Working with Difficult People #02

As the second installment of working with difficult people, I’d like to examine some of the profiles of difficult people from Stanley Bing’s very entertaining book Crazy Bosses.  True to it’s name, the book talks about the various psychopaths who make it into the ranks of management as crazy or difficult bosses.  Bing focuses on 5 categories of lunatic managers:

  1. The Bully
  2. The Paranoid
  3. The Narcissist
  4. The Wimp
  5. The Disaster Hunter

Let’s look at a quick profile of each of these from Bing’s books and share some tips for dealing with them.

The Bully Stalin_2

The profile of the bully is someone who is moody and often rageful, inconsistent, manipulative, aggressive, insensitive, and difficult to deal with.  A real life example is Joseph Stalin who thought little of killing millions of his own people to promote his own agenda.

Dealing with Bullies 

Bullies keep their subordinates off balance.  So it is helpful to expect the unexpected when dealing with bullies so that you are not surprised.  I once had a bully program manager who would strive to come in earlier than I did and find out about any problems that occurred overnight so he could berate me for them.  Once I learned to expect his surprise morning attacks he stopped doing them because they were no longer effective in upsetting me.

Keep your distance.  Bullies are the types that hurt the ones they love the most and those closest to them.  So don’t get close to them.  Having a bully boss may be a good time to start working from home.  Be careful though because bullies place a premium on loyalty and severely punish anyone they perceive as disloyal.  So try to strike a balance between being loyal without getting too close.  Stay out of the kill zone.

You never know when ou are going to need a friend so maintain good relationships with everyone else.  Try to stay on good working terms with your peers and other managers in the organization. 

That bully program manager I had was brutal.  He thrived on teasing and belittling others.  He loved to go on the attack during meetings and usually singled out those who appeared weak.  I survived by being compliant, by keeping my distance, and by using humor to deflect his attacks.  It wasn’t easy though and his constant barrage of attacks took a toll on me.  I was relieved to finally be able to leave his organization when the chance came. 

The Paranoid

The profile of the paranoid is someone who is afraid, very afraid.  They don’t trust others and suspect that everyone has their own personal agenda because the paranoid has an agenda.  They read malice into everything they see and imagine everyone to be focused on bringing them down. They keep track of every real and imagined hurt and are on the lookout for ways to pay back others.  A real life example is President Richard Nixon.  Nixon

Dealing with the Paranoid:

Like the Bully, the Paranoid may experience rapid swings of emotions.  Frequently fearful, they can also go on the attack with anger and rage at the slightest bit of perceived disloyalty.  Under no circumstances do you want to confront or attack the paranoid; they’ll never forget it and will likely seek revenge long after you have forgotten.  Finally, it is important that you exercise your own emotional self-control and confidence.  Don’t get sucked into fights you cannot win. 

One characteristic of the paranoid is that they try to suck the confidence from you. To remain confident, remind yourself of the things you have done well over the years to land in the position you are in. 

The Narcissist

The profile of the narcissist is someone who is obsessed with themself.  They think of their top three priorities as me, myself, and I.  While not as dangerous as the Bully or Paranoid, they can be incapable of thinking outside the box (that is, outside of themselves).  They may think nothing of asking you to do difficult, uncomfortable, or unacceptable things.   

Dealing with the NarcissistTrump

When dealing with the narcissist, forget thinking about anything other than them.  They are the most important star in the universe.  In fact, it has been said that the only difference between a narcissist and God is that God doesn’t think he is a narcissist. 

Bing advises readers to keep the narcissist comfortable, suck up as much as you can stomach, make them effective in spite of themselves and let them take all the credit for success.  It also helps to laugh at all their jokes and fawn over everything they do.  Playing hard to get is usually ineffective with a narcissist especially since there are likely plenty of others ready to suck up if you don’t.  There may even be a long line of suckups ready to win over the narcissist.

You can see all of these techniques and other winning strategies for dealing with Narcissists simply by watching the candidates on The Apprentice suck up to Donald Trump.  Or if your stomach can take it, go for the sleaze factor and watch desparate women do anything to win over Brett Michaels or Flavor Flav on their disgusting reality TV shows.  This is one situation where I feel you can learn a lot from TV.

