appear to be capable of reasoning beyond the second “pre-conventional” level which prioritises achieving their own desires.

Alarmingly, Kohlberg most associated this “self-interest orientation” with primary school children.

If some such unconventional people leading organisations may be incapable of reasoning morally beyond the stage typically associated with primary school children, the implications for society and the lives of people they encounter including in the workplace could be extremely serious.

When “what’s in it for me?” is combined with “getting my own way” and “winning at all costs” as primary motivators, is this really that different from what also motivates many primary school children?

It is critically important that others involved with whatever the situation may be recognise that some such adults may actually be emotional five year olds, primarily concerned with “getting their own way”, like some children not wanting to share their toys.

Such a recognition may help others decide how best to respond to their sometimes apparently immature, childlike or infantile nature.

What should be of concern to business ethicists is the belief that the first level of moral reasoning is that generally found at the primary or elementary school level and yet it appears that people who fit the psychopathy criteria (described by Hare’s research) may not be capable of moral reasoning beyond this level.

While this may be a surprise for many, it will not be for psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists with expertise in the fascinating field of Personality Disorders. For instance, William and Joan McCord observed in 1964 that

The psychopath is like an infant, absorbed in his own needs, vehemently demanding satiation”(McCord & McCord, 1964). 4

Emeritus professor of psychology Robert D Hare confirmed this observation in 1993:

At an early age most children have already begun to postpone pleasure, compromising with restrictions in the environment. A parent can generally use a promise to put off satisfying a two-year-old’s desires, at least temporarily, but psychopaths never seem to learn this lesson – they do not modify their desires; they ignore the needs of others.”(Hare, 1993) 5

One major challenge facing not only business but also society is to IDENTIFY the truer traits of such extraordinarily self-centred and perhaps childlike and infantile people and DENY them positions involving influence or power or, far preferable, do not employ them in the first place, no matter how considerable their other talents and how suitable they may otherwise appear, frequently including the ICE characteristics of apparently at the surface level being Intelligent, Charismatic and Eloquent, even if they transpire to be almost totally lacking in emotional intelligence and (emotional as opposed to cognitive) empathy, their Charm is skin deep and quite insincere, like their apparent interest in other people, while their Eloquent words and engaging delivery may mask their true traits, bear no resemblance with reality and may be quite disconnected from any actual intent or subsequent action.

Empty Promises are as good an indication as any of their Emotional and Moral Vacuum.

It may be an unwritten rule that Society expects its leaders to responsibly evaluate matters at hand and prioritise the business / organisation (or nation) as well as the most impacted stakeholders, or at east be able to even if they don’t always do so.

However many seem to be unaware that a minority in society may be incapable of responsible evaluation and instead appear to employ mental shortcuts designed to satisfy themselves.

Their necessity to Personally Prevail and their sense of victory appears to be all the more augmented when they believe they have defeated someone else en route. Those who prefer conflict to co-operation and “win-lose” to “win-win” make for very competitive situations and highly combative corporate cultures (Clarke, 2007).6

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

Indeed what my research (for instance “Fun or Fear” or “What Society Needs”) describes as Constructive-Destructive Leadership currently needs to be inferred from elements of the FFM’s five factors, not being specifically designed to measure Ethical-Modesty, nor the set of factors critically important for long term business success and indeed survival, which requires organisations (and nations) to be led by those with the most appropriate and responsible rather than the least appropriate personalities.

Fortunately this model has already been designed, labelled the HEXACO model which adds an Honesty-Humility factor to other personality traits. Personality researchers Ashton and Lea saw this disparity, frequently referred to as Honesty-Humility, from the otherwise quite comprehensive Five Factor Model and proposed a six factor HEXACO model which “predicts several personality phenomena that are not explained within the B5/FFM, including the relations of personality factors with theoretical biologists’ constructs of reciprocal and kin altruism and the patterns of sex differences in personality traits. In addition, the HEXACO model accommodates several personality variables that are poorly assimilated within the B5/FFM.” (Ashton & Lea, 2007)7

My proposal (prior to awareness of the HEXACO model) including traits I associate with Constructive and Destructive Leadership, both from my own widespread business experience as well as personal ethics and psychology research, would appear to have the backing of Ashton and Lee (2008) 8who believe that the strong correlation between the Honesty-Humility factor (and the HEXACO model in general) with the Agreeableness factor of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, being due to due to the Straightforwardness and Modesty subscales of the NEO-PI-R, may by forcing it to extract separate factors for Honesty and Agreeableness allow experimenters to better predict Social Adroitness and Self-Monitoring, important in the business arena.

With honesty in psychological terms described as “in general, truthfulness, uprightness and integrity” and “in psychotherapy, the ability of an individual to express true feelings and communicate immediate experiences, including conflicting, ambivalent or guilt-ridden attitudes” (APA)9 the tendency to be generally truthful and upright as well as communicating honestly is one which could be considered to be a prerequisite in those being considered for managerial and leadership positions throughout society.

Integrity tests or honesty tests are “procedures used to determine whether employees or applicants for employment are likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviour. Overt integrity tests are inventories that directly ask people about their past behaviours and their attitudes toward unethical, illegal and counterproductive behaviour. Personality-based integrity tests are inventories measuring the character traits thought to be related to unethical, illegal and counterproductive behaviour”.1

Indeed one study “found that adding the HEXACO Honesty-humility factor to personality measures improves predictive validity for both self- and other-reports of personality, and that simply creating an honesty factor from the FFM measures improves predictive validity for some measures (mainly social adroitness and sexuality measures), but not all (e.g. materialism and delinquency), which indicates that the HEXACO model is a better measure of personality than either the Big Five or the FFM” (Ashton & Lee, 2008) 2. The study may have been by the authors of the HEXACO model but nevertheless its argument that the FFM may be inadequate in terms of the Ethics-Modesty factors so relevant to business ethics would appear to have strong validity.

In the following table I outline the six factors of Ashton & Lea’s HEXACO model, compare these with the Five Factors and comment on their relevance for identifying or predicting Dark Triad traits or those associated with the Cluster B group of Personalty Disorders, including Narcissism and Psychopathy (beyond AntiSocial Personality Disorder). These will then be described, including research into the neurological impairments which contribute to the disordered personalities of probably the most inappropriate people possible to hold positions of responsibility in society.

Until more stakeholders appreciate how to IDENTIFY AND ADAPT or IDENTIFY AND DENY this seditious but often well hidden minority, this fundamentally destructive subgroup will continue to damage people, institutions and the very fabric of global society, as they have done for centuries.

[See PDF for TABLE]

HEXACO Domain-Level Scales 1

Honesty-Humility: People with very high scores on the Honesty-Humility scale avoid manipulating others for personal gain, feel little temptation to break rules, are uninterested in lavish wealth and luxuries, and feel no special entitlement to elevated social status. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale will flatter others to get what they want, are inclined to break rules for personal profit, are motivated by material gain, and feel a strong sense of self-importance.

Emotionality: People with very high scores on the Emotionality scale experience fear of physical dangers, experience anxiety in response to life’s stresses, feel a need for emotional support from others, and feel empathy and sentimental attachments with others. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale are not deterred by the prospect of physical harm, feel little worry even in stressful situations, have little need to share their concerns with others, and feel emotionally detached from others.

eXtraversion: People with very high scores on the Extraversion scale feel positively about themselves, feel confident when leading or addressing groups of people, enjoy social gatherings and interactions, and experience positive feelings of enthusiasm and energy. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale consider themselves unpopular, feel awkward when they are the centre of social attention, are indifferent to social activities, and feel less lively and optimistic than others do.

Agreeableness (versus Anger): People with very high scores on the Agreeableness scale forgive the wrongs that they suffered, are lenient in judging others, are willing to compromise and cooperate with others, and can easily control their temper. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale hold grudges against those who have harmed them, are rather critical of others’ shortcomings, are stubborn in defending their point of view, and feel anger readily in response to mistreatment.

Conscientiousness: People with very high scores on the Conscientiousness scale organize their time and their physical surroundings, work in a disciplined way toward their goals, strive for accuracy and perfection in their tasks, and deliberate carefully when making decisions. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale tend to be unconcerned with orderly surroundings or schedules, avoid difficult tasks or challenging goals, are satisfied with work that contains some errors, and make decisions on impulse or with little reflection.

Openness to Experience: People with very high scores on the Openness to Experience scale become absorbed in the beauty of art and nature, are inquisitive about various domains of knowledge, use their imagination freely in everyday life, and take an interest in unusual ideas or people. Conversely, persons with very low scores on this scale are rather unimpressed by most works of art, feel little intellectual curiosity, avoid creative pursuits, and feel little attraction toward ideas that may seem radical or unconventional.

 

HEXACO Facet-Level Scales2

 

Honesty-Humility Domain

The Sincerity scale assesses a tendency to be genuine in interpersonal relations. Low scorers will flatter others or pretend to like them in order to obtain favours, whereas high scorers are unwilling to manipulate others.

The Fairness scale assesses a tendency to avoid fraud and corruption. Low scorers are willing to gain by cheating or stealing, whereas high scorers are unwilling to take advantage of other individuals or of society at large.

The Greed Avoidance scale assesses a tendency to be uninterested in possessing lavish wealth, luxury goods, and signs of high social status. Low scorers want to enjoy and to display wealth and privilege, whereas high scorers are not especially motivated by monetary or social-status considerations.

The Modesty scale assesses a tendency to be modest and unassuming. Low scorers consider themselves as superior and as entitled to privileges that others do not have, whereas high scorers view themselves as ordinary people without any claim to special treatment.

 

Emotionality Domain

The Fearfulness scale assesses a tendency to experience fear. Low scorers feel little fear of injury and are relatively tough, brave, and insensitive to physical pain, whereas high scorers are strongly inclined to avoid physical harm.

The Anxiety scale assesses a tendency to worry in a variety of contexts. Low scorers feel little stress in response to difficulties, whereas high scorers tend to become preoccupied even by relatively minor problems.

The Dependence scale assesses one’s need for emotional support from others. Low scorers feel self-assured and able to deal with problems without any help or advice, whereas high scorers want to share their difficulties with those who will provide encouragement and comfort.

The Sentimentality scale assesses a tendency to feel strong emotional bonds with others. Low scorers feel little emotion when saying good-bye or in reaction to the concerns of others, whereas high scorers feel strong emotional attachments and an empathic sensitivity to the feelings of others.

Extraversion Domain

The Social Self-Esteem scale assesses a tendency to have positive self-regard, particularly in social contexts. High scorers are generally satisfied with themselves and consider themselves to have likeable qualities, whereas low scorers tend to have a sense of personal worthlessness and to see themselves as unpopular.

The Social Boldness scale assesses one’s comfort or confidence within a variety of social situations. Low scorers feel shy or awkward in positions of leadership or when speaking in public, whereas high scorers are willing to approach strangers and are willing to speak up within group settings.

The Sociability scale assesses a tendency to enjoy conversation, social interaction, and parties. Low scorers generally prefer solitary activities and do not seek out conversation, whereas high scorers enjoy talking, visiting, and celebrating with others.

The Liveliness scale assesses one’s typical enthusiasm and energy. Low scorers tend not to feel especially cheerful or dynamic, whereas high scorers usually experience a sense of optimism and high spirits.

Agreeableness Domain

The Forgivingness scale assesses one’s willingness to feel trust and liking toward those who may have caused one harm. Low scorers tend “hold a grudge” against those who have offended them, whereas high scorers are usually ready to trust others again and to re-establish friendly relations after having been treated badly.

The Gentleness scale assesses a tendency to be mild and lenient in dealings with other people. Low scorers tend to be critical in their evaluations of others, whereas high scorers are reluctant to judge others harshly.

The Flexibility scale assesses one’s willingness to compromise and cooperate with others. Low scorers are seen as stubborn and are willing to argue, whereas high scorers avoid arguments and accommodate others’ suggestions, even when these may be unreasonable.

The Patience scale assesses a tendency to remain calm rather than to become angry. Low scorers tend to lose their tempers quickly, whereas high scorers have a high threshold for feeling or expressing anger.

Conscientiousness Domain

The Organization scale assesses a tendency to seek order, particularly in one’s physical surroundings. Low scorers tend to be sloppy and haphazard, whereas high scorers keep things tidy and prefer a structured approach to tasks.

The Diligence scale assesses a tendency to work hard. Low scorers have little self-discipline and are not strongly motivated to achieve, whereas high scorers have a strong “‘work ethic” and are willing to exert themselves.

The Perfectionism scale assesses a tendency to be thorough and concerned with details. Low scorers tolerate some errors in their work and tend to neglect details, whereas high scorers check carefully for mistakes and potential improvements.

The Prudence scale assesses a tendency to deliberate carefully and to inhibit impulses. Low scorers act on impulse and tend not to consider consequences, whereas high scorers consider their options carefully and tend to be cautious and self-controlled.

Openness to Experience Domain

The Aesthetic Appreciation scale assesses one’s enjoyment of beauty in art and in nature. Low scorers tend not to become absorbed in works of art or in natural wonders, whereas high scorers have a strong appreciation of various art forms and of natural wonders.

The Inquisitiveness scale assesses a tendency to seek information about, and experience with, the natural and human world. Low scorers have little curiosity about the natural or social sciences, whereas high scorers read widely and are interested in travel.

The Creativity scale assesses one’s preference for innovation and experiment. Low scorers have little inclination for original thought, whereas high scorers actively seek new solutions to problems and express themselves in art.

The Unconventionality scale assesses a tendency to accept the unusual. Low scorers avoid eccentric or nonconforming persons, whereas high scorers are receptive to ideas that might seem strange or radical.

Interstitial Scale

The Altruism (versus Antagonism) scale assesses a tendency to be sympathetic and soft-hearted toward others. High scorers avoid causing harm and react with generosity toward those who are weak or in need of help, whereas low scorers are not upset by the prospect of hurting others and may be seen as hard-hearted.

This is important as otherwise HEXACO may inadequately deal with the coldheartedness factor which is an interesting aspect of the PPI model and experience suggests together with the fearlessness factor may explain much of the intimidatory behaviour apparent in the day to day behaviour experienced by too many in their workplaces, especially when mis-led or mal-managed by someone who meets the Dark Triad criteria.

What is Normal?

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

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

  1. freedom from incapacitating internal conflicts;

  2. the capacity to think and act in an organised and reasonably effective manner;

  3. the ability to cope with the ordinary demands and problems of life;

  4. freedom from extreme emotional distress, such as anxiety, despondency and persistent upset; and

  5. the absence of clear-cut symptoms of mental disorder, such as obsessions, phobias, confusion and disorientation.” 1

 

The Dark Triad

The Dark Triad (DT) is a collection of three interrelated, malevolent personality constructs: Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism with the common denominator of disagreeableness. (Paulhus & Williams, 2002).2 3

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

This suggests that the core of the Dark Triad lies in dishonesty, coldness and manipulation (Lyons, 2019).4

Narcissism may be the least dark of the dark traits, with an extraverted approach-oriented attitude to life, but also dominance, entitlement and superiority (Emmons, 1984).5

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

Machiavellianism is distinguish by a combination of manipulativeness and a superficial or glib social charm (Christie & Geis, 1970).6 The tendency to lie is shared with Psychopathy associated with pathological lying and other deceptive behaviours. (McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998)7 i

Lying, especially complex deceit, involves a significant cognitive or metal input, which seems to be less demanding on and more pleasurable for Psychopaths, indeed has been linked to positive emotions. Machiavellianism lying has been more associated with an increased mental effort, especially associated with deception. (Baughman et al, 2014).8

Psychopathy and Narcissism relate to higher risk-taking and impulsivity as well as low empathy (Hare, 1985)9whereas individuals high in Machiavellianism can display a more cautious approach to life.

