Martha Stewart, undisputed queen of all things in a fine home, is an interesting example of a leader and the dark side that often accompanies successful leadership. Every person has a dark side, but we don’t all choose to create a business and brand that are impossible to distinguish from our names. In her quest to become an international brand, she made herself a public figure, identified by her face alone and is synonymous with comfortable and stylish living. Her arguably, successful leadership, skills and competencies come with a dark side worth examining.
There is no question that Ms. Stewart has the individual attributes and competencies that are instrumental for successful leadership. Mumford et al described it, “Rather than emphasizing what leaders do, the skills approach frames leadership as the capabilities (knowledge and skills) that make effective leadership possible.” (Mumford et al., 2000 p.12) She’s smart, focused and ambitious. She wants her business to grow and she’s highly motivated. She is able to project a calm, warm persona to her viewers and customers, inviting them to peek into her world and learn how to create a home, meals, and lifestyle just like hers. Ms. Stewart has many competencies, she has strong problem solving skills which are imperative to owning and operating a successful business. She is able to adapt to new situations and address challenges and connect with her audience in an empathetic way. She is adept and knowledgeable in her field of business and doesn’t hesitate to wield her power in it. The end result is a company and brand that over the long term has been quite lucrative for many, most of all Ms. Stewart herself. Many in the business community label her an excellent leader yet recognize that she has a dark side to her personality as well.
Ms. Stewart personifies many of the six traits of the Dark Side personality that Hughes et al. wrote about. She is a perfectionist and expects the same of all who work for her. She’s highly demanding and doesn’t handle any criticism well. She has difficulty understanding the perspective of others and can be seen as arrogant and distant. She is convinced her way of doing things is the right way and is often condescending to those who work for her. She is considered narcissistic and displays the impulsivity trait as well. She feels entitled to her high compensation package in comparison to her stock price. (Her brand trades as MSLO). James Stewart of the New York Times wrote in 2012 about Martha Stewart and her company. “Her net worth is inextricably tied to the value of the shares. That would seem obvious to everyone except, perhaps, Ms. Stewart herself. She continues to collect lavish multimillion-dollar compensation and perks while her company teeters under the weight of huge losses, its shares trading for a fraction of their former value.” (Stewart 2012).
Her impulsivity is further demonstrated by her refusal to admit that selling her ImClone stock prior to the release of an impending FDA report on a “heads up tip” from her broker was insider trading or that the action was even unlawful. Despite her own conviction and that of her stock broker and the witness testimony and the five months in jail and five months of house arrest, she still denies any wrongdoing.
Two sides of the same coin, one of the problems with those dark side traits is that they are the flip side of some of the very attributes that make a successful leader. The trick is maintaining a balance between them. The per share price of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia continues to be the barometer of how successful her leadership is in the business world. Potential customers are left to decide if her ethics as a leader are questionable or even matter at all.
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2002). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Mumford, M.D., Zaccaro, S.J., Harding, F.D., Jacobs, T.O., & Fleishman, E.A. (2000). Leadership skills for a changing world: Solving complex social problems. Leadership Quarterly, 11(1), 11-35.
Nayab, N. Examples of Companies with Autocratic Leadership. Bright hub project management.
Stewart, James B. A Brand Icon in Need of Some Oversight. Common Sense The New York Times Nov. 9, 2012