The dark side of any individual when allowed to go unchecked can create a rigid and dysfunctional personality that can stifle creativity, put a stop to innovation, taint or ruin relationships, and ultimately create employee engagement issues. When such characteristics are not effectively managed, a leader can easily be perceived as being self-righteous, self-serving and totally disinterested in the growth and development of their direct reports. The result is that they alienate the very people they are meant to inspire.

Tony Scutella (Shifting Mindsets) and I have seen a number of permutations of what we refer to as "arrested leadership development" in the work we've done over the years. When I first started working with Tony he referred to the stench that this darker side of leadership creates within an organization. It has been palpable in virtually every organization we've seen that has experienced leadership and leadership development issues. The steps involved with the leadership development program we implement, along with our clients, are to first create the self-awareness that there is a problem, secondly, identify the behavioral traits that are causing the issue(s) using psychometric tools and finally have the leaders create their own leadership development plan designed to correct the root of the problem.

While Tony and I have just about seen it all, there are five broadly grouped dysfunctional leadership styles that we've seen occur most frequently:

The Compulsive Leader (also known as The Control Freak)

Compulsive leaders feel like they have to do everything themselves. They try to manage every aspect of their business, often refusing to delegate, and cannot resist having their say on everything. As they lack trust in others, they cannot let anyone else take responsibility, therefore they restrict personal growth in their team. The negative impact on employee engagement is significant.

Compulsive leaders have many other traits that are easily identified using a behavioral assessment (we use the McQuaig Self-Development Survey). They are perfectionists who must follow highly rigid and systematized daily routines, and are concerned with status. Thus they strive to impress their superiors with their diligence and efficiency and continually look for reassurance and approval. This can lead to them becoming workaholics, and their team is viewed as failing if they don’t keep pace. Spontaneity is not encouraged as this bucks the routine.

The Narcissistic Leader

Narcissistic leaders are focused on themselves. Life and the world revolve around them, and they must be at the center of all that is happening. Whilst they exaggerate their own merits, they will try to ignore the merits of others, or seek to devalue them, because other people’s accomplishments are seen as a threat to their own standing. The worst type of narcissistic leader cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement, and avoid their self-delusions and fantasies being undermined by surrounding themselves with sycophants. As you can imagine, the levels of employee engagement of those associated with this type of leader are never good.

Where possible, they will attempt to use the merits of others for their own advancement, and think nothing of stepping on people to get ahead. Their own feeling of self-importance means they are unable to empathize with those in their team, because they cannot feel any connection. Their only focus is on receiving plaudits that further bolster their sense of greatness. Such an attitude is often the result of a deep-seated inferiority complex, and thus no matter how much they are achieving, they will never feel it is enough.

The Paranoid Leader

Paranoid leaders are exactly as they sound: paranoid that other people are better than they are, and thus they view even the mildest criticism as devastating. They are liable to overreact if they sense they are being attacked, especially in front of other people. This can manifest itself in open hostility. Most behavioral assessments are able to predict how an individual will handle criticism. Knowing the underlying cause of the problem allows the leader to develop a coping mechanism.

This attitude is the result of an inferiority complex that perceives even the most constructive criticism in the wrong way. The paranoid leader will be guarded in their dealings with other people because they do not want to reveal too much of themselves in case they display their weaknesses and are attacked or undermined. They may be scared that their position is undeserved, therefore can be deeply suspicious of colleagues who may steal their limelight or perhaps challenge for their position. 

The Co-Dependent Leader

Co-dependent leaders do not enjoy taking the lead, and instead seek to copy what others have done or are doing. They avoid confrontation and would rather cover up problems than face them head-on. Planning ahead is not their forte. They tend instead to react to whatever comes their way, rather than acting to alter outcomes or achieve goals. 

Co-dependency often shows up in leaders that have the behavioral combination of being accepting and highly sociable. One of our clients refers to this style of leadership a polling. The leader polls as many people in their network as possible before making a decision. Codependent leaders, therefore, are not leaders at all. They are reactionary and have the habit of keeping important information to themselves because they are not prepared to act upon it. This can clearly lead to poor outcomes because all the pertinent facts are not known to those that report to the leader who may be charged with making decisions.

The Passive Aggressive Leader

Passive-aggressive leaders feel like they need to control everything, and when they can’t they cause problems for those who are in control. However, they are sneaky in their ploys, and are very difficult to catch. Their main characteristics are that they can be stubborn, purposely forgetful, intentionally inefficient, complaining (behind close doors), and they parry demands put on them through procrastination. We see the passive-aggressive phenomenon in leaders that are more accepting (versus being dominant). 

This type of leader has two speeds: full speed ahead and stopped. When situations do not go their way, they will offer their full support for whatever has been decided, then gossip and back stab, willfully cause delays, and generally create upset. When confronted, they claim to have been misinterpreted. Passive aggressive leader are often chronically late for appointments, using any excuse to dominate and regain some control of the situation.

If you know of, or have worked with a leader that has a leadership style that resembles any of these five leadership types we would like to hear from you. Please share your story with us using the comment form below. We would like to include some of the stories the upcoming e-book that Tony Scutella and I are in the process of writing.



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