* All names have been changed to respect the privacy of the organization and its management team.
In a recent discussion with the CEO of my organization, I found out that my boss, Tom, alienated over half of the organization in just two months of starting his new role. A few notable examples are presented for analysis:
- As a result of an unfortunate flood, the company sought to relocate its staff to a temporary location so they could begin repairing the original site. A moving company was hired to start the relocation process. By happenchance, the moving company first moved the offices of people that belonged to the same ethnicity (non-white). Tom accused the human resources director of unfairly discriminating against the whites and believed that the whites were mistreated.
- In weekly sales meetings, Tom regularly made discriminatory comments against either an employee’s race or gender. Tom did not believe that his comments were insensitive or hurtful to others, especially since his comments elicited laughter by the non-victims.
- Tom believed that his commercial background was superior to those employees who only had a technical background. He often dismissed the recommendations made by the technical staff and held them in contempt.
- Tom was not open to new ideas or solutions, especially if those ideas seemed critical of his plan. He discouraged the ideas by becoming argumentative or hostile.
The online lesson (2016, L. 2) states that some “leaders fail for personal reasons,” (p. 6). Tom’s dark side to his personality is most likely the biggest contributor to his failure as a leader. Dark-sided personality traits are counterproductive, can cause upset, and negatively affect the formation of a cohesive team (Penn State University World Campus [PSU WC], 2016, L. 2). Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2002) posit that leaders displaying “these dark-side personality traits have followers that exert less effort toward goal accomplishment” (as cited in PSU WC, L. 2, p. 6). Upon Tom’s arrival, several people quit the organization, some refused to report to him, while others found their productivity decline to an all-time low.
The online lesson (2016, L. 2) identifies six traits that are dark-sided: 1) argumentative, interpersonal insensitivity, 3) narcissism, 4) fear of failure, 5) perfectionism, and 6) impulsivity. Let us examine Tom’s behavior against some of these traits.
The argumentative trait is defined as one who displays mistrust or feels wronged by others (PSU WC, 2016, L. 2). For example, accusing the human resources director of unfairly discriminating against the whites – were no such evidence exists – is a sign of mistrust or the feeling of being mistreated. These feelings can multiply and destroy interpersonal relationships in an organization.
The interpersonal insensitivity trait is defined as one who is cold and displays low levels of emotional intelligence (PSU WC, 2016, L. 2). Tom’s racial or gender remarks are both insensitive (and illegal) and can cause a negative reaction (internal or external) in his team members.
The narcissism trait is defined as one who sees themselves above others and is over-confident in their abilities (PSU WC, 2016, L. 2). Tom’s feeling of superiority – over those who lack a commercial background – and holding others in contempt can cause others to withhold critical information that would be necessary for the project’s success, as well as negative affect.
The fear of failure trait is defined as one dislikes criticism (PSU WC, 2016, L. 2). Not being open to new ideas that can improve the company or project, especially if they appear critical of Tom’s plan are a sign of his fear of failure. Tom’s argumentative or hostile response to his followers can lead to fearfulness and lowered productivity.
As this real-world example illustrates, behaviors generated by the dark-side to a leader’s personality can have real consequences for an organization. The people who quit, along those who stayed but performed at lower levels, are considered a lost asset for an organization. The unfortunate news is that the hiring process tends not to detect these traits (PSU WC, 2016, L. 2). I would be curious, from the readers of this blog, if you have ideas on preventing this type of hire. Would reference and/or background checks work? Could some of these traits be detected by a commercial pen-and-paper test?
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2016). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Trait approach. Retrieved May 22, 2016 from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/su16/psych485/001/content/02_lesson/01_page.html.