Managing “Triadic Managers” and Navigating Office Politics by Becoming a Little Like Them

Oliver James

Oliver James

Oliver James-Office PoliticsBritish psychologist, journalist, and television documentary producer and presenter Oliver James asserts that many business leaders exhibit three problematic – even pathological – behaviors styles: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism.
He labels these “triadic managers.” 

The OfficeThe stress wrought upon others by “triadic managers” has been satirized in comedies, and dramas, but each element of the triumvirate have been investigated by clinical researchers and social scientists.

The most extensively researched of the three personality trends is Psychopathy, given its relevance to law enforcement. Francis Urhardt-House of Cards
Psychopaths typically display:

  • Callous manipulation, lying, and exploitation
  • Grandiosity, entitlement, and shallowness
  • Impulsiveness and thrill-seeking
  • Little interpersonal empathy and remorse

Ronald Schouten

Ronald Schouten

Harvard’s Ronald Schouten and former federal prosecutor with current criminal defense attorney James Silver estimate that 3 million Americans and perhaps one in 10 on Wall Street are psychopathic.

James Silver

James Silver

They add that as much as 15 percent of the general population or about 45 million Americans as “almost psychopathic” – and many are employed as senior executives.

Robert Hare

Robert Hare

Robert Hare of University of British Columbia and leading expert in psychopathy collaborated with industrial-organizational psychologist Paul Babiak reported that  senior managers are four times more likely than the general population to display psychopathic tendencies.  

Robert Hare-Paul Babiak - Snakes in Suits (1)They differentiated three types of psychopath, each operating in the workplace:

  • “Manipulator”
  • “Bully”
  • “Puppetmaster”
    Paul Babiak

    Paul Babiak

Clive Boddy

Clive Boddy

Middlesex University’s Clive Boddy extended examination of psychopaths in global business and financial contexts.

Sharing some characteristics of psychopathy, narcissism is characterized by:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance, superiority, entitlement
  • Vanity and insatiable need for attention
  • Exploitativeness
  • Lack of empathy

Like psychopathy, three sub-types have been identified:

  • Cluster A, “odd” disorders, including paranoid and schizoid disorders
  • Cluster B, “dramatic” disorder, including antisocial and histrionic disorders
  • Cluster C, “anxious”, including dependent and obsessive-compulsive disorders

Katarina Fritzon

Katarina Fritzon

Affecting about one per cent of the population and up to 16 per cent of clinical groups, narcissists tend to prefer professions where they can control people and elicit adulation, like politics, finance, entertainment, medicine.

Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, then of the University of Surrey, confirmed this observation when they found that senior business managers were more likely than criminal psychiatric patients, to have narcissistic, histrionic, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.

Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin provides and insider’s view of narcissism, as a convicted felon incarcerated for securities fraud and diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder,  who raises awareness of NPD and its management through his book and website.Sam Vaknin-Malignant Self Love

The third element of “triadic managers”, Machiavellianism, is characterized by:

  • Detachment and coldness
  • Manipulation
  • Ruthless self-interest
  • Calculating maneuvers to advance self-interest

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

Studies in MachiavellianismCenturies after Machiavelli’s classic book, Richard Christie and Florence Geis studied the Machiavellian personality and developed a personality assessment to identify these characteristics

After raising awareness of “triadic managers”, Oliver James asserts that skillful maneuvering among political landmines laid by these leaders and colleagues.

Based on his 50 interviews with narcissists, psychopaths, “Machiavels”, and others, he cites the importance of managing the “perception of performance” as well as actually providing results, because pay and advancement depend upon one’s valuation by others.

In addition, he advocates that anyone operating in organizations develop greater acumen in recognizing potentially problematic psychopathic, narcissistic, and Machiavellian maneuvers, and carefully crafting counter-moves.

James acknowledges that some psychopathic, narcissistic, and Machiavellian behaviors lead to desired outcomes, and suggests that anyone working in an organization selectively adapt these strategies and apply them in moderation.

He summarizes political survival skills, including

  • Astuteness in “reading” others, the organization, and oneself to accurately assess the situation
  • Effectiveness in applying effective tactics toward the correct individuals at the right moment while appearing genuine
  • Networking to maintain relationships and allies for use in moving to a new role
  • Appearance of Sincerity, by strategically managing personal emotions and reactions.

-*How do you detect and manage colleagues who manifest characteristics of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism?

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One thought on “Managing “Triadic Managers” and Navigating Office Politics by Becoming a Little Like Them

  1. Pingback: “Derailing” Personality Measures Predict Leadership Mishaps | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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