The exploitative, selfish nature of those high in the Dark Triad has led to theories trying to explain the existence of these traits from evolutionary perspective. One of the most commonly applied theories are the LHT, which posits that these traits are adaptive in the context of “fast strategies”. The Dark Triad traits could also facilitate a “Cheater Strategy”, which could be adaptive in extracting resources from the environment by the means of using others.10

According to “Life History Theory” (LHT), fast life strategists are those who, possibly as a consequence of an unpredictable environment experienced during their childhood, favour behaviours that require minimal investment but offer fast gratification (Buss, 2015).11Evidence indicates that they tend to prefer risk-taking behaviour (Griskevicius et al., 2011).12

In essence they want what they want, now, and woe behold anyone who gets in their way of they “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs.

Individuals who score high on Dark Triad personality traits have been found to prefer a fast life strategy with “enhanced motivation for immediate resource acquisition and short-term benefits”, associated with a biased, strongly present-oriented time perspective and quite deviant from a balanced time perspective (BTP) or the difference between individuals’ time perception and the optimal time perspective, as well as the person-oriented approach of identifying groups of individuals with similar time perception, as it can alter with age.

Birkas et al found that Machiavellianism and Psychopathy were both found to be clearly deviant from a BTP, or wanted what they wanted immediately, higher scores on Narcissism were positively associated with a BTP profile, but only in the more elderly, suggesting they had learned over time that patience was virtue, even if few exhibited it (Birkás et al, 2018) 13.

With “short-termism” associated with many low and high profile business ethics failures, this finding would suggest all three members of the Dark Triad are capable of putting short-term advantage (notably personal gain including “inter-personal winning” such as “getting their own way, now”) before the best interests of their organisation (or nation), without the balancing of risk and reward which would typically be expected of responsible senior executives.

Men generally report higher scores on Machiavellianism and Psychopathy than women (eg Jonason et al., 2013) 14, with this gender or sex difference usually explained by the generally faster life history strategy of men as compared to women (e.g., Furnham et al, 2013, Birkás et al, 2018)15 16.

Psychopathy and Machiavellianism have been found to be low in femininity, with Narcissism high in masculinity and low in femininity (Jonason and Davis, 2018).17

Narcissism has been well researched as a standalone concept, notably Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), one of the primary disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association’s (DSM-5; APA, 2013), which only partially deals with the related but even more challenging member of the Dark Triad – Psychopathy.

Research on Narcissism has identified two dimensions: Grandiose and Vulnerable (Miller, Hoffman, et al., 2011; Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). 18 19

Grandiosely narcissistic individuals are characterised by exhibitionism, immodesty or lack of humility/modesty, interpersonal dominance, self-absorption, callousness, and manipulativeness.

Vulnerably narcissistic individuals are characterised by psychological distress, negative affectivity (anxiety, shame), low self-esteem, distrustfulness, egocentrism, reactive anger, and hostility, distrust, selfishness and a need for attention and recognition (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003; Miller, Price, Gentile, Lynam, & Campbell, 2012).

While the DSM-5 criteria are primarily associated with Grandiose narcissism (Fossati et al., 2005; Miller, Hoffman, Campbell, & Pilkonis, 2008), the complete DSM-5 NPD description makes it apparent that vulnerability is ALSO thought to be involved as well:

Vulnerability in self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to ‘injury’ from criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty.” (APA, 2013, p. 671).20

While most narcissism research has been on the more overt grandiose branch, more have been conducting research into the contrast between the grandiose and vulnerable elements, predominantly confirming the existence of the two and the differences between them (e.g., Maples, Lamkin, & Miller, 2014).21

Indeed it could be argued that vulnerable narcissism might in the future be included with disorders such as Borderline, as grandiose narcissism appears to be a more natural fit with its Dark Triad companions of Machiavellianism and Psychopathy.

Dark Triad rather then specific factor research assesses the collective or concurrent impact of the triad, remembering that individuals who display socially aversive traits will cause problems in whatever arena they operate.

Whether they display higher or lower elements of specific factors of the triad (including the Sadism associated with the “Dark Tetrad”) will be of little solace for those who have no option but to deal with them.

However being able to identify some traits more than others may allow their potential “playthings” or “victims” to design their own response or coping strategies and tailor these to the specific challenges these individuals present, typically designed to minimise their deleterious impact on the entity which would probably operate more collectively, harmoniously and with greater collaboration and less conflict without them.

Those on the receiving end of their highly challenging behaviour would probably notice a core of some form of self-centred narcissism, none known for any degree of empathy towards others.

For instance while all psychopaths are narcissists, only a minority of narcissists would meet the psychopathy criteria such as the PCL-R associated with Robert D Hare.22

The capacity to regulate emotions is critical to mental well-being. Indeed successful control of affect partially depends on the ability to modulate negative emotional responses by way of cognitive strategies, with some people far more capable of regulating emotions than others.

Neuroscientific research suggests under or over activation of specific brain regions including the limbic regions, amygdalae, anterior cingulate, nucleus accumbens and elements of the prefrontal cortex are associated with either more or less effective coping strategies or suppression of negative emotion when facing stressful situations (Phan et al, 2005).23

 

The Dark Triad and Interpersonal Callousness

The Dark Triad personalities share many common features (Jonason, Kavanagh, Webster, & Fitzgerald, 2011; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). 1 2Their similarities have been considered to arise from a common interpersonal callousness with research (Douglas, Bore, & Munro, 2012; Jones & Figueredo, 2013; Jones & Paulhus, 2011) suggesting that manipulation and callousness accounted for the associations among the facet scores of the Psychopathy, Narcissism and Machiavellianism scales and impulsivity also with Psychopathy and Narcissism. 3 4 5

This common feature involving a common underlying deficit in empathy helps explain why they share a reputation as socially aversive (Rauthmann, 2012; Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2012).6 7 All dark triad personalities were associated with deficits in affective empathy, but showed little evidence of impairment in cognitive empathy, with primary (factor one) psychopathy the main predictor of empathic deficits within the dark triad.

Callousness (lack of empathy) leads inevitably to the tendency to manipulate others.

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

Ego-promoting outcomes (such as relentless boasting and bragging) are best predicted by Narcissism; those involving reckless antisocial behaviour (such as violence and vandalism) are best predicted by Psychopathy; with long-term scheming (such as elaborate fraud) best predicted by Machiavellianism (Furnham et al., 2013).

Indeed Furnham et al pose the question “if the Dark Triad members are not interchangeable, then why are they always positively correlated – regardless of the instrument used to measure them? One possibility is a common underlying element (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Among the strongest candidates are disagreeableness, honesty-humility, social exploitativeness, lack of empathy (callousness) and interpersonal antagonism.” 8

In essence, the literature suggests that:

(a) ego-enhancement goals drive narcissistic behaviour, whereas instrumental goals drive Machiavellian and psychopathic behaviour;

(b) Machiavellianism differs from psychopathy with respect to impulsivity; they are also self-centred and thrive on winning but are more patient and well capable of planning longer-term and more calculating deceptions;

(c) all three have a callous core that engenders manipulation of others (Jones & Paulhus, 2011a). 9 10

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

At the most general level, all three traits of the Dark Triad are negatively associated with Big 5 Agreeableness (Wu & LeBreton, 2011), largely due to their socially pernicious nature (Kowalski, 2001; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). 11 12 13

Narcissism and Machiavellianism are positively associated with Neuroticism, but Psychopathy is negatively related (cf., Wu & LeBreton, 2011).14

Machiavellianism and Psychopathy are negatively related to Conscientiousness.

Narcissism and Psychopathy are positively associated with Openness and Extraversion (Digman, 1997).15

Meta-analysis has revealed a more fine-grained set of inter-relationships between the Big Five and the Dark Triad (O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, & McDaniel, 2012).16

Notably, Narcissism is aligned with low Agreeableness and high Extraversion—which is consistent with dominant, non-communal motives (Horowitz et al., 2006).17

Machiavellianism is primarily aligned with low Agreeableness.

Psychopathy is aligned with low Agreeableness and low Conscientiousness.

An agreeable person is unlikely to be represented on the Dark Triad. This does not mean that, for instance, a person low in Agreeableness is high on any Dark Triad characteristic, rather that people high on the Dark Triad are usually disagreeable (Spain, 2019). 18

 

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

  1. Scrutiny of former US President Donald Trump’s public character in the light of the most recent version of the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) certainly suggests striking similarities between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) diagnosis and Trump’s persona.

  2. According to DSM-V, individuals who have a NPD diagnosis are characterised, among other things, by grandiosity, attention seeking, unawareness of one’s own motivations and excessive attunement to reactions of others (but only if perceived as relevant to self).

  3. By analysing the speech content and Twitter behaviour of Mr. Trump, researchers have come to the conclusion that his communication is grandiose, simplistic, impulsive and uncivil (Ahmadian, Azarshahi, & Paulhus, 2017; Ott, 2017).1 2

  4. Trump’s tweets are characterised by lavish statements about his achievements, coupled by vicious attacks towards anyone who dares to criticise him, or his “administration”.

  5. The fragile nature of Trump’s ego (typical of Vulnerable Narcissism) is reflected in the large number of offending remarks directed toward others, including his own employees, before they became his-ex employees.

  6. His emotional fragility was also evident in his penchant for hiring and firing people in senior roles who, unless considerably sycophantic, would soon become casualties of his inability to accept criticism, nor accept criticism or opinions other than his own “different” worldview, not unlike a primary school child saying “I’m not playing with you anymore”.

  7. The New York Times maintained a list of people, companies and places that Trump has insulted since becoming a president. These insults paint a picture of a person who is impulsive, aggressive and easily offended.

  8. The Washington Post maintained a list of what they viewed to be his lies and deceit, eventually published in book format, which could have been portrayals of what he perceived the truth to be, or wanted matters to be considered by others, flattering him and disparaging others.

  9. His tendency for exaggeration started from Day One (largest ever attendance at an inauguration), evidence of grandiosity.

  10. His almost immediate ambition of dismantling the achievements of his predecessor seemed more attributable to personal pettiness, devaluation and trying to achieve “interpersonal dominance” than due consideration for the interests, needs and benefits of the citizens he was elected to serve.

  11. Trump’s communication style is suggestive of features which are common in patients who have received a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (Lyons, 2019).3

  12. The grandiosity section of the Diagnostic Interview for Narcissism (DIN) (Second edition) makes for interesting comparison with Trump’s behaviour and communication. 4

Diagnostic Interview for Narcissism (DIN) (Second edition)

The person:

  1. exaggerates talents, capacity and achievements in an unrealistic way.

  2. believes in their invulnerability or does not recognise their limitations.

  3. has grandiose fantasies.

  4. believes that they do not need other people.

  5. over examines and downgrades other people’s projects, statements or dreams in an unrealistic manner.

  6. regards themselves as unique or special when compared to other people.

  7. regards themselves as generally superior to other people.

  8. behaves self-centeredly and/or self-referentially.

  9. behaves in a boastful or pretentious way.

 

Grandiosity: Do you not know who I am?

Grandiosity is a term usually associated not only with self-focussed leaders but also a variety of the most critical and damaging Personality Disorders in terms of any form of group interaction, including Narcissistic and Psychopathy.

What is grandiosity and are the associated traits those which decision-makers should be actively seeking in choosing those to hire and promote not only for managerial and leadership roles but indeed for any position of responsibility?

While grandiose can describe a large building featuring impressive architecture, or plans to turn a cottage into a palace or wasteland into a city, as well as excessive use of verbal ornamentation, meaning grandiose verbosity, we are really concerned with personal or rather interpersonal grandiosity, often associated with a sense of pretentiousness and entitlement.

My fellow Dubliner, Oscar Wilde, was asked at a very boring party by the hostess whether he was enjoying himself, to whom he replied “madam, it is about the only thing I am enjoying”!

While some people can feel grandiose and self-important purely within the realms of their own mind and in their own company, the tendency is most displayed in interpersonal situations, in which those who could never be accused of modesty are more likely to exaggerate their talents, abilities and achievements.

Grandiose, showy, ostentatious and pretentious all refer to conspicuous outward display, either designed to attract attention or likely to do so. Grandiose, however, most often implies inflation or exaggeration even to the point of absurdity.

The term grandiose is considered to have been recorded in English in the 1830’s, directly from the French, in turn from the Italian or Spanish grandioso and Latin root “grandis”, meaning “grand” or “big”, so it should not be a surprise that it is associated with people acting in an extravagant, flamboyant, ostentatious, bombastic and affected manner, all quite the opposite of being unpretentious, modest, humble and down to earth.

Are modest leaders likely to ask “Do you not know know who I am?”

 

Drawing the Line

Grandiose is also associated with being ambitious and impressive, which within reason are better than being unambitious and unimpressive.

So when does impressive talking become grandiosity? This question is not unlike that we will discuss later, which is when does significant self-esteem, confidence and arrogance become narcissism?

Could it be related to whether they prefer praising and encouraging or criticising and encouraging others?

Could it be related to how such people make others feel about themselves? Better or worse? Built-up or put-down? Appreciated, respected, applauded and valued or disrespected, unappreciated, criticised and perhaps even humiliated and devalued?

Could it be related to being able to tell fact from fiction, between slightly exaggerating achievements or talents and inventing them?

In Psychiatry grandiosity is associated with an “exaggerated belief in one’s own importance, sometimes reaching delusional proportions, as a symptom of a mental illness.”

Grandiosity is an “exaggerated sense of one’s importance, power, knowledge, or identity, even if there is little evidence to support the beliefs.” It is also associated with and “unrealistic sense of superiority in which you consider yourself unique and better than others. It also infers a disdain for those people you consider to be inferior to you.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) describe grandiosity as “an exaggerated sense of one’s greatness, importance, or ability. In extreme form, it may be regarded as a delusion of grandeur” which in turn is described as “the false attribution to the self of great ability, knowledge, importance or worth, identity, prestige, power, accomplishment, or the like” (APA). Not all psychologists equate grandiosity with delusions of grandeur, a distinction the APA touch on in describing one as “exaggerated” and the other as “false”.

Grandiosity involves representing or loading phenomena in a way that makes them appear to be as attractive and extraordinary as possible, without being perceived as obviously fake. We’re not talking about delusions of grandeur here, or something that is obviously mad… Grandiosity often involves reinforcing a superiority to others, and it’s also increasingly haunted by its own emptiness. Grandiose people are doomed to disappointment and frustration” (Alvesson, 2018)1 who opens by quoting Bertrand Russell: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

In the field of psychology, the term grandiosity refers to an unrealistic sense of superiority, characterised by a sustained view of one’s self as better than others, which is expressed by disdainfully criticising them, over-inflating one’s own capability and belittling them as inferior; and refers to a sense of personal uniqueness, the belief that few other people have anything in common with oneself, and that one can only be understood by a few, very special people”.

