Thursday, January 13, 2011

How the Mighty Fail: Lessons in Leadership (Part 4)

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
                                  - General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

This is Part 4 of "How the Mighty Fail", based on "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines"  I'd like to suggest you read the first three parts and then this installement. One builds upon the other.


Narcissism is closely linked to charisma and the personalized use of power. It is correlated with destructive leadership. Narcissists share some of the following traits:

1. Dominance

2. Grandiosity

3. Arrogance

4. Entitlement

5. Selfish pursuit of pleasure.

My CEO was dogged for years by allegations that he sexually molested young men entrusted to his care, had affairs with women and was a drug addict. He was a world traveler, much of his travel apparently more related to his own pleasure than the pursuit of his organizational goals. He evaded sanction thanks in large part to the privileged status granted him by the late Pope John Paul II, orchestrated by influential supporters in the Vatican. Think of the Pope as the “Chairman of the Board” for the sake of this business-case. Only in 2006 did John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, discipline my former by boss – who by then was 85 years old.

During my time with him, he rarely showed vulnerability, and I don’t think he fully recognized the shortcomings of his personality, and therefore didn’t deal well with his dark side. He showed signs of an exaggerated sense of self-worth, he was quite convinced of his uniqueness, and he sought the admiration from those around him. Every request he made had to be taken care of immediately. Dealing with such a self-absorbed individual was tiring and emotionally draining. The narcissist doesn’t really care about you, so you have to put your personal needs on hold.

I suspected my boss’s excessive self-belief might have led him close to some psychopathic form of narcissism, where he couldn’t live without constant admiration. A leader, who has derailed, believing in his own ‘infallibility’ can lead his followers over a cliff, even when they’ve received warnings from others. My boss never tolerated challenges to his leadership. He acted as if he were irreplaceable. The individuals whom he groomed to be directors and managers weren’t usually the most personable or talented individuals. He picked them based on their piety and unquestioning acceptance of his authority. He surrounded himself with people who thought he was unparalleled.

Robert Hogan and his associates mention other contributing factors to destructive leadership. These include parental discord, low socioeconomic status, paternal criminality, maternal psychiatric disorder, and child abuse - common themes for exploitive adults.

Childhood hardships, in the makeup of the destructive leader can also lead to an “ideology of hate.” This may be the case of those whose self-hatred is turned outwards.


Lauretta said...

Jack, I think your comments are very valid. The last part of your article was extremely insightful and true, I believe. Parents, in particular, and the environment in general, have a profound effect on children, especially the ones who tend to be more sensitive in the first place. I don't think that is taken into account enough when dealing with these wounded people who end up doing such destructive things to themselves and others.

One of the things that I have struggled with is what to do when you see one of those toxic situations going on? When is intervention appropriate and when is it none of your business? Children are so precious and you just don't want to see them hurt but how does one intervene and bring about positive change?

That is one of the things that has me puzzled concerning the Legion fiasco as well. When does one just go in with both guns, so to speak, and forcefully remove these kids from this toxic environment? It is very difficult when the parents don't see it

The Monk said...

Lauretta, Thanks for you comment. I'm not quite sure I have the answer for your question. Maybe recognizing the existence of the toxic situation (rationally) is a good place to start. Good men in the LC may not have come to understand the full dimensions of the "toxic triangle" that came together for Maciel. I'm hoping that they eventually come to recognize the human, manageable aspects of the problem they face. With "functional" leadership, informed "followers," and a new "environment" things can change. I tend to hope that a more analytical approach to the problem without exaggerated emotional overtones will help parents analyze the organizations to which they (we!) entrust our children.

You "can bring a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink." Every parent has to make their own personal decision about their own children. That said, I just held a workshop with a group of psychologists in Mexico City. I found it interesting that the consensus seemed to be that the alumni of LC schools (in Mexico) have a strong foundation in values, compassion, social responsibility, and sense of self. Indeed, some suggest that, in general, these alumni compare very favorably, if not better, than their "clients" from other well known Catholic and non-denominational schools (in Mexico.) The psychologists in question are not affiliated with LC schools. I have little first-hand knowledge about US based schools