Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001

Leaders and Leadership Style

What is an effective leadership style?

Effective leadership is essentially about leadership style and is widely recognised as essential to the success of any organization.1 But even the best leaders are limited in what they can achieve if other senior management team members are not suitable. Each team member, including the leader, will have either a positive or a negative influence on the team's performance, and therefore the performance of the organization. Winning Teams will enable you to identify the leadership styles and the leadership skills that make a positive contribution and leadership styles and the leadership skills that make a negative contribution.

Having an effective leadership style is of critical importance. An ineffective leadership style will at best limit growth, and may lead to the death of the organization.

'Growth' leaders and suitable team members can be identified. Winning Teams will describe what to look for in an individual's behaviour and background, and will offer other more analytical methods of identification (see Leadership Quality). It will also help you to identify those individuals with behavioural or psychological problems, some of which are fairly easy to identify, e.g. neurotics and paranoiacs, and some that are very difficult to detect, e.g. narcissists.2

The leadership style of neurotic leaders is characterized by anxiousness, worrying, moodiness, and frequent depression, and is linked to obsessive behaviour (see Definitions). They come in different guises, for example phobic, obsessive-compulsive, depressive or hypnochondriacal. They have fears that they have difficulty in coping with, and in an ideal world would get help from a psychotherapist to deal with their problems. Whilst you may feel sorry for them, and have a desire to help, you should avoid them. Trying to cope with their own problems will result in them making a negative contribution to the organization's performance.

The leadership style of paranoiacs will also have a negative impact. They have all the symptoms of the simple schizophrenic but with more intensity, delusions of grandeur, moodiness, and a strong distrust of other people, even to the point of believing that people are plotting against them (see Definitions). Beware though, paranoiacs often strive excessively for success or leadership so will be keen to become a member of the senior management team, as leader if at all possible.

Impression management

The narcissist's leadership style emphasizes 'impression management' (see Definitions). Narcissists are more concerned about their own image (how they appear to others) than what will be the results of their work. Thus they tend to have a negative impact on the organization in the long term, and they are extremely difficult to identify.3 In the short term, their leadership style exudes apparent confidence, knowledge, ability and general all round 'management skills', which can be an advantage to the fledgling senior management team trying to get the organization 'off the ground'. But beware, once established in a position of authority, the narcissist will make life extremely difficult for anyone who challenges their 'superiority'.4

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is an extreme and rigid extension of narcissism. It involves inflated self-esteem, lack of empathy for others, feeling entitled to special treatment and privileges, disagreeableness, and most of all, an all-consuming need for attention. Bear in mind, though, that many normal people have narcissistic traits and that all people behave narcissistically at times and toward certain people.

Narcissists (those with NPD), by their very nature, will attempt to infiltrate the senior management team, and will feel that it is their right to lead the team.

There are many narcissists and people with other personality disorders who think that they will make a good leader, it is therefore of critical importance that the senior management team leader has the right leadership style and has a vision of growth. A leader with the right qualities and behavioural characteristics is the first step in creating a successful organization. A leader with a personality disorder is a recipe for disaster. Try a free on-line personality test; you can fill it in on behalf of a colleague if you know him or her well enough.

For more information about leaders and leadership style, particularly in relation to narcissistic leaders, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1 E.g. Vyakarnam, S., Jacobs, R.C. and Handelberg, J. (1999), Exploring the formation of entrepreneurial teams: The key to rapid growth business? Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 6, No. 2. pp. 153-165.
2 Kets de Vries, M.F.R. (1985), Narcissism and leadership: An object relations perspective, Human Relations, Vol. 38, pp. 583-601.
3 Cannella, A.A. and Monroe, M.J. (1997), Contrasting perspectives on strategic leaders: toward a more realistic view of top managers, Journal of Management, Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 213-37.
4 Vaknin, S. (1999), Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, Narcissus Publications, Skopje.