One of the problems is definition. “Despite its longevity and importance as a psychological construct, narcissism and the associated narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have been inconsistently defined and measured across disciplines.” (Pincus, 2013).2

Nevertheless narcissism research has predominantly identified two dimensions: Grandiose and Vulnerable (Miller, Hoffman, et al., 2011; Pincus & Lukowitsky, 2010). 3 4 Although individuals high on either of these dimensions interact with others in an antagonistic manner, they differ on other central constructs (such as Neuroticism and Extraversion).

Most research focus until recent years has been on the grandiose dimension most associated with its categorisation in the DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Grandiosely narcissistic individuals are characterised by exhibitionism, immodesty or lack of humility/modesty, interpersonal dominance, self-absorption, callousness, and manipulativeness.

Vulnerably narcissistic individuals are characterised by psychological distress, negative affectivity (anxiety, shame), low self-esteem, distrustfulness, egocentrism, reactive anger and hostility, distrust, selfishness and a need for attention and recognition (Miller, Price, Gentile, Lynam, & Campbell, 2012)5.

An earlier 2005 study by Dickinson and Pincus examined the validity of grandiose and vulnerable subtypes of narcissistic character styles through an analysis of personality disorder criteria, interpersonal problems and adult attachment styles in a nonclinical population.

The grandiose personalities in their sample were rated high in the dramatic traits associated with narcissistic, antisocial and histrionic personality disorders based on a diagnostic interview, and they reported domineering and vindictive interpersonal problems. However, despite the observation of narcissistic personality pathology, they denied interpersonal distress related to their interpersonal problems and the majority reported adult attachment styles reflective of positive self-representations (Secure, Dismissive).

Vulnerable narcissistic individuals were represented by high ratings on avoidant personality disorder based on a diagnostic interview. They reported high interpersonal distress and greater domineering, vindictive, cold, and socially avoidant interpersonal problems. The majority reported adult attachment styles reflective of negative self-representations (Fearful, Preoccupied).(Dickinson & Pincus, 2005). 6



The characteristics of Grandiose Narcissism include:

  1. Self-centred and appears to be self-focussed.

  2. Feeling of superiority and invulnerability; the only person that matters.

  3. Interpersonal dominance; has to win in major and trivial interpersonal matters; needs these “victories”.

  4. Oblivious to or inconsiderate of the impact their actions have on others, or even how they are actually perceived by others (believing themselves to be liked and popular when they may actually be disliked and unpopular) hence the term “oblivious narcissists” (Gabbard, 1989). 7

  5. Lacking knowledge of the impact they have on others contributes to an unrealistic view of themselves in relation to others (Gabbard, 1989, 1998; Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971, 1977).8 9 10 11

  6. Controlling others and situations is important; likes to be in control but dislikes it when others tell them what to do (may prefer to do the opposite).

  7. Belittling, criticising and even humiliating others seems to give them pleasure.

  8. Remorselessly take credit for the words, deeds and achievements of others; may even believe this to be true and argue with others who disbelieve or disagree with them.

  9. Overt presentation of grandiose fantasies, wealth, success and status.

  10. Can be very demanding, with expectations of obedience and admiration; expect immediate and undivided attention of others, yet unaware or inconsiderate of the impact their demands of entitlement may have on them.

  11. Exhibitionism or a show-off.

  12. Talks self up and others down. Truth may be inconsequential.

  13. No real interest in other people, although this can be faked when suits their purposes.

  14. Arrogant & conceited while lacking in humility/modesty (viewed as weakness).

  15. Apparent huge self-belief (even if this is a show).

  16. Inability to cope or deal with criticism.

  17. Devaluation and criticism of people that threaten self-esteem.

  18. Denial or lack of awareness of weaknesses.

  19. Exaggeration of abilities, talents and achievements, even fictitiously.

  20. More likely to regulate self-esteem through overt self-enhancement (over-claiming abilities or exaggerating situations to project superiority).

  21. Inflated demands of entitlement and superiority. Belief that others owe them something, even more so if they have achieved seniority of position.

  22. Exaggerated beliefs of self-importance, superiority, achievement and ability.

  23. Manipulative behaviours designed to “get their own way”.

  24. Preoccupation with “fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate”; appear to believe the fiction they spin yet easily change their story if required..

  25. Consistent anger when confronted with unmet expectations, any perceived slight or being held accountable for words, deeds and decisions.

  26. Prone to easily exploding into rage, overreacting, and possibly even becoming aggressive whenever they feel attacked by even the slightest criticism.

  27. Diminished awareness of the cultural dissonance between their high expectations and reality, along with the damaging impact this has on relationships.

  28. Oblivious that arrogance or expectations of entitlement may make a poor impression on other people.

  29. Conflict within the environment is generally experienced as external to these people (not their fault), rather than as a measure of their own unrealistic expectations.

  30. Blame shifts when held to account; tend to blame others (and situations) for their own failings and irresponsibility.

Indeed, it is their very lack of insight into their impact upon others is what incited Gabbard (1989) 12 to suggest the label “oblivious narcissists” to describe their social presentation and distinguish them from their vulnerable counterparts.

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

How do psychiatrists and psychologists assess grandiosity from mere confidence and even arrogance?

Revisiting the grandiosity section of the Diagnostic Interview for Narcissism (DIN) (Second edition) suggests the following assessment criteria (Gunderson J, Ronningstam E, Bodkin A. “The diagnostic interview for narcissistic patients”)13:

The person:

  1. exaggerates talents, capacity and achievements in an unrealistic way.

  2. believes in their invulnerability or does not recognise their limitations.

  3. has grandiose fantasies.

  4. believes that they do not need other people.

  5. over examines and downgrades other people’s projects, statements or dreams in an unrealistic manner.

  6. regards themselves as unique or special when compared to other people.

  7. regards themselves as generally superior to other people.

  8. behaves self-centeredly and/or self-referentially.

  9. behaves in a boastful or pretentious way.

With leadership generally considered to involve “motivating a group of people to cooperate towards achieving common goals”, how many of these traits would be advocated or sought by interviewers and decision-makers in selecting people for any form or responsible position?

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, seeing as their worldview differs from that of most others and the mindset of many lacks the ability to experience compassion, ruth, guilt remorse, fear, anxiety, empathy or even to understand other people in all their humanity, given that their often high intelligence is anything but emotional.

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

 

What is a “Disordered Leader”?

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

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

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

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

Do these describe characteristics that those appointing others to managerial and especially leadership roles would advocate and actively seek?

Yet far too many leaders, managers, team-leaders and supervisors as well as those with similar titles with responsibility for the lives and emotions of people in all types of organisations worldwide DO display these characteristics, which in some sectors and nations are actually applauded.

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

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

  1. Distorted thinking patterns,

  2. Problematic emotional responses,

  3. Over- or under-regulated impulse control and

  4. Interpersonal difficulties,

none of which are attributes which society needs in those with responsibility for its institutions and their people, allied to their inability to see anything wrong with themselves and tendency to blame anything and everyone else for their failings and the many problems they create, for which they accept no responsibility.

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

One of the definitions of a “Personality Disorder” is

Pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes.” 1

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

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

Hence (at its most basic, although this behaviour is insufficiently appreciated as perhaps being indicative of a Personality Disorder):

  1. Getting their own way”,

  2. Winning at all costs, irrespective of consequences for others”, and

  3. Evaluating matters from the primary perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

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

At the end of the day, it isn’t all about them, although they persist in believing that it is, often appearing to be unaware of their inadequacies and immune to the real damage they do, given the opportunity, hence the apt term “oblivious narcissists” (Gabbard, 1989) 2

In October 2019 I proposed the following definition of a “Disordered Leader” for consideration and refinement at the International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference or IVBEC usually held in the USA but that year in Dublin:

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”.

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

That is why at that US IVBEC business ethics conference 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, as being different from the norm, described in this work after a decade of psychological research as “Destructive Leadership”,

  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 inevitable extra-ordinarily provocative actions, reactions and penchant for disagreement and self-promotion which (due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility) with familiarity will become predictable, to

  5. MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create in both a covert and overt manner and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria suggested here, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths to maintain the power they are incapable of using for the purposes intended and should never have been trusted with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why can we not predict the predictable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Immoral Reasoning?

Key advice from those with a deep understanding of the “Cluster B” mind in particular is to Believe The Opposite of what they say or assert, Do The Opposite of what they want and Ask Them to Do The Opposite of what you actually want them to do.

Not only are they “perversity personified” but their “grandiosity” and “egocentricity” are such that if the “great idea” is not considered to be their own, it is unlikely to be enacted.

Indeed the set of interpersonal and affective characteristics, such as egocentricity, lack of remorse and callousness, are not only considered fundamental to clinical conceptions of psychopathy, often referred to as Factor One, but also with prototypicality ratings of narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder, and with self-report measures of Machiavellianism and narcissism. It is also negatively correlated with measures of empathy and anxiety (Hare, Hart, & Harpur, 1991) 3.

Trying to reason with someone fundamentally reasonable is one matter. Trying to reason with someone fundamentally unreasonable and indeed utterly irresponsible by nature is quite another.

Trying to reason with a “Disordered Leader” gives a whole new meaning to the term “moral reasoning”. Indeed this is an area where the overlap between moral philosophy and both social and clinical psychology is not only particularly interesting but when dealing with the mindset of those with Personality Disorders, quite intriguing and perplexing.

While “moral reasoning” may “normally” be associated with a process by which individuals try to determine the difference between what is right and wrong in given situations by availing of practical reason and logic, the challenge becomes far greater when having to deal with those who could be considered by a psychiatrist or psychologist to be fundamentally irresponsible and illogical and does not respond to normal stimulae and moral argument. This is because they cannot, given that their minds differ from those of most “normal” people’.

Trying to morally reason with a Disordered Leader who has probably not advanced cognitively or emotionally or beyond the earliest of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, being self-interest, becomes problematic, given that Disordered Leaders with no real concern for anyone other than themselves could never be associated with doing anything for other people let alone society, unless this also maximised their own perceived benefit.

The solution involves (a) trying to deliberate in the manner that the organisation’s / stakeholder’s best interests are somehow perceived by the Disordered Leaders’s as also being in their own self-interest and (b) recognising that in effect they are “morally reasoning” with someone whose true mentality is more akin to that of a primary school child (McCord and McCord, 1964)1.

US psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed that people personally develop through six stages and three progressive levels of moral reasoning, with perhaps those most suitable for leadership being well capable of making moral choices from a genuine interest in others and respect for laws which, if unjust, may need changing (“social contract orientation”) and who can generalize moral principles beyond their own specific interests (“universal ethical principles”). Such people could be described as being principled and having a social conscience, making them appropriate for leadership roles in society.

However some adults do not appear to be capable of reasoning beyond the second “pre-conventional” level which prioritizes achieving their own desires. Alarmingly, Kohlberg most associated this “self-interest orientation” with primary school children.

If some such unconventional people leading organisations may be incapable of reasoning morally beyond the stage typically associated with primary school children, the implications for society and the lives of people they encounter including in the workplace could be extremely serious.

When “what’s in it for me?” is combined with “getting my own way” and “winning at all costs” as primary motivators, is this really that different from what also motivates many primary school children?

So perhaps recognising some such adults to be emotional five year olds, primarily concerned with “getting their own way”, like some children not wanting to share their toys, may help others decide how best to respond to their sometimes apparently immature, childlike or infantile nature.

Trying to reason with someone fundamentally reasonable is one matter, trying to reason with someone fundamentally unreasonable and indeed utterly irresponsible by nature is quite another.

Indeed trying to reason with a “Disordered Leader” gives a whole new meaning to the term “moral reasoning”. This is an area where the overlap between moral philosophy and both social and clinical psychology is not only particularly interesting but when dealing with the mindset of those with Personality Disorders, quite intriguing, perplexing and exceptionally serious in terms of societal leadership.

Moral reasoning” may “normally” be associated with a rational process by which individuals aim to evaluate the difference between what may be right or wrong in specific situations, by availing of practical reason and logic.

However this challenge becomes far greater when having to deal with those who could be considered by a psychiatrist or psychologist to be “fundamentally irresponsible”, illogical and does not respond to normal stimulae and moral argument. This is because they cannot, given that their minds differ from those of most “normal” people’.

Trying to morally reason with a Disordered Leader who may not have advanced cognitively or emotionally beyond the earliest of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, being self-interest, becomes problematic, given that Disordered Leaders with no real concern for anyone other than themselves could never be associated with doing anything for other people let alone larger society, unless this also maximised their own perceived benefit.

The solution involves

(a) trying to deliberate in the manner that the organisation’s / stakeholder’s best interests are somehow perceived by the Disordered Leaders’s as also being in their own self-interest and

(b) recognising that in effect they are “morally reasoning” with someone whose true mentality is more akin to that of a primary school child (McCord and McCord, 1964)2.

US psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed that people personally develop through six stages and three progressive levels of moral reasoning, with perhaps those most suitable for leadership being well capable of making moral choices from a genuine interest in others and respect for laws which, if unjust, may need changing (“social contract orientation”) and who can generalise moral principles beyond their own specific interests (“universal ethical principles”). Such people could be described as being principled and having a social conscience, making them appropriate for leadership roles in society.

However some adults do not appear to be capable of reasoning beyond the second “pre-conventional” level which prioritises achieving their own desires.

Alarmingly, Kohlberg most associated this “self-interest orientation” with primary school children.

If some such unconventional people leading organisations may be incapable of reasoning morally beyond the stage typically associated with primary school children, the implications for society and the lives of people they encounter including in the workplace could be extremely serious.

When “what’s in it for me?” is combined with “getting my own way” and “winning at all costs” as primary motivators, is this really that different from what also motivates many primary school children?

It is critically important that others involved with whatever the situation may be recognise that some such adults may actually be emotional five year olds, primarily concerned with “getting their own way”, like some children not wanting to share their toys.

Such a recognition may help others decide how best to respond to their sometimes apparently immature, childlike or infantile nature.

While this may be a surprise for many, it will not be for psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists with expertise in the fascinating field of Personality Disorders. For instance, William and Joan McCord observed in 1964 that some challenging people can be (McCord & McCord, 1964):3

like an infant, absorbed in his own needs, vehemently demanding satiation.”

Emeritus professor of psychology Robert D Hare confirmed this observation in 1993:

At an early age most children have already begun to postpone pleasure, compromising with restrictions in the environment. A parent can generally use a promise to put off satisfying a two-year-old’s desires, at least temporarily, but [some] never seem to learn this lesson – they do not modify their desires; they ignore the needs of others.”(Hare, 1993) 4

One major challenge facing not only business but also society is to IDENTIFY the truer traits of such extraordinarily self-centred and perhaps childlike and infantile people and DENY them positions involving influence or power or, better still, do not employ them in the first place, no matter how considerable their other talents and how suitable they may otherwise appear.

Labile” means “liable to change” (APA)5 which in many respects is not such a bad thing, including in the organisational and business context. As matters in life are constantly changing, the person or organisation which doesn’t change or adapt, even a little, may lose out to those who can and do.

Indeed it is expected and probably taken for granted that people in senior roles in societal organisations are capable of adaptation or social adaptation, described by the APA in a variety of contexts as:

Modification to suit different or changing circumstances. In this sense, the term often refers to behaviour that enables an individual to adjust to the environment effectively and function optimally in various domains, such as coping with daily stressors.”

