Signs of Danger for Leaders


Leaders, Fools and Impostors: Essays on the Psychology of Leadership.
That is the name of a short and excellent book by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries. Manfred is a Dutch psychotherapist, leadership consultant, who is simply brilliant. While I can't say that I follow (or understand) the Freudian origins of the leadership dysfunctions he discusses, when it comes to describing the nature and experience of those dysfunctions - he is EXCELLENT.

Manfred deals with issues of power, authority, control, fear, loss, sexuality, hubris, isolation, emotional nullness (Alexithymia - your new word for the day, I am sure!), narcissism and more. Late in his book he lists the warning signs that a leader is no longer managing the balancing act and is skirting with danger (and disaster). Here are some of the signs he lists.

A lack of realism in the leader's vision.

Always finding fault with others.

Fails to accept personal responsibility for his mistakes

Some paranoia and black and white thinking about others - they are either for or against the leader.

Others are forced into a kind of "self-censorship" because the leader is adverse to bad news.

Making all (or most) decisions by her or him self.

Constantly talking about what she or he is doing.

Constantly wanting to be in the limelight.

Too removed from day to day operations.

Less accessible to those who need him/her.

Too much interest in the perks of leadership.

What may be helpful is for you to do a little self-assessment with this list. Here is the good news (and bad news). If you are able to look over this list and actually think critically and realistically about your self - then you are probably a reasonably healthy leader. The bad news is that those who are exhibiting these things have a real inability to see them, and they generally need another to be a realistic voice.

I worked with one leader who had many of these characteristics, and who consistently refused to acknowledge these dynamics. That person is no longer in the ministry.

I worked with another leader who had some of these issues, but they were open enough to do the hard work of self-assessment and also invite others in to speak to their life and leadership.

Spend some time on this list . . . and perhaps invite a good friend/colleague to give you some perspective as well.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

BrianRice@lcileaders.org