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Can Negative Emotions Propel You To The Top?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that psychologically healthy people are the best equipped for success. In fact the literature on leadership and management suggests a different story – that executives rise to the top precisely because they have significant personality extremes and/or disorders. (Read “Is Your Boss A Psychopath,” “Is Narcissism A Leadership Trait” to get the idea.)

At the same time, the very extreme traits that help someone to get ahead can also hurt the organization. Accordingly, the table below (which I developed, incorporating the articles above and my own knowledge) shows some of the potentially helpful and unhelpful characteristics associated with a tendency toward personality extremes.

Helpful Manifestation
Unhelpful Manifestation
Think everyone’s out to get them
See risk before others do
Perceive bad intentions where none exist, potentially eliminating talented staff and missing out on opportunities for collaboration
No feeling for other people
Business acumen and know how to work people and the system to get what you want
Prey on people to get what they want, especially subordinates, fracturing and demoralizing the team
Think they’re superior, that the whole world revolves around them, almost as if nobody else exists
Vision and confidence inspire the team
Tend to surround themselves with “yes-people” who they perceive as inferior, stifling healthy disagreement and competition
Never satisfied with what they have
Acquisitive energy gives them ambition and motivation to do more and more
Don’t know when enough is enough; potential to overextend the team and create burnout
Can’t stop thinking about the same thing
Intense focus on perfection can yield great products and services
Can alienate members of the team by insisting that their way is the only way
Tendency to feel ashamed of oneself
Strong work ethic (as a way of proving that one is indeed “good enough”)
Inability to balance work with other aspects of life; workaholism

At the end of the day, not all people are born to be moderate or balanced. So be it. We can use those extremes for good. But we also need to be careful not to allow extreme tendencies to harm the organization.

* All opinions my own.


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