Adjustments to the demands, restrictions and mores of society, including the ability to live and work harmoniously with others and to engage in satisfying social interactions and relationships. Also called social adaptation.”6

However an inability to adapt can be problematic, which is why those who appear to be “maladaptive” may display signs of a Personality Disorder. In stark contrast with adaptation’s ability to adjust to life’s demands, live harmoniously and interact socially, maladaptation is:

a condition in which biological traits or behaviour patterns are detrimental, counterproductive, or otherwise interfere with optimal functioning in various domains, such as successful interaction with the environment and effectual coping with the challenges and stresses of daily life.”(APA)7

People, especially in managerial roles, are expected to be capable of being flexible and adapting to whatever situations arise. It is also expected they will be able not only to control their own emotions but in effect satisfactorily manage the emotions of those they are responsible for, by way of creating a cooperative, non-hostile and perhaps even welcoming environment and providing sufficient guidance, praise, encouragement and feedback to enable them to perform their roles as well as possible,individually and collectively, including knowing how what they do fits in with the “big picture”.

However when neither are the case, and maladaptation is combined with labile affect, meaning “highly variable, suddenly shifting emotional expression”(APA), 8 then problems may arise.

This can be especially so when such people are trusted with responsibility for others and their changes in mood, opinions and behaviours can be intense and rapid, forcing everyone else to “walk on eggshells’” and tread very carefully in their company.

Some people can appear to be very moody, with irregular emotional responses apparently out of proportion to the situation. They can display severe mood swings, ups and downs, intense reactions, strong emotions from laughter to anger or crying which may seem rapid, exaggerated and disproportionate to the circumstances, described by psychologists as “emotional lability”:

Emotional lability is a distinct emotional process characterised by frequent, excessively rapid, and intense changes in emotions resulting in an inability to maintain a consistent emotional state over time”(Leaberry et al, 2017) 9

Emotional lability is a distinct maladaptive pattern of emotion dysregulation characterised by frequent, rapid, and intense shifts in emotional states. Greater emotional lability tends to indicate that an individual has a more emotionally reactive response style to positive and negative events (Larsen et al. 2000).10

an emotional response that is irregular or out of proportion to the situation at hand, associated with severe mood swings, intense reactions & dramatic changes in opinions and feelings. Mood lability is often evidenced by destructive or harmful behaviours. Those actions can include angry tantrums or screaming, destroying objects, aggression or violence towards others and self-harm. The responses can occur seemingly out of nowhere, triggered in seconds. Mood lability is present in people with various mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder].”11

Behaviour and emotional responses may appear to others to be easily triggered, impulsive, unstable and potentially even dangerous and most certainly inappropriate to the circumstances. Their may not appear to be related to the situation at hand, nor apparently to their actual emotional state, perhaps being involuntary displays of mood, which means those working with them may urgently need to learn how to “walk on eggshells” and adapt how they deal with their emotional incontinence.

The key managerial relevance could be that those who employ or promote people to senior positions may be wiser to avoid people who seem to have a disconnect between how they convey and how they manage their emotions. Furthermore, a failure to learn from prior experiences including mistakes, akin to Groundhog Day, is an extraordinary trait associated with some self-centred people, whose emotional deficiencies psychologists believe make them:

Less likely to suspend goal-directed behaviour” and “undermines their ability to link events with environmental cues and thus learn from experience… If emotion fails to redirect [their] focus… then they will be less likely to learn the contextual variables that predict motivationally significant events. They will be less capable of appreciating the impact of their own actions on others or even on themselves.”(Glass et al, 2009),12

 

Identifiable and Predictable Behaviour

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

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

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

Indeed let us reconsider that the four core features common to all Personality Disorders, with two required for diagnosis, are:

  1. Distorted thinking patterns,

  2. Problematic emotional responses,

  3. Over- or under-regulated impulse control and

  4. Interpersonal difficulties,

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

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

One of the definitions of a “Personality Disorder” is

Pervasive patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the self that interfere with long-term functioning of the individual and are not limited to isolated episodes.” 1

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

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

Hence:

  1. Getting their own way”,

  2. Winning at all costs, irrespective of consequences for others”, and

  3. Evaluating matters from the primary perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amongst the (identifiable and hence predictable) traits associated with the “Cluster B” group of Personality Disorders especially “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” which people do not need a psychological background to identify include:

  1. Long-standing pattern of grandiose self-importance and an exaggerated sense of talent and achievements

  2. Exhibitionistic need for attention and admiration from others

  3. Cold when others would expect them to be warm

  4. Belief that they are special and most others are inferior, not worthy of being associated with them

  5. Sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment from others

  6. They believe they are normal and all the problems and challenges they create are the fault of situations or other people (who they find it easy to blame)

  7. Cannot accept responsibility for their innate irresponsibility

  8. Need for praise from others

  9. Need to belittle those they perceive (often wrongly) to be rivals, critics or they believe disagree with or disrespect them, attacking and slandering their good name, often quite fictitiously and even delusionally, while falsely assassinating their reputation (if not “character”; reputation is what others think of you, but character is who you actually are, perhaps not damaged when slighted and enhanced by reacting well when others treat you badly – one of life’s greatest tests)

  10. When not being praised by others they can praise themselves, sometimes extravagantly, including for achievements only they recognise

  11. Behave arrogantly with a conceited, pretentious & pompous manner

  12. Boastful of their talents or achievements, even if greatly exaggerated or totally fictitious, only present in their own version of reality, the unique world they live in

  13. Active imaginations especially about themselves and rules to be obeyed (their own not society’s)

  14. Huge belief in their invulnerability and ability to “get away” with anything

  15. Tendency to fantasise about success, power, brilliance or beauty

  16. Expect to be recognised as superior, even without commensurate achievements

  17. Find it easy to be “ruth-less”, meaning free of sympathy/compassion

  18. Envious of others or belief they may be envious of them

  19. Insist on being and having the best of everything

  20. Others need to “walk on eggshells” in their presence given their volatility

  21. Need unquestioning compliance from others and may not be able to cope with non-compliance or criticism, as they can be “thin-skinned” and easily slighted

  22. Total disregard for the emotions of others, which they may not be able to experience, or wish to damage, due to an inability to empathise with the feelings of others

  23. Manipulate and take advantage of others to get what they want

  24. Interest shown in other people only while they are deemed to serve a useful purpose, otherwise they can be ignored, discarded or even verbally attacked and disparaged

  25. People can be coldly experienced, no different from inanimate objects (such as shopfront mannequins)

  26. Other people exist to be used to satisfy their insatiable personal needs

  27. Otherwise they have no intrinsic value as people, nor any interests or needs worthwhile knowing, as ultimately they just do not matter

  28. Despite their constant need for praise, they struggle to genuinely praise others, preferring to find reason or fault, even when praise may be most warranted

  29. Thrive on criticism but can’t cope when this is directed at them; warranted or not, always without merit in their mind given their huge self-belief

  30. Grossly over react to anything they perceive to be criticism, even if there was none or no critique was intended

  31. Blame other people, events or situations for their own errors, inadequacies or failings, perhaps by way of “projecting” these on to others rather than “facing facts” and trying to deal with their personal issues themselves; until aware of their tendencies, third parties are more likely to believe their criticism of others, not realising they may be some (perhaps only) form of recognition of their own failings

  32. With prejudice” well describes those who hold deep and long-lasting grudges and seek revenge and retaliation, even for trivial reasons such as others merely suggesting or proffering a different opinion from theirs

  33. They can derive more pleasure from disrespecting than respecting others, especially those who dare to criticise them

  34. Poor at regulating their emotions, so can be moody (“emotionally labile”) and temperamental, with anger always lying just beneath the surface, ensuring others tread very carefully in their presence and do not say or do anything which differs from their opinion or could even be remotely perceived as criticism or an alternative opinion

  35. Impatience or temper tantrums when criticised or don’t receive special treatment.

  36. React with cold indifference or feelings of rage or emptiness in response to criticism, indifference or defeat

  37. Disinterested or no genuine interest in other people or their interests, needs and achievements, including in situations when others would expect them to be interested

  38. Create a wide variety of interpersonal problems (probably better appreciated by the others involved) including when they require others to be subservient and sycophantic

  39. Can treat others with contempt and hatred for little apparent reason, preferring intimidation to encouragement, making others wonder what they may have done to incur their hatred and wrath (perhaps very little) and requirement to extract deep revenge

  40. Much of their behaviour can be seen to promote themselves and put-down, discourage, disparage and even humiliate others

  41. Struggle to change or adapt their behaviour

  42. Struggle to learn from their mistakes, which they can regularly repeat even when alerted by others to them; what may appear to be “stubbornness” (a refusal to respond to the requests of others) in such situations may in fact be an inability to learn from their prior experiences

  43. They cannot properly understand other people and never will, but a major problem for society is that they think they can, unaware of their own emotional and other deficiencies

  44. Even after their organisation or entity has collapsed, with many people’s lives adversely affected, they struggle to consider they may have been at fault or what they did wrong

  45. Those without a sense of wrong must have something wrong with them

  46. Making others feel bad can make them feel good

  47. They seem to get a special kick from openly disagreeing with and publicly putting down others, even if quite wrong to do so

  48. Those who have been in relationships with narcissists, professional or personal, say amongst the worst aspects is their disloyalty, only capable of loyalty to themselves, deriving pleasure from both disparaging others and promoting themselves while fictitiously slandering those they may be expected to be agreeable with and loyal to

  49. Given their own fundamental inability to change, the onus to tactfully adapt to the many challenges they present lies with everyone else involved for any semblance of harmonious normality to be feasible, as they see nothing wrong with themselves and blame anything and everyone else for their many failings

  50. Those astute, insightful and peacemaking colleagues capable of adapting their own behaviour need to respond daily to diminish the degree of harm and havoc these inveterate troublemakers and skilled but often charming liars invariably and innately bring to ANY group situation

  51. Given they can seem to live in a world all of their own, in which they are the most extraordinary person ever born and everyone else significantly inferior, all their assertions and declarations will necessitate independent third party verification

  52. The most apt advice, especially when they promote themselves and criticise, disparage and even damage the reputation of others, often quite falsely, may be to FIRST BELIEVE THE OPPOSITE of what they say or assert (which may be closer to reality or the truth of any situation) until this can be verified, as otherwise they just cannot be believed at all; if this advice sounds bizarre, it is because their words, deeds, behaviour and indeed mindset can seem irrational if not bizarre when compared with the rationality of others.

VANITY MAY NOT EQUATE WITH SANITY.

None of these traits are those which anyone would advocate in a leader.

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

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

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

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

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

Identify, Stop, Learn, Adapt & Minimise

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

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

That is why at that US IVBEC business ethics conference 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.

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

This can be so even after they have been removed from the positions of power which they could have used constructively for the purposes intended, but did not and could not.

For many in society self-interest is just one matter to weigh up when decision-making, which some are better at evaluating or discounting than others. Indeed for many years I have advocated that, before they finalise a decision, management teams step back and identify to what degree their self-interest (monetary, prestige, promotional opportunity et al) may have impacted on their planned decision and, when notionally removed from the equation, consider whether they would still take the same decision.

If so, they can be even more satisfied that they are doing the right thing for the entity which employs them and the key “stakeholders”, or the people and groups of people affected or impacted directly and indirectly by the decision or resulting action.

If not, they may need to further deliberate, notably taking the longer-term perspective including considering the likely reputational impact and which “stakeholders” may benefit or suffer as a result, while discounting what may then be better seen as short-term opportunism, especially if their decisions and actions may risk damaging trust and reputation if more widely known.

It is extraordinary the number of poor or wrong decisions people and organisations make in the expectation that “no-one will find out” – until others do find out (perhaps due to conscientious whistleblowers).

This can especially be the case when the decision was forced on others by those this research refers to as “Disordered Leaders” who practice “Destructive Leadership”, or bullies for short, who intimidate their people to the degree that the “management team” fails to function as a “team” at all, indeed may even become redundant as a decision-evaluating entity, especially when the members believe they have no option but to sycophantically follow the lead and opinion set by their “selfish, difficult and proud” boss, notably when the interests of the organisation (or nation) become secondary to satisfying the self-serving whims of the “Disordered Leader” (eg Hitler).

Being “found out” produces the challenging decision whether to “own-up” or “cover-up” and risk further reputational damage, which could so easily have been avoided had the time been taken to properly consider the issues and what may be the real motivations behind the decision(s). (The 15 ways to Communicate in a Crisis are explained in this case study of the mishandled Hillsborough disaster or Ireland’s Crisis which necessitated involvement of the IMF and EU when the elected leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t provide the leadership required).

However, for this small (“disordered”) subsection of global society, incapable of “doing the right thing”, which across all sectors of all nations holds a disproportionate number of senior positions requiring responsibility and accountability, their self-interest is their overarching and perhaps sole priority and the lens through which they view all situations, notably from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”, which contributes to they being amongst the most irresponsible and least accountable people possible and extraordinarily inappropriate for any seniority of position, no matter the nature of the entity or role.

A Tale of Two Leaders

Charles Dickens may have opened “A Tale of Two Cities”1 with:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

which could also describe even ten minutes spent in the company of a narcissist (especially the most labile or moody) and concluded his book on the French Revolution with:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

but in considering “A Tale of Two Leaders”, it is far, far better that organisations, entities and nations choose “Constructive Leaders” over “Disordered Leaders”, as the “Destructive Leadership” they malpractice may be as sharp as the guillotine, well satisfying their dysfunctional desires but unlikely to allow those unfortunate to work with or for them any form of rest of body, mind or spirit and may well damage their well-being.

When “Constructive Leaders” retire or move to pastures new, perhaps the best thing they can do than they have ever done before is to choose the right type of person as their successor to continue their good work and set them up for success, not the failure which some “Destructive Leaders” can both wish for and actually do.

There is also something clearly wrong when a leader wants his or her successor to fail, hoping this will better reflect on their prior far better leadership. How selfish and self-centred can someone get? In such situations this is further proof that they themselves were the wrong person, being more interested in self than the organisation and its variety of “stakeholders”.

Indeed anyone who has every brought a great idea to a narcissist superior (in terms of position and title, not good character) without considering the phraseology very carefully, may well find the suggestion shut down as sharply as the guillotine which destroyed far fewer lives during the French Revolution than Disordered Leaders have throughout history. Unless the person with the idea starts off by praising the Disordered Leader and suggests that somehow they were responsible for the stroke of genius (in which case it has a chance of being implemented), they may find that the idea falls on stony ground, no matter haw valid and valuable it may have been. Many such “lose-lose” situations are typical of the narcissistic leader.

In stark contrast someone with the personality of a Constructive Leader is more likely not only to take the idea on board and, after due deliberation and discussion, action it, but also take little or no personal credit should it work out well, rather passing praise on to the person responsible for the initiative.

Should the idea not work out so well, even though seeming to have promise, the Constructive Leader is more likely to accept responsibility for any failings and still encourage the person responsible for any failure to keep on coming up with worthwhile suggestions. A win-win can be engineered out of the failure if better ideas subsequently follow.

In such situations the Disordered Leader will practice one of the more notable aspects of Destructive Leadership – accepting no responsibility and promptly spreading blame as widely as possible, maybe even holding a grudge against the person who had the initiative, perhaps “making their life hell”, with the result that no-one except the most courageous and thick-skinned will dare come up with worthwhile suggestions in the future. This alas is the scenario in far too many organisations.

