7 signs of a dysfunctional boss

(Flickr user Hardleers)

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the word “dysfunctional” probably describes more people than the word “normal” does. When it comes to CEOs and executives, it’s almost certainly true.

You see, leadership dysfunction is far more common than you might think. Not only that, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s a story that I guarantee will get you thinking.

The scene is a psychologist’s office in Long Beach, Calif., circa 1990. The “couple’s therapy” had turned into a “one-on-one” two sessions ago.

“If I’m so compulsive and dysfunctional,” I said, “Then why hasn’t it affected my career?”

“Are you kidding?” the shrink laughed, “It’s practically a prerequisite for corporate executives!”

Yes, that really did happen. Looking back on it, being dysfunctional actually did affect my career in many ways, both good and bad. Exploring its nature, however, has been all good. And therein lies an opportunity for professional growth that few take advantage of, probably because delusional people all think of themselves as normal. It’s ironic, I know.

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Over the years before and since that fateful day, I’ve worked with loads of top executives — CEOs mostly — that I would describe as more dysfunctional than not. And what I’ve come to understand of their nature is this: Their “issues” — for lack of a better term — helped them in some ways and hindered them in others.

To be more specific, I think it helped them achieve initial success, eventually tripped them up and ultimately proved a barrier to reaching their full potential. That’s what makes identification so important. To that end and with all due humility, I give you a composite of all those wacky and colorful executives: 7 signs of a dysfunctional boss.

The game has rules, but the rules keep changing. It’s a relatively common but insidious game I call “chaos and control.” If they sense you becoming disloyal, too comfortable, or too powerful, they’ll want to knock you off the pedestal they’ve put you on. By bringing you down, it boosts their position relative to yours. One day you’re the golden boy, a trusted advisor who can do no wrong. The next day you’re a bumbling idiot.

Major focus on minutiae. One Fortune 500 CEO was obsessed with my clothes and appearance. He wasn’t alone in that peculiarity; it’s a sign of a controlling person. And whatever details get their maniacal attention, whatever the object of their obsessive compulsion, it’s really just a way to distract their brains from facing their own sadness, fear or depression. That’s why it’s often triggered by stress and bad news.

A “man of the people.” I just saw “The Last King of Scotland” about Uganda’s former President Idi Amin last week and nearly fell off my chair at how common that particular mantra is among dysfunctional leaders. In reality, they thrive on attention and adoration from the masses to feed their deep-seated insecurity but are rarely capable of any true emotional connection with others.

Hypersensitive and vindictive when rejected. Everything’s about them

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