In this one area alone – termed by entrepreneurial experts as “idea generation” – the contrast between Constructive and Destructive Leaders could not be more stark, with one encouraging more and more people to use their creativity to move forward in areas which their competition may not have considered, and the other discouraging people from initiatives and unwittingly allowing the entity to be passed out by their more creative and constructive competitors.

That is why I strongly argue that, at its most “basic”, GIVERS being “more interested in others than themselves” make for far, far better leaders and managers than TAKERS “more interested in themselves than others”, no matter how tremendous their other qualities, with the primary difference between Givers and Takers being Egocentricity or “the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns and outcomes rather than those of others” and “perceive situations from one’s own perspective”.2

Yet if this is so “basic”, why do so many organisations (and nations) continue to get leadership and management selection so wrong, with consequences which can be harmful and damaging both for individual people close to the situation and ultimately to the entity or nation itself, especially when they go to great lengths to maintain the power they have already abused and should never have been trusted with in the first place? (Charm, Intelligence and Eloquence – CIE or ICE – can mask more self-centred and damaging personality character traits, at least for a while).

It is a far, far better thing to do to be able to “IDENTIFY AND DENY” than “FAIL TO IDENTIFY AND DENY THERE IS A PROBLEM” – meaning identify such irresponsible people by way of what they struggle to change (their own inflexible and quite predictable behaviour) and deny them the positions of responsibility they are ill equipped to perform in the manner expected of them by society, than let them assume positions of power which they will invariably abuse for personal advantage or repute, yet go to great lengths to maintain and cause even more damage once “found out” to be selfish and inept, given the difficulty and indeed improbability of them ever being referred for psychological assessment or assistance nor their cooperating if so required, as they may see it like many other facets of life to be a “game to be won” and, anyway, given their sometimes gargantuan ego and considerable but unfounded self-belief, in their deluded mind they are not the person with the problem, everyone else is, so are unlikely to improve or be “cured”.

Those who have had to deal with such people know it would have been far better for everyone (else) involved if they had never been appointed to a position of responsibility in the first place, one of the reasons for my engaging in this research and body of writing, of which these are just some extracts.

If I have experienced such people and matters over fifty times during my own career, how often do other people experience such situations too but, like me for 25 years, not quite realise what they may be dealing with – someone with a “Personality Disorder” – or in essence, a disordered personality or disturbed mind who sees matters and experiences people quite differently from most other people in society? Hence “prevention is far preferable to the improbability of cure”.

A well known and highly respected US business ethics professor described this in 2016 as an “incredibly important issue” and “the future of business ethics”.

I believe this to be a matter of deep significance not only for society but maybe even humanity, if the most inhumane are not to be permitted to persistently prevail over the most humane and cause a wide variety of damage to people’s welfare, interpersonal trust and organisational and even national reputation.

Which is perhaps why Socrates, slightly paraphrased, likened trust or reputation to a fire – far easier to keep lit than relight if allowed to be extinguished.

Yet the reputation of the body which employs them seems to be far removed from the priorities of those for whom impulsively satisfying their self-interest (without on occasions any apparent rational thought) can seem to be their primary motivation.

At the end of the day “me” is more important to this cohort than “we”.

Because it became evident to me that the damage done to people and the institutions of society both by (a) the minority of “disordered” people and (b) the lack of appreciation of what constitutes a “Personality Disorder” by the majority of “responsible” people, appears to be so great, this IS an issue which needs to be seriously addressed at every level of local, national and international society, if sensible, rational and harmonious cooperation and progress is to be permitted, maintained and prioritised.

Indeed after 25 years of personally failing to properly understand those I can now describe as “disordered people’, these are amongst the reasons I decided what seems like a lifetime ago back in 2013 to start dealing with this issue myself by starting to research and write about this scenario which seems to be an integral part of human history, to the detriment of society when people who innately seem to prefer conflict to cooperation are permitted to prevail.

Given the considerable impact leaders can have on many aspects of organisational and even national life, from highly positive and constructive to deeply negative and destructive, John Milton’s astute observation in 1667 that:

The mind is its own place, and in itself

can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”

could be as apt today, describing the impact of strong personalities on the prevailing culture of not only the organisations they both lead and mis-lead, but even the nations.

While many leaders may be well capable of making a heaven of hell, others are more naturally disposed to making a hell of heaven. Employees unfortunate enough to work in the “Five C Environments” of “Counterproductively Competitive & Combative Corporate Cultures” may well describe the resulting environment as “Paradise Lost”.

Intolerance of low integrity by leaders of high personal integrity with a strong conscience ensures unethical acts are not condoned and are unlikely to be repeated, given the more constructive, cooperative, honest, harmonious and less adversarial culture which “Constructive Leaders” engender throughout their organisation, being based on positivity, praise and encouragement rather than negativity, critique, fear, discouragement and blame.

However the acceptance of low integrity by “Destructive Leaders” of a lesser calibre ensures instances are not only permitted but probably encouraged and hence more likely to recur by the more combative, fearful and destructive nature of the culture prevalent within their organisation.

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

Psychopath or Sociopath?

Although this body of work details how deeply inappropriate those with any combination from a range of Personality Disorders are for positions of responsibility in society, including Narcissistic and Borderline from “Cluster B” and Paranoid from “Cluster A”, perhaps the most inappropriate people possible for managerial and leadership roles, with a prerequisite being requiring consideration of the interests and needs of people other than themselves (“stakeholders”) and the organisation whose best interest they are expected to prioritise, are Psychopaths, sometimes referred to as Sociopaths.

All avail of what this work describes as their “ICE characteristics” (of Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence, despite many being ice-cold emotionally) to reach seniority of position in organisations in every sector of every nation for which, for many reasons proposed in this research, they could not be more ill-equipped, given that ultimately the only people they care about are themselves and their unique vision sees the entity which employs them as an opportunity to satisfy their self-serving goals, rather than serve.

At its most basic, their minds seem to primarily consider matters from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” and their goals include “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs” irrespective of the consequences.

While some use these two terms interchangeably, others argue that there are subtle differences between psychopaths and sociopaths. Irrespective of the perspective, the traits are either identical or similar and only differ in degree of severity of personality impairment and inappropriateness for roles of responsibility.

While “psychopathy” will subsequently be discussed in greater detail, a short introduction may be appropriate at this stage as an indication of how inappropriate these often charming yet deeply and innately self-centred and deceitful people can be in supervisory, managerial and especially leadership roles, when the “tone at the top” they engender may transpire to be more fearful, intimidatory, conflict-driven, secretive, negative, unethical and destructive than pleasant, cooperative, collaborative, open, honest, ethical, positive and constructive.

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

Leading researcher Prof Robert D Hare states that “many, researchers, clinicians and writers use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably. Sometimes the term sociopathy is used because it is less likely than is psychopathy to be confused with psychotism or insanity”.

Psychopaths “are not mad, according to accepted legal and psychiatric standards. Their acts result not from a deranged mind but from a cold, calculating rationality combined with a chilling inability to treat others as thinking, feeling human beings. Such morally incomprehensible behaviour, exhibited by a seemingly normal person, leaves us feeling bewildered and helpless”.

A frightful and perplexing theme runs through the case history of all psychopaths: a deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering experienced by others – in short, a complete lack of empathy, the prerequisite for love.”

The same individual therefore could be diagnosed as a sociopath by one expert and as a psychopath by another… In many cases the choice of term reflects the user’s views on the origins and determinants of the clinical syndrome or disorder” (Hare, 1993). 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While neither psychopaths nor sociopaths are known for their subtlety, indeed they can be extraordinarily tactless especially in situations when tact is most required, some psychologists describe what they believe the subtle differences to be (Robinson, 2014).

Their key points are as follows: 2

  1. Most experts believe psychopaths and sociopaths share a similar set of traits. People like this have a poor inner sense of right and wrong. They also can’t seem to understand or share another person’s feelings. But there are some differences, too.

  2. Do They Have a Conscience? A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong.

  3. A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out.”

  4. A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. They may know that taking your money is wrong, and they might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop their behaviour.

  5. Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

  6. It’s not easy to spot a psychopath. They can be intelligent, charming and good at mimicking emotions.

  7. They may pretend to be interested in you, but in reality, they probably don’t care. “They’re skilled actors whose sole mission is to manipulate people for personal gain.

  8. Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves. They often blame others and have excuses for their behaviour.

  9. Some experts see sociopaths as “hot-headed.” They act without thinking how others will be affected.

  10. Psychopaths are more “cold-hearted” and calculating. They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want. If they’re after more money or status in the office, for example, they’ll make a plan to take out any barriers that stand in the way, even if it’s another person’s job or reputation.

  11. Recent research suggests a psychopath’s brain is not like other people’s. It may have physical differences that make it hard for the person to identify with someone else’s distress.

  12. The differences can even change basic body functions. For example, when most people see blood or violence in a movie, their hearts beat faster, their breathing quickens and their palms get sweaty.

  13. A psychopath has the opposite reaction. He gets calmer and that quality helps psychopaths be fearless and engage in risky behaviour.

  14. They don’t fear the consequences of their actions.

  15. Only some are violent. Many are skilled at climbing their way up the corporate ladder, even if they have to hurt someone to get there.

  16. If you recognise some of these traits in a family member or coworker, you may be tempted to think you’re living or working with a psychopath or sociopath. But just because a person is mean or selfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disorder.

It is very important to appreciate that many selfish people may not have a disorder at all, while many quite self-centred people may be “narcissists”, a colloquial term often associated with being capable of being diagnosed with “Narcissistic Personalty Disorder” or NPD, which will also be discussed in due course in more detail.

Those we describe as “Disordered Leaders” could also have traits indicative of the other “Cluster B” disorders – Borderline and Histrionic – and/or one of the “Cluster A” disorders – Paranoid Personality Disorder – especially if they are suspicious and distrustful of others.

One of the key points though is that all psychopaths are deeply narcissistic, but the vast majority of narcissists would not qualify for diagnosis with psychopathy.

In all likelihood few narcissists or psychopaths will ever be required to meet a psychiatrist or psychologist.

They won’t volunteer as by and large they believe themselves to be normal as they blame anyone, everyone and everything else for the myriad of problems and challenges they create (and thrive on).

Nor will others require them to, because most non psychologists do not know how to recognise them for what they really are – amongst life’s most dangerous people. As a result they can hold a disproportionate number of positions of responsibility, despite being extraordinarily irresponsible.

Psychopathy” is described by another leading clinical psychology researcher, Prof David J, Cooke, as follows:

Psychopathy is an important forensic construct, and a Personality Disorder, that is, a chronic disturbance in an individual’s relations with self, others and their environment resulting in distress or failure to fulfil social roles and obligations.

[Psychopaths] are not only pathologically dominant, but they may also suffer from attachment difficulties, being detached, uncommitted and unempathic.

In terms of emotional functioning they can be characterised as lacking anxiety, empathy and emotional depth, while cognitively they may be suspicious, intolerant and inflexible.

Critical features of the disorder include deceptiveness, impulsivity and failure to stick to rules, which can make [them] hard to interview, manage and monitor.

Psychopathy and cognate constructs can be assessed using a variety of procedures, including self-report, clinical criteria or, most commonly in the forensic arena, the [Hare] Psychopathy Checklist Revised and Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version.” (Cooke, 2010)”3

Whether the distinction between Psychopath and Sociopath is valid or relevant or not, their collective traits are very similar and the distinctions a matter of degree of inappropriateness for positions of responsibility.

Some may indeed argue that Sociopathy is a slightly milder version of Psychopathy, for instance being capable of possessing or displaying a little conscience and a rudimentary empathy.

Perhaps what this represents is not necessarily the labels we use such as Psychopath or Sociopath, rather that not all people have the same depth or severity of the colder or darker traits as others.

Some exceptionally cold people can in some varying respects be slightly warmer than the most ice-cold and ruth-less, meaning “compassion-free”, with com-passion being the ability to share in or “with” the feelings of others experiencing some form of difficulty.

Everyone is different after all and not even identical twins are identical in all respects.

Nevertheless many people do seem to be so similar that psychologists can produce highly valid classifications which many do indeed seem to fit, some more closely than others and, factors by factor, in varying degrees of depth or shallowness of emotions than others.

None will be able to love and be loved, show a really genuine concern for the needs of other people, nor show a greater interest in others than in themselves, which makes them far from desirable for roles which involve responsibility, directly or indirectly for the lives and emotions of others, when they cannot even manage their own in the manner that society expects of those trusted with responsible roles.

The key point isn’t necessarily the distinction between Psychopath and Sociopath (if any), rather the significance of the traits they share, irrespective of degree, none of which society needs in those in positions of authority, especially with responsibility for other people.

What is relevant is that they are very capable at pretending to show an interest in other people, although they primarily do so when this suits their own purposes, especially achieving their personal goals, no matter how trivial.

Extraordinarily in impulsively pursuing achieving their own goals, they are as capable at scoring own goals, which can be as damaging to themselves as others.

This can be further compounded by their inability to learn from their prior experiences in terms of altering their subsequent behaviour.

Groundhog Day can be every day.

They CAN even appear to have a conscience but (and this distinction is key) only when their self-interest is uninvolved in the situation. When the situation is general and doesn’t involve them they can even appear to be quite responsible, sometimes deeply responsible and even quite conscientious.

However, as soon as their self-interest becomes an issue, as basic as getting their own way in a matter from significant to apparently meaningless, suddenly and without any apparent warning, winning at all costs becomes of primary concern and nothing else seems to matter.

Those familiar with this trait could testify that it is as if all other factors are simply not considered at all, indeed seem to be either totally ignored or dismissed as being inconsequential, such is their impulsive necessity not only to win but also to be seen to win.

This can especially be so if their (major or minor) victory results in others demonstrably losing, which can seem to give them an inordinate degree of pleasure.

I am sure in due course that neuroscientists will sometime be able to prove, especially using fMRI technology, that when their self-interest is switched on, those brain regions associated with rational, pro-social thought processes appear to become disengaged.

Indeed neuroscience may even be able to prove what some suspect may actually be happening in their minds when they evaluate a situation or decision – “what’s in it for me?”

When self-interest becomes switched on, their ability to evaluate other considerations (and consequences) appears to become instantly disengaged or totally switched off.

They then appear to proceed, sometimes rapidly or instantaneously, to make decisions or act in a manner designed to satisfy or prioritise their self-interest, whatever this may be in the circumstances (even if it transpires not to be as beneficial as they expected). It is the immediate sense of “winning” that seems to be important.

The real reason for their decision or action may not always be apparent to others until some considerable time later, if at all, such can be either their powers of charm and persuasion, deceit and manipulation, or else the fear they can instantly instil in people.

This can be scary when first experienced, sometimes accompanied by a cold, hard stare which others (who can experience fear) may find to be quite unnerving and could force them to realise that agreeing with everything they want to do in future is the far preferable course of action.

Their deep impetuosity can even be mistaken for the valuable trait of decisiveness, which it is not. Rather it is their impulsive necessity to personally prevail or satisfy themselves, irrespective of the cost to others.

This includes the people they are supposed to be responsible for and the organisation which quite unwittingly employs them, unaware of their true traits, well hidden by the “mask of normality” they habitually wear, quickly dropped when their self-interest becomes an issue, revealing their actual, deeply self-centred, cold and uncaring selves.

When their impulsivity is combined with their extreme self-centredness and absolute inconsideration for the interests, needs, feelings and concerns of others, this makes this small subgroup of society even more inappropriate for positions of responsibility which they simply cannot be trusted to perform in the manner others, indeed society, expects of them.

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 (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.”

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.

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

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

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

That is why at that US IVBEC business ethics conference 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.

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.

Discouraging, fearful and distressing or positive, encouraging and motivational leaders and environments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who know that “there is no right way to do a wrong thing”? (Blanchard & Peale, 1988)4

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

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

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

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

People of integrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Prof Robert D Hare describes in his influential book “Without Conscience”5, many of their “successes” in life are at the expense of others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful Narcissists?

Despite being perceived as being as maladaptive, narcissism has been associated with success in areas such as leadership 1 (Brunell et al., 2008; Harms, Spain, & Hannah, 2011)2 3, job interviews (Paulhus, Westlake, Calvez, & Harms, 2013)4, show business (Young & Pinsky, 2006)5 and initial interactions with others (Paulhus, 1998)6.

Narcissism has proven to be multidimensional, featuring both adaptive and maladaptive aspects (Back et al., 2013)7who in differentiating between “narcissistic admiration and rivalry” argue that “Narcissism seems to be related to contradictory processes and consequences: Narcissists’ charisma and self-assuredness can give them tremendous energy that fascinates others, yet their aggressiveness and lack of empathy hinder their progress and turn many people off.”

Evidence that narcissists differ is the now fairly well acknowledged distinction between grandiose and vulnerable narcissism (Pincus & Roche, 2011).8

Few psychologists would disagree that Donald Trump exemplifies grandiosity, with much of his effort devoted to self-promotion in both show business and the financial world. Indeed his fondness for diminishing people and preference for conflict suited the Apprentice TV show more than it did actual business, at which he was less successful (six bankruptcies), giving people who had not worked or managed in business the false impression that putting people down rather than building them up was what constituted good business practice.

Grandiose narcissist’s ability to maintain their grandiosity by way of self-enhancement, makes them less susceptible than vulnerable narcissist’s to the chronic emotional consequences of threats to their entitled expectations (such as distress, interpersonal fearfulness and lower self-esteem).

So does grandiosity help or hinder political success?

One study suggested that U.S. presidents display high levels of grandiose but not vulnerable narcissism (Watts et al., 2013)9 while historians who have rated narcissism after the event have associated narcissism with charismatic leadership, creativity and overall performance among U.S. presidents (Deluga, 1997). 10

 

Social and personality models of narcissism

These psychoanalytic theories, based on clinical work with narcissistic patients, were paralleled by developments in social critical theory. Following the sociologist and philosopher Theodore Adorno’s (1968)23 proposition that narcissism was a result of the collective ego’s defensive response to industrialisation and the changing economic and social structure of society, writers such as Wolfe and Lasch documented the rise of the cult of the individual, self-expression, self-admiration and materialism as key to economic prosperity, happiness and success, away from traditional American societal values anchored in family and community. More recently, accumulated empirical research findings from studies that document rising rates of narcissism in American college students between 1979 and 2006 revealed an ‘epidemic of narcissism’ within American society (Twenge 2009)24.

Cultural studies have suggested that the USA is seen as a more narcissistic society, in which individualism, professional success, fame and material wealth are celebrated, in contrast to Eastern cultures in Asia and the Middle East, which promote collectivism and more shared parenting practices and where self-reports of narcissistic traits have been shown to being lower than in Western countries such as the USA (Foster 2003)25.

The field of social–personality psychology and its research on assessment and factor analysis has increasingly influenced contemporary theories regarding narcissism, such as its links to shame, victimhood and aggression. There is now a large empirical literature in the field that conceptualises narcissism as a normative personality trait, which can be adaptive and maladaptive.

Most of this research has relied on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin 1979)26, the instrument most frequently used to measure narcissism, although it has been criticised for assessing adaptive components such as self-esteem, well-being and leadership at the same time as maladaptive features such as grandiosity and entitlement.

Although the cognitive–behavioural literature on narcissism is relatively sparse in comparison with that on psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches, theoreticians and clinicians within the cognitive–behavioural tradition have more recently applied this approach to the study of NPD, in their emphasis on the social learning of core beliefs or self-schemas.

Theodore Millon’s (1981)27 social learning perspective proposes that children learn about themselves and others from their parents’ behaviour, and in narcissistic individuals, beliefs about specialness and entitlement are thought to stem from early parental overindulgence. Others have pointed to parental abuse and neglect as instrumental in the development of pathological narcissism. Beck described dysfunctional core beliefs or schemas, stemming from early experiences of adverse parenting, associated with NPD that lead the person to be self-indulgent, demanding and aggressive, but also highlighted how these individuals often presented with symptoms of depression (Beck 1990)28.

Cognitive theorists such as Jeffrey Young (Young 2003)29 have expanded Beck & Freeman’s (1990)30 original theories of core distorted beliefs and dysfunctional schemas via integration with interpersonal and gestalt perspectives and a particular focus on the role of negative early experiences and affects in the aetiology and treatment of NPD, Narcissism, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the DSM.

The widespread use of the concept of pathological narcissism as a distinct personality type by clinicians influenced by psychoanalysts such as Kernberg and Kohut, as well as psychologists such as Millon, led to the introduction of Narcissistic Personality Disorder into the third edition of the DSM (DSM-III) in 1980 (American Psychiatric Association 1980)31.

The NPD construct was further refined and modified as it evolved through DSM-III-R (1987)32 and DSM-IV (1994)33 on the basis of the empirical findings of an increasing number of psychological studies identifying narcissism as a personality trait. However, these shifts in the diagnostic criteria for the disorder were criticised for losing some of the more dynamic variables present in its phenomenological manifestations.

Authors such as Cain et al (2008)34 noted that DSM-IV predominantly focused on the disorder’s grandiose features and did not adequately capture the underlying vulnerability that is evident in many narcissistic individuals. Inconsistencies in the conceptualisation of narcissism, including differences in describing its nature (normal, pathological), phenotype (grandiosity, vulnerability), expression (overt, covert) and structure (category, dimension, prototype), were reflected in the limited descriptions of these areas in the DSM-IV definition of NPD (Pincus 2010)35.

Another criticism levelled at NPD as defined by the DSM is that it is one of the rarer Personality Disorders found in community and clinical samples, despite the widespread clinical observation of a much higher prevalence of problematic narcissistic traits in patients with personality difficulties.

These shortcomings were to be ameliorated in a new model of Personality Disorder as a categorical–dimensional hybrid, which was intended to become the official approach to the diagnosis of all personality pathology and disorders in DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)36.

This model is based on the assessment of core aspects of personality functioning and pathological personality traits and has received much support from researchers and clinicians in the Personality Disorder field.

One of the main goals of the new classification in DSM-5 was to increase the validity of mental disorder diagnoses by incorporating dimensional assessment, which is particularly relevant to NPD, given that narcissism occurs on a spectrum of severity from normal to pathological.

However, disagreements within the Personality Disorder research community, as well as the American Psychiatric Association, resulted in this new model of Personality Disorder not being adopted by DSM-5, although it has been placed in Section III of the manual (‘Emerging measures and models’) as an area for future study (Skodol 2014)37. The diagnostic criteria for NPD in DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association 2013) therefore remain identical to those in DSM-IV (Yakeley, 2018)38

 

What is narcissism?

The term “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” derives its title from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome youth who ignored the amorous advances of Echo who, according to Ovid, spent the rest of her life grieving for him until all that remained of her was her voice. Narcissus fell in love with something beautiful he saw in a lake, not realising it was his own reflection. He died of thirst and unrequited love because he would not leave the lakeside or touch the water lest he lose sight of his reflection.

A narcissus flower grew by that lakeside and a prophecy which predicted that he would “live to a ripe old age, as long as he never knows himself” was never fulfilled, presumably because by falling in love with himself, actually the reflection of himself, he became too focused on “knowing himself” rather than making the effort to get to know others better.

Perhaps the moral of the story continues today, with those who derive their pleasure from saying or doing something to make others happy ultimately perhaps living happier lives than those whose primary concern and focus is on “getting their own way” at the expense of the happiness of others.

Irrespective of the version or nature of the myth, people who appear to be particularly interested in themselves are now termed “narcissists”. Those who have had dealings with people possessing the more extreme versions of this “self-love” (which some believe to be self-hatred) will soon appreciate that their behaviour is very real and certainly not a myth, even if they may insufficiently understand precisely what they may be dealing with.

But not all “narcissists” could be diagnosed by psychiatrists or psychologists as having Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. Some people may be primarily self-centred and want or need to get their own way but in many other situations also be well capable of being kind and considerate of the interests and needs of others, not seeking to stir up trouble and breed disharmony nor taking pleasure in being cruel and ruthless.

Occasionally being selfish, only rarely being difficult while being flexible and adaptable most of the time could describe many people in society.

Caring for others is not the same as being “careless”. Those who couldn’t care less about the interests, needs and welfare of others are those which society needs to be more careful and cautious of.

It is those people with such a high level of self-esteem that they may be capable of wittingly or unwittingly damaging relationships and causing distress to others, especially when they don’t seem to care who they hurt as they seek to “get their own way” and who seem to be “fixed in their ways” and incapable of changing their behaviour, which to others in due course may become predictable, who perhaps warrant being associated with “narcissism”.

 

The official NPD traits

The American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM–5) which the APA states “is the product of more than 10 years of effort by hundreds of international experts in all aspects of mental health. Their dedication and hard work have yielded an authoritative volume that defines and classifies mental disorders in order to improve diagnoses, treatment and research.” i

Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics.

A Personality Disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning and lasts over time.” ii

While many people can occasionally display difficult or unusual personality traits, to be classified as a disorder the traits need to be “inflexible”, meaning can be repeatedly observed without regards to time, place or circumstance, while also interfering with a person’s ability to function well in society, including causing problems with interpersonal relationships, termed “functional impairment”.

A feature of Personality Disorders is that the personal characteristics evident to others may not cause the person themselves concern or pain, despite causing distress to those around them.

The people displaying the characteristics may not believe there is anything wrong with them. It is the way they have always lived their lives and they may know no other way of doing so.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is indicated by five or more of the following symptoms or “official self-centred traits”:

  1. Exaggerates own importance

  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance

  3. Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions

  4. Requires constant attention and admiration from others

  5. Has unreasonable expectations of favourable treatment

  6. Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals

  7. Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy

  8. Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her

  9. Shows arrogant behaviours and attitudes.

Psychologists caution against ‘amateur’ diagnosis of people who may very occasionally display some of these characteristics or those associated with other Personality Disorders. Entirely normal people can behave badly especially when pressurised to do so. It is when these traits are pervasive and occur frequently or persistently that a diagnosis of Personality Disorder may be appropriate.

While destructive business people may well display characteristics of all four Cluster B disorders, or others too, many are likely to display traits most associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

NPD is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships and a lack of empathy for others… NPD causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs.

People with NPD may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favours or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling and others may not enjoy being around them. Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder centres around talk therapy (psychotherapy).”

The Mayo Clinic have also adapted the DSM criteria for NPD and noted the difficulty such people have in coping with criticism: “Signs and symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:

  1. Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance

  2. Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration

  3. Expect to be recognised as superior even without achievements that warrant it

  4. Exaggerate achievements and talents

  5. Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate

  6. Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people

  7. Monopolise conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior

  8. Expect special favours and unquestioning compliance with their expectations

  9. Take advantage of others to get what they want

  10. Have an inability or unwillingness to recognise the needs and feelings of others

  11. Be envious of others and believe others envy them

  12. Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious

  13. Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.

At the same time, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism and they can:

  1. Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment

  2. Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted

  3. React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior pretentious??

  4. Have difficulty regulating emotions and behaviour

  5. Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change

  6. Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection

  7. Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. iii

While the Mayo Clinic also assert that “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism” there is not universal agreement about this degree of vulnerability or perhaps some highly confident people may be very inwardly fragile and others not.

Twenge and Campbell for instance do not agree that narcissists are by and large fundamentally insecure. While their research suggests that there are indeed “vulnerable narcissists” there are also many with significant and perhaps excessive self-esteem, described as “socially savvy narcissists who have the most influence on the culture”, a description most non-psychologists who have had dealings with such people would perhaps find it easier to agree with.iv

Personality issues are complex and no two people are the same. The issue is certainly not “black and white” and no single list of behavioural traits precisely fits one person and not another. Some people portray strong evidence of one attribute and weak or none of another along a range or continuum of behavioural traits. Nevertheless there are many people in life who do generally portray similar traits, evident by the consistency of their behaviour

Identification with a specific Personality Disorder may only be of particular importance to a specialist clinician, the only people qualified to make a diagnosis, as it is they who are tasked with also ascertaining which treatment program may make an inroad into addressing and ameliorating their behaviour which to others would be experienced as difficult and challenging.

When over-confidence is an issue, as many such people generally believe any problems are the fault of others, they are unlikely to voluntarily seek treatment because they won’t consider it necessary. Indeed even if aware of any failings, they are likely to be denied, not a problem for those associated with lies and deceit.

For instance some people with a Cluster B Personality Disorder are associated with PATHOLOGICAL LYING a “persistent, compulsive tendency to tell lies out of proportion to any apparent advantage that can be achieved… associated with people …who in some cases do not seem to understand the nature of a falsehood.”

Too few who encounter such people though are aware of the concept of Personality Disorders, including the nine DSM traits, while even fewer have the skills to associate their behaviour with these traits and identify what may be their true psyche. That is why we have psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts, although it is highly unlikely that “special” and “arrogant” people will volunteer for examination or treatment, given that they believe any problems they may have are due to other people not themselves.

To those who may encounter such people in business or elsewhere in society, the specific technical diagnosis though may be less important. The key point is recognition that they are different and appreciation that their motivations and emotions differ from those of many others in society, consequently they need to be handled and dealt with very differently if any semblance of a normal relationship is to be feasible.

If at all possible, relationships with such selfish, difficult and proud people are best avoided. But if this is impossible, such as in the workplace, the better the understanding of their likely way of thinking, the more successfully other people can adapt their own thoughts, words and actions to deal with and respond to their predictably challenging behaviour

Those capable of creating a storm in a tea-cup are best dealt with in a calm and unprovocative manner. They thrive on being critical but cannot cope with being criticised

When not in receipt of praise, they will commend themselves. Astute people consequently learn to praise them and refrain from criticism and in so doing deny them the opportunity for conflict and minimise the harm they can do.

Their extraordinary degree of self-belief and invincibility, low opinion of and disdain for other people, combined with their inability to adapt their behaviour and conviction that doing so is unnecessary, passes this burden on to everyone else who has to deal with them, no matter what the walk of life.

 

Healthy v Unhealthy Self Respect: Drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable

While narcissistic tendencies, excessive self-confidence and an inordinate focus on self-interest can be damaging, especially in the organisational and societal leadership context, it is important to appreciate that healthy levels of self-respect are important for everyone to function well in society.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with people believing in themselves and wanting to be the centre of attention? Within reason. Like other affairs of the mind, it is a matter of degree, a spectrum from low to high.

Confidence is of course important and confident people are well capable of makings others feel similarly confident by praising, encouraging and respecting them.

Where do we draw the line between acceptable modesty and unacceptable arrogance? At what stage does some people’s interest in themselves go from being natural and healthy to unnatural and obsessive?

But what might the difference be between healthy and unhealthy levels of self-respect?

When do healthy levels of self-respect and self-confidence become unhealthy and perhaps even reach dangerous levels of narcissism?

Could it be how they like to make other people feel?

Confident, comfortable, included, encouraged, welcomed and appreciated or uncomfortable, excluded, discouraged, belittled, maltreated and unappreciated?

Might healthy people, especially those we refer to as “givers” being “more interested in others than themselves”, more capable of “constructive” management and leadership, take pleasure in boosting other people, making them feel confident, respected, assured, secure, satisfied, encouraged and inspired to produce their best?

Might unhealthy people, especially those we refer to as “takers” being “more interested in themselves than others”, more capable of “destructive” management and leadership, seem to take a particular pleasure in diminishing other people, making them feel tentative, lacking in confidence, disrespected, insecure, dissatisfied, discouraged, perhaps even belittled, nervous, hesitant and doubting their own ability?

Indeed some people can be very comfortable making others uncomfortable. This is not what people expect because the majority of people find it difficult to appreciate that a minority of people in society actual differ from the majority. They think differently, behave differently, respond differently and have different motivations, emotions and reactions.

Consequently they need to be dealt with differently.

 

Different Dealings

While few would disagree that those with the ability to inspire others to perform close to their potential possess one of the ideal core managerial requirements, nevertheless organisations still somehow persist in promoting people to managerial positions whose greatest talent may be promoting themselves, while failing to notice that this can be at the expense of damaging the confidence and self-respect of other people, especially those they are tasked with managing and leading.

One warning sign to look for could be when they just don’t seem to care at all for other people, maybe can’t and when some may seek to deliberately hurt others, especially when this may appear to give them satisfaction, as this may be indications of a disordered personality.

A lack of empathy, care and consideration for the interests and needs of other people, especially a lack of guilt and remorse for many forms of wrongdoing, including denigrating and humiliating other people, especially when combined with a lack of conscience, all indications of specific Personality Disorders, do not auger well for responsible management of society’s businesses, organisations and entities, even the very nations of our society themselves.

Recognising that the behaviour of difficult people differs from the norm is an important step in learning how to respond to the challenges they present. Identifying if not quite understanding their sometimes bizarre behaviour will allow others to learn how to adapt their own responses to diminish the opportunity for conflict, because the narcissist won’t.

Or can’t.

While some narcissists will not harm others unless they challenge their personal domain, others will not only seek to be cruel to and traumatise others but actually take pleasure in doing so, without remorse.

In terms of “The Dark Triad” – Narcissism, Malignant narcissism or Machiavellianism and Psychopathy – the ability to covertly conceal more overtly egotistical qualities while still being deceitful and manipulative may be one of many further factors determining whether the narcissist may also be Machiavellian or possess some of the traits associated with other related disorders, including Psychopathy.

Psychopaths possess strong narcissistic tendencies, but just like many capable of being diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder would not be diagnosed with psychopathy, nor would many narcissists, indeed only a small proportion.

Many people with milder narcissistic tendencies can appear to be well capable of extending forms of perhaps pseudo-kindness to others, sometimes by actions if not always by words or emotional or tactile warmth, whether they can share in their emotions are not.

What they cannot seem to do though is put the interests of others before their own. They are well capable of acting in accordance with the interests of others – when this coincides with their own self-interest. However, when there is a choice, however trivial, their internal, innate necessity to prevail can appear to mask the benefits of any other outcome.

Those who expect them to consider the outcome of decisions on an organisation, its staff or reputation, or on wider society, will be disappointed unless this coincides with them getting their own way and whatever they perceive their self-interest to be. If they cannot prioritise the interests and welfare of members of their own family unit over their own at home, how can they be expected to do so in an organisational context?

Getting their own way is at the very core of their persona. Their primary stakeholder is themselves and this is not a conscious decision, it is an innate characteristic, the way they are made. Yet we continue to elect people displaying these tendencies to leadership positions across all elements of society, including business.

When they cannot (genuinely) say thanks, cannot say sorry, cannot provide encouragement, cannot show a real interest in the interests of others, they should not be permitted to become team leaders or supervisors let alone managers or senior executives.

No matter what their other qualities or credentials may be.

When some people can only see and experience other people as objects not people, they shouldn’t be given captaincy of a school sports team let alone an organisation

When some people can only criticise and rarely or never praise, why are they given responsibility for other people?

When some people can only discourage and rarely or never encourage, why are they given responsibility for other people?

When some people can only talk about themselves and rarely or never others, why are they given responsibility for other people?

When some people’s pride seems to dominate their behaviour, why are they given responsibility for other people?

When some people lie as a matter of course, manipulate and deceive, spread false rumours, take pleasure in being cruel to others, why are they given responsibility for other people?

What a wicked web they weave when at first they seek to deceive.

When some people seem more focussed on me me me than we we we, why are they given responsibility for other people?

What might the explanation be for when they just don’t seem to care at all for other people or when some may try to get to derive satisfaction by way of deliberately hurt others, indications of a troubled or disordered personality.

What may explain their lack of empathy and disinterest in the interests and needs of other people, especially when accompanied by a lack of guilt and remorse for the many forms of wrongdoing they are well capable of engaging in?

What is about their emotional capabilities that instead of generally praising and encouraging other people they try to disparage and humiliate them, especially when combined with a lack of compassion and conscience, all indications of specific Personality Disorders? Might their brains differ from the norm and their ability to deal with both positive and negative emotions be impaired?

 

Neuroscientific Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The body’s first response is to protect the brain, heart and lungs by narrowing the blood vessels in the hands, feet, and limbs. This emergency vasoconstriction temporarily raises blood pressure and keeps blood flowing to the organs most needed for life.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course difficult situations arise in business and organisational life, but the role of managers and leaders is to manage these calmly, effectively, astutely, constructively and productively, not create them themselves to the detriment of not only everyone else involved but ultimately potentially the success or even viability of the organisation itself.

Without regular and periodic positive “renewal” experiences, chronic stress can contribute to deteriorating personal performance in whatever area of life the stress is created.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) involves being:

  1. being in Parasympathetic Nervous System arousal; feeling positive and hope, thinking about the future, dreams and possibilities;

  2. being optimistic, focusing on one’s strengths;

  3. being excited about trying something new, experimenting; and

  4. being in resonant, positive, considerate relationships, which this research associates with “Constructive Leaders”.

The Negative Emotional Attractor (PEA) involves:

  1. being in Sympathetic Nervous System arousal; feeling negative and fearful; thinking about the past or present, expectations of others and problems;

  2. being pessimistic and focusing on one’s weaknesses;

  3. feeling obliged to do things you “should” or are “expected by others” to do, rather than being encouraged and are looking forward to do;

  4. being in dissonant, negative, uncaring and perhaps even cruel relationships, which this research associates with “Destructive Leaders”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Positive or Negative?

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

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

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

The more positive the cumulative perception of these qualities and characteristics, the higher one’s self-esteem. A reasonably high degree of self-esteem is considered an important ingredient of mental health, whereas low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are common depressive symptoms.”1

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

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

In stark contrast to the healthy and positive ramifications of “a reasonably high degree of self-esteem”, the APA define “narcissism” very briefly and in a mere five words as “excessive self-love or egocentrism”.2

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

The APA define describe “secondary narcissism” as the “self-love that develops later in life, after the original “infantile primary narcissism”, and occurs when the libido (the general life force that provides energy for all types of activities) is withdrawn from “objects” and centred on the self.” 3 4

While “object” in personality terms often means “other people”, it can have a broader meaning. An object or a “stimulus object” is “a thing, person, or condition that elicits a response or is the focal target of attention, perception or some other process; the “other” [can be] any person or symbolic representation of a person that is not the self and toward whom behaviour, cognitions or affects are directed”.5

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

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

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

  2. TAKERS are “more interested in themselves than others.

  3. The primary difference between Givers and Takers is Egocentricity or “the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns and outcomes rather than those of others” and “perceive situations from one’s own perspective”.6

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

Positive Psychology is described as “a field of psychological theory and research that focuses on the psychological states (e.g., contentment, joy), individual traits or character strengths (e.g., intimacy, integrity, altruism, wisdom), and social institutions that enhance subjective well-being and make life most worth living.”7

While the term may have been used originally by Abraham Maslow, best known for his Hierarchy of Needs, its more modern pioneers and advocates include Martin E. P. Seligman and Barbara Fredrickson. 8 9

The mission of positive psychology is to understand and foster the factors that allow individuals, communities, and societies to flourish (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).10

Fredrickson’s “broaden-and-build theory” posits that “experiences of positive emotions broaden people’s momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources… The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.” (Fredrickson, 2001) 11

This “broaden-and-build” theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998) 12 states that certain discrete positive emotions—including joy, interest, contentment, pride, love, gratitude, serenity, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe —“although phenomenologically distinct, all share the ability to broaden people’s momentary thought action repertoires and build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources.”

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

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

Research suggests that there may be “two states in which a person, dyad, team or organisation may find themselves when engaging in the creation of a personal or shared vision: the positive emotional attractor (PEA) and the negative emotional attractor (NEA) (Boyatzis, Rochford & Taylor, 2015).13

Boyatzis, Rochford and Taylor (2015) argue that arousing the PEA or positive emotional attractor is critical when creating or affirming a personal vision (i.e., sense of one’s purpose and ideal self).14

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

The task then of the manager or leader should then be predominantly positive and encouraging, yet far too many are not, making people’s working lives more difficult and challenging than necessary and indeed than if they were managed or led by someone who was predominantly encouraging and positive by nature (Boyatzis et al, 2012) 15

Too much negativity can detract from the ability to inspire and sustain outstanding leadership (Boyatzis, 2013). 16

While business school students who have not yet experienced the workplace can be of the opinion that ruth-less-ness (an absence of compassion) has a valid role to play in business management and can even be associated with business “success”, research suggests that managing and coaching people with compassion can “inspire health, well-being and development in organisations.” (Boyatzis et al, 2013). 17

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

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

This confirms a matter I observed throughout my career in industry and commented on in my first published article. When discussing “Corporate Change” and in advocating praising good work, however trivial, giving credit where due and apologising when wrong, I suggested that

“well done and sorry don’t cost much to say… except perhaps if pride is temporarily hurt” (Clarke, 1997). 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychologists refer to extremes of self-centredness as “egocentrism” or “egocentricity”, described as:1

  1. the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns, and outcomes rather than those of others.

  2. the tendency to perceive the situation from one’s own perspective

  3. believing that others see things from the same point of view as oneself and that events will elicit the same thoughts, feelings and behaviour in others as in oneself.

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

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

Citing five leadership levels, Collins notes that:

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

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

In contrast, two thirds of comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.” (Collins, 2001) 2

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

If Abraham Lincoln was right to remark that:

Human action can be modified to some extent but human nature cannot be changed” (Lincoln, 1860).3

great caution should therefore be shown before appointing “TAKERS” to leadership positions, irrespective of their other talents, lest their personal agendas and inability to empathise with colleagues or show remorse for their actions should lead their firms down a slippery ethical path.

The same cannot be said about “GIVERS”, those more interested in others than themselves, with the primary difference between Givers and Takers being Egocentricity or “the tendency to emphasise one’s own needs, concerns and outcomes rather than those of others” and “perceive situations from one’s own perspective”.4

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

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

There is no humility in humiliation nor humiliation in humility.

As Blanchard and Peale observe in “The Power of Ethical Management”:

People with humility don’t think less of themselves… they just think of themselves less”. (Blanchard & Peale, 1988). 5

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

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

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

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

Perhaps being“emotionally labile” (or moody) themselves, they consequently force their subordinates to not only spend far too much time experiencing negative rather than positive emotions, but also in turn activating the wrong hormones and the less effective brain regions (Boyatzis, 2012, 2013).6 7

 

Neuroscience – Rival Brain Networks

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

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

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

So when we refer to good and bad moods we could be referring to what Boyatzis and his co-researchers refer to as the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), with these two “primary states” are the opposites of each other.

Research (Boyatzis, 2008) 8 suggests there are “two psycho-physiological states, the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), each characterised by three dimensions:

  1. positive versus negative emotional arousal;

  2. hormonal or endocrine arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system versus sympathetic nervous system; and

  3. neurological activation of the Default Mode Network versus the Task Positive Network.

The “Task Positive” and “Social/Default” networks are, by and large, independent and suppress each other, with the “Task Positive Network” (TPN) allowing us to focus on attention-demanding tasks and engage in analysis and problem solving and the Default Mode Network (DMN) activating “by default” when not involved in a task, not focused on the outside world, relaxing and at “wakeful rest” like when daydreaming and mind-wandering.

The Social Network (part of the Default Network) is active when people are engaged in social tasks like being kind, helping others or seeking help, thinking about themselves or other people, remembering situations from the past, considering the future, enabling people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Disordered Minds?

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.

Should we consider there may be “something wrong” with those who seem to lack a “sense of wrong” and who appear to be less “guilt prone” than others?

What do we need to know before we may appreciate that there is no advantage to be gained by in any manner disturbing those who may themselves in some manner appear to be disturbed?

What may contribute to we realising that any attempt to deal with such people “normally” may be doomed to failure?

What do we need to look for to alert us that we need to adapt our own behaviour in the presence of those who do not seem to be able to adapt their own?

The behaviour which could alert us to there being “something wrong” with such challenging people may be more visible than we may consider, mainly because too few appear to be aware of the behaviour which may be indicative of a Personality Disorder, although the ultimate reason for this may be more invisible – their brains are different.

Over the last few decades neuroscientists have availed of a variety of imaging or scanning techniques to compare the typical brain with those with a range of “Personality Disorders”.

In effect some brain regions of those with “Personality Disorders” can be larger or smaller than others, may be more or less active than typical and the extraordinary myriad of connections between the multitude of regions may also be different, with some impaired and others seeming to have developed to activate different neural networks to try and compensate for deficiencies elsewhere, notably (as far as leadership and indeed interpersonal relationships are concerned) when engaged in the complex task of “emotion processing”.

At its most basic, global society needs leaders whose expertise includes making other people feel good about both themselves and their contribution, being predominantly encouraging by nature.

It most certainly does not need those who derive personal pleasure and feel good about themselves by way of making others feel bad, notably by discouraging, disparaging and even humiliating them. The preponderance of such “destructive” behaviour in organisations throughout all sectors global society has contributed to a belief that negative behaviour towards other people is an acceptable form of both management and leadership.

It isn’t and never will be, especially now that neuroscientific research suggests that there are many advantages arising from:

  1. hormonal or endocrine arousal of the “parasympathetic nervous system” (rather than the “sympathetic nervous system” or the “fight or flight” response to stressful situations) depending on whether experiences are pleasant or unpleasant and positive or negative;

  2. emotional arousal which is positive rather than negative; and

  3. neurological activation of the brain regions associated with the “Default Mode Network” (rather than the “Task Positive Network” associated with attention-demanding tasks, analysis and problem solving) which enables people to be open to new ideas, other people and emotions, as well as considering the moral perspective of situations.

Essentially when people are predominantly in a “good mood” they perform better as individuals, are more likely to be cooperative in a social context and the group as an entirety will be more capable of proceeding with constructive organisational change.

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

Not only will they be less capable of “thinking straight” and their capacity for creativity and idea-generation diminished, but when exposed to new ideas or any form of change they are more likely to react with rejection rather than acceptance, which they may be more willing to consider when they are more “open-minded”.

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

The amygdalae (right and left) are usually associated with emotion, behaviour and the processing of fear, but also seem to play a role in orchestrating emotional responses to both positive and negative stimuli and forming memories of both.

Nevertheless significant activation of the amygdalae together with other brain regions, especially those in the limbic system, are more associated with fear and negative emotions, which should not be the goal of anyone in managerial or leadership roles in any branch of society.

Of course difficult situations arise in business and organisational life, but the role of managers and leaders is to manage these matters calmly, effectively, astutely, constructively and productively, not create problems and challenges themselves to the detriment of not only everyone else involved but ultimately potentially the harmonious progress, success or even viability of the organisation itself.

Although intimidation and aggression produce fear, anxiety and discouragement, which prevent our minds from thinking positively and creatively, we still continue to choose people for managerial and other positions of responsibility who engage in such practices other than very occasionally.

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.

Indeed global society seems to continually make the mistake of selecting and electing people to positions whereby they are expected to motivate them towards achieving common goals, often called “leadership”, in effect with responsibility for the lives and emotions of other people, when they cannot even display the competence to manage their own emotions and the manner in which they engage with other people.

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

 

Different Brains

The typical person’s brain is well equipped to predominantly deal successfully with the emotions arising from many life situations, within and beyond the workplace.

However the “different” brains of those I describe as “DISORDERED LEADERS” – those who display evidence of behaviour often readily identifiable with one or more of the established Personality Disorders – do not deal with emotional matters in the manner that most people do or at least are capable of doing.

My research into what may lie behind the self-centred, difficult, domineering and challenging behaviour too frequently displayed by “Disordered Leaders” is contained elsewhere and not on this website.

Nevertheless a few short observations may serve the purposes of this paper, being that the brains of “Disordered Leaders” do appear to differ from those of “Constructive Leaders”, contributing to an explanation why the behaviour of the majority of managers and leaders of all branches of global society would be well capable of being deemed to be both acceptable, responsible and predominantly ethical, while that of a minority unacceptable, irresponsible and well capable of behaving unethically without appearing to be unduly affected by doing so, if at all.

Those most conscious of such situations and the managers and leaders who contribute to them are perhaps the vast majority of the world’s “constructive” people who have no option but to work with or for those who are far more “destructive” by nature, negatively impacting on both their lives and emotions and contributing to sub-optimal performance not only of the individuals but also the organisation or entity at large, especially when conflict is preferred to co-operation by the “Disordered Leader”.

So in what manner might the brains of “Disordered Leaders” differ from those of people more innately capable of predominantly providing and responding positively to “Constructive Leadership”?

Perhaps the most important set of brain regions associated with both emotions and decision-making are contained in and around the forehead area, the Pre Frontal Cortex (or PFC) and in particular how this area interacts (at its most basic) with the brain regions most associated with pleasure or “reward” (such as the Nucleus Accumbens in the Ventral Striatum, NAc) and fear or negative emotions (such as the Amygdala), the evaluation of situational demands and behavioural flexibility (such as the Anterior Cingular Cortex, ACC) and the less well understood role of regions responsible for our emotional awareness (such as our Insula or Anterior Insular Cortex, AIC) or our “conscious experience of emotions” meaning “how do I feel at the moment?” which very much determines our behaviour (Gu et al, 2013; Craig, 2009).1 2

It is not just the specific brain region per se and the particular role it is considered to play that is key, rather the way the various brain regions share information, and cooperate with each other, perhaps in competition with other brain regions, all in a fraction of a second, which determines the way we feel, act, react and make our decisions.

Indeed specific regions seem to form part of a system and perform particular functions, either in tandem with or in the opposite manner to other systems, such as the “Default Mode Network”, “Task Positive Network” and “social network”, together with the systems throughout our bodies such as the “Autonomic Nervous System” and its “Sympathetic Nervous System” or “Parasympathetic Nervous System” (discussed under “Neuroscientific Research” later).

For instance the Insula or AIC with its von Economo or spindle cell neurons seems to cooperate with the ACC and PFC, our sensory system and motor cortex.

How we feel now” and the “insight” or “intuition” we experience about a situation, together with how we consider the emotions of others to be at that time, the empathy we feel with them (via the process of “emotional contagion”), sensing their mood or “how they feel now”, all contribute to how we decide to act and behave ourselves and react and respond to the behaviour of others.

But what happens when those in managerial or leadership positions (a) experience emotions differently themselves, (b) may be unaware of what their actual emotions may be at a given time, (c) cannot control their own emotions in the manner that many can, (d) cannot “experience the emotions” of others in the way others can and (e) do not realise they are deficient in these areas, believing themselves to be normal and blame the problems they create on others and (f) lack knowledge of the impact they have on others which (g) contributes to an unrealistic view of themselves?

One of the key issues as far as leadership is concerned, is that brain imaging techniques have not just permitted identification of how the normal brain functions in many situations but also how this seems to differ from the functioning of the brain in those with Personality Disorders.

The “limbic system” (the definition of which varies, as it may actually be composed of a number of interrelated systems) plays an important role, given that “emotion, memories and behaviour emerge from the coordinated activities of regions connected by the limbic system” (Catani et al, 2013).3

Different limbic structures including the hippocampal memory system and the amygdala – orbitofrontal emotion system have very different connectivity and functions, and it has been suggested that we should no longer think of a single limbic system.” (Rolls, 2019).4

When the limbic system and related regions do not appear to be functioning in the manner they normally do, as in the case of psychopaths, their behaviour can differ from what may be considered acceptable social norms, due to their emotional brain not appearing to operate in the manner that it typically does. (Rolls, 2019). 5

In the example of psychopathy, known to be “a complex Personality Disorder that includes interpersonal and emotional / affective traits such as glibness, lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, shallow affect and irresponsibility and behavioural characteristics such as impulsivity and poor behavioural control”…

the brain regions implicated in psychopathy include the orbital frontal cortex, insula, anterior and posterior cingulate, amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus and anterior superior temporal gyrus” collectively contributing to “the paralimbic system dysfunction model of psychopathy” (Kiehl, 2006).6

Indeed damage to any one of these regions can lead to a change in behaviour, first noticed when the frontal cortex of a responsible railroad foreman, Phineas Gage, was damaged by an accident in 1848, following which he became impulsive, irresponsible and verbally abusive.

Research over more recent decades has suggested that damage to the Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) can lead to a condition termed ‘pseudopsychopathy’ (Blumer and Benson, 1975)7 or ‘acquired sociopathic personality’ (Damasio, 1994)8 characterised by problems with reactive aggression, motivation, empathy, planning and organisation, impulsivity, irresponsibility, insight and behavioural inhibition (Stuss et al., 1983). (Kiehl, 2006).9 10

Indeed OFC damage may even lead to grandiosity (Blumer and Benson, 1975), as reported by Kiehl, 2006).11

Orbitomedial frontal syndrome” is distinct from the clinical picture resulting from dorsolateral frontal damage, being “associated with poor social and vocational adjustment after brain injury” appears to be associated with poor social and vocational adjustment after brain injury, contributing to “underlying mechanisms for disinhibition and confabulation in frontal lobe patients” (Malloy et al, 1993)12

Disinhibition is described by the APA as “diminution or loss of the normal control exerted by the cerebral cortex, resulting in poorly controlled or poorly restrained emotions or actions. Disinhibition may be due to the effects of alcohol, drugs, or brain injury, particularly to the frontal lobes.”13

Disinhibition may involve a temporary loss or reduction of an inhibition such as that caused by alcohol or drugs 14 or be a more longer term issue, including “a chronic loss of social restraint” (Lesser & Hughes, 2006). 15

Indeed “Acquired Social Disinhibition” is a debilitating behavioural syndrome commonly reported after a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is “characterised by inappropriate social behaviour, often described as immaturity and insensitivity towards others” which can have “enduring effects on the social capability of the individual and their relationships with others” (Osborne-Crowley & McDonald, 2018).16

So it appears very feasible that those whose behaviour differs from the norm to the degree that this research categorises them as “Disordered Leaders who practice Destructive Leadership”, may not only be different in terms of their emotions and behaviour including the way they treat or disrespect other people, but this may be contributed to by their brains being different from those of most other people, and certainly those more responsible and empathetic people this research refers to as “Constructive Leaders”.

 

Brain Architecture

In many respects the brains of all animals are quite similar, consisting of layers and areas which carry out similar functions whether they walk on two or four legs.

The inner areas of the brain nearer the spinal cord are similar to those of our ancestors and other animals. They control our survival functions including breathing, resting, moving and feeding as well as creating our experiences of emotions.

Humans and other mammals have developed additional brain layers that perform more advanced functions, including further improvements in memory, social interaction and emotional depth.

Humans have a large and well developed outer area described as the cerebral cortex which gives us strong cognitive or mental skills, a potentially superb memory and the ability to experience a wide variety of emotions.

The innermost part of the brain is the brain stem which controls our most basic but important functions including breathing, attention and movement or motor responses. It starts with the medulla where the spinal cord enters the head which controls heart rate and breathing. Above that is the pons that controls movements including walking and balance, functions also of the reticular formation which in addition filters stimulae from the spinal cord and sends messages to other parts of the brain while also playing a key role in both sleep and being awake.

Above the brain stem is the thalamus which as well as allowing us to sleep by shutting off signals from our senses also filters sensory information to the higher brain areas as well as dealing with some of the replies, forwarding them to the medulla and cerebellum (Sherman & Guillery, 2006)1.

The cerebellum (or “little brain”) consists of two wrinkled ovals behind the brain stem which coordinate voluntary movement including walking, balance and holding hands steady, affected by alcohol hence the staggering movement associated with being drunk.

However the cerebellum is also involved with learning as well as contributing to our emotional responses including helping us discriminate between different sounds and textures. (Bower & Parsons, 2003).2

While the main function of the brain stem is to regulate the most basic functions of life, including movement or motor functions, the limbic system is primarily responsible for memory and emotions and the way we respond to both reward and punishment. It is located between the brain stem and the two cerebral hemispheres at each side of the brain. Although what constitutes the limbic system and its closely related areas are widely debated, included by some and excluded by others as it may consist of a number of related systems (Catani et al, 2013)3, for our purposes its primary areas include the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the hippocampus.

The amygdala consists of two “almond-shaped” clusters (amygdala is Latin for “almond”) and its primary role is regulating our perceptions of and reactions to aggression and fear.

The amygdala is connected to many other regions including the bodily systems associated with fear, including the sympathetic nervous system (associated with fear responses), facial responses (which perceive and express emotions), the processing of smells, and the release of neurotransmitters related to stress and aggression (Best, 2009).4

As well as helping us experience fear, the amygdala also helps us learn from dangerous situations that create fear, which it remembers so we learn to avoid them in the future (Sigurdsson, Doyère, Cain, & LeDoux, 2007)5.

The most recent research shows it also plays a role with positive situations and emotions and even with evaluating faces and who we should or should not trust. Avoiding potentially dangerous or dodgy people (such as “disordered leaders”) can be as important as avoiding potentially unsafe situations.

Located just below the thalamus (hence its name), the hypothalamus consists of a number of small areas with a variety of functions including regulation of hunger and sexual behaviour, as well as linking the nervous system to the endocrine or hormonal system via the pituitary gland.

The hypothalamus has many interactions with other brain areas, help us regulate body temperature, hunger, thirst and sex, while also responding to the satisfaction of these needs by creating feelings of pleasure.

The hippocampus consists of two “horn-like” structures which curve back from the amygdala and plays a key role in storing information in long-term memory especially building new and recalling older memories.

What differentiated humans from other animals is our larger cerebral cortex which is wrinkled and folded, rather than smooth as in many other animals. This outer bark-like layer of our brain allows us to so successfully use language, acquire complex skills, create tools and live in social groups (Gibson, 2002). The folded nature creates a much greater surface area and size, allowing increased capacities for learning, thinking and remembering. WOW ARIS

The cerebral cortex accounts for over 80% of the brain’s weight yet is only about one-tenth of an inch thick and is divided into two hemispheres. By and large the eft hemisphere receives sensations from and controls the right side of the body, and vice versa.

What makes study of the emotional brain challenging is the huge number of connections. For instance the cerebral cortex contains about 20 billion nerve cells and 300 trillion synaptic connections (de Courten-Myers, 1999).6

Both hemispheres are divided into four lobes, each separated by folds or “fissures”.

At the front of the brain is the frontal lobe, the region behind the forehead, mainly responsible for thinking, planning, memory and judgment. Behind the frontal lobe is the parietal lobe (touch), beneath which and indeed between the ears is the temporal lobe (hearing and language) with the rear of the brain taken up by the occipital lobe (vision), both of which are above the cerebellum (voluntary movement) also involved with learning and emotional responses.

As well as the regions responsible for touch, vision, hearing and language, two smaller areas are the motor cortex which controls and executes movements of the body by sending signals to the cerebellum and the spinal cord and the sensory cortex which receives and acts on information from the skin and the movements of various body parts.

Much of the rest of the cerebral cortex is made up of the association areas, whereby sensory and motor information is combined and associated with our stored knowledge, associated with higher mental functions such as learning, thinking, planning, judging, considering matters and moral reflection, the proper functioning of which makes us human, especially the vast majority with significant emotional depth. However impairments can contribute to behaving in a less socially normal or acceptable manner, including in a cold, callous, remorseless, self-centred and “Personality Disordered” manner.

 

Brain Regions, Connections, Memories and Behaviour

The human brain typically weighs around 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) yet is extraordinarily complex, with the neuron its basic working unit, a specialised cell (of many types) designed to transmit information to other nerve cells, gland cells or muscles.7

As it has been estimated that there are around 86 billion neurons in the human brain and they communicate with each other in unique ways, 8 many of the connections and pathways between them remain a mystery. It has even been suggested that it could take all the world’s computers combined to properly map all the connections within one human brain.

Nevertheless at this stage the key functions of all the main brain regions are well known, as well as the primary connections between them, even though their other functions and connections are still being researched. The amygdala is a good example. For many years it was primarily considered to be involved with fearful emotions (and triggering the “fight or flight” response) but is now also considered to play a role with positive emotions and memories too.

Although the hippocampus is well associated with memories, they are not just stored in one area of the brain. Different types are stored across different, interconnected brain regions, depending on their primary purpose(s).

For explicit memories – events which happened to the individual person (episodic) as well as general facts and information (semantic) – there are three important areas of the brain: the hippocampus, the neocortex and the amygdala.

Implicit memories, such as motor memories, rely on the basal ganglia and cerebellum. Short-term working memory relies most heavily on the prefrontal cortex.1

Indeed study type learning requires a variety of forms of repetition, testing and recall to transfer the information from the minimal and very short-term working memory to the far more extensive and longer term hippocampus, notably in the manner that it can be recalled when most required, such as in an exam situation.

For the purposes of decision-making, moral leadership and indeed ethical behaviour not just in the fascinating area of business but indeed across all fields of human endeavour, let us just consider