The Wimp

The wimp is scared.  They feel overwhelmed with the demands of their job and their own feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.  They try to read the tea leaves to lean in the right direction.  They’ll also jump to take credit for an idea once it looks like a good one, whether or not they originated it, and they distance themselves from the bad ones.  They may be found hiding out in their office where no one will ask them what they are doing.

From an emotional intelligence standpoint, I don’t see any crime in being scared.  Warriors are scared!  We all feel fear; it’s what keeps us from doing things that get us killed.
It isn’t the fear that makes individuals wimps; it is a lack of courage.  The wimp lacks the courage to move through the fear to do the right thing, in spite of the consequences.

As a group, Bing doesn’t believe that wimps are very threatening.  I have to disagree though with his characterization of President George H. W. Bush as a wimp; I thought Bush did a great job during the first Iraq war.  Now if he had said President Jimmy Carter, I would have quietly agreed with him even though I like Carter’s post-presidency record.

NevilleMy vote for wimp would be British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Which is actually a pretty wimpy vote considering he’s long dead and his living relatives probably don’t live anywhere close enough to be a threat to me.

Dealing with wimps is pretty straightforward.  You need to take the heat for any bad decisions or faulty plans.  You also need to show them your loyalty and love.  You won’t be alone; others will want to do the same.  You will also need to look out for your career because the wimp certainly won’t stick their neck out for you or promote your advancement.  Finally, though the wimp will be loathe to even recognize them let alone execute them, you need to bring forward the plans that are really needed.

I had an opportunity to have a wimp for an executive sponsor once.  Initially I thought it was OK that he never wanted to get involved in the project or meet with me.  Eventually I realized that it was hurting the project so I pushed for the meetings and his needed actions.  I had to continue to push him to take actions and it was a lot of work.  But because he was a wimp, he wouldn’t have done anything without that pushing.

The Disaster Hunter

The final type of crazy boss profiled in Bing’s book is the disaster hunter.  The disaster hunter is a major accident waiting to happen.  They seek more of everything and their thirst will drive them toward brilliant failure.  They cannot contain their need for more power, sex, booze, and publicity.  Though they are successful, they thirst for more and are unable to exercise any form of self-control.  Telltale signs of the inevitable destruction are hysteria, depression, screwing up, rehab, sexual acting out, and workaholism. 

As a group, the disaster hunters can be exciting to be around if you can avoid the inevitable blowup that occurs when they flame out.  Don’t be surprised if they ignore your warnings or advice as they pursue destructive paths.

CraigMany US politicians would be considered disaster hunters.  Bill Clinton is a likeable example of a disaster hunter; most of our congressman are less likeable yet equally disastrous (consider Tom Delay, Mark Foley, Ted Kennedy, and Larry Craig).  Bing also suggests GW Bush as an example and I have to agree, based on how Bush has pursued the war in Iraq.

Dealing with the disaster hunter is generally easier since they are often less personally threatening to you than a bully or a narcissist.  The major danger is that the disaster hunter flames out and takes you with them.  Bing advises readers to make plans for an escape route of some sort in the event the disaster hunter flames out.  If possible, maintain some distance between them and their agenda and your own. 

You might also help them to flame out if the opportunity presents itself to accelerate their departure.  Certainly do not provide them any sort of safe harbor or help them when they are on the decline.  Don’t look back.   Whatever happens, you’ll want to be calm in the face of the hysteria of the disaster hunter.

I had a peer manager some years ago that was a disaster hunter.  While not dangerous to me, his behavior certainly caused him problems.  He was on the fast track and though quite affable, he couldn’t contain his thirst for alcohol and women.  At an after work party one evening, he decided to hop on a motorcycle with another woman from work on the back.  He was severely impaired from drinking and he crashed the motorcycle which gave him a concussion and broke his pelvis and the back of his passenger.  That accident set him back but it didn’t stop his drinking.  Several years after that accident, he had a couple of DUIs and lost his license completely.  His career was no longer on the fast track and he quietly faded out.

Have you had a crazy lunatic boss?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, good and bad.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anthony,
    Interesting article that made me remember several bosses from my past! One thought I had was that people are so complex that they can slide from one “Crazy” category to another and to varying degrees. It’s still helpful for your safety & sanity to find their primary cateogry but you still need to keep on your toes for the variations. They may even lull you in from time to time with moments of sanity.
    I had a Project Sponsor not too long ago who was a “Wimp”. We would give him updates on costs that were climbing and that lack of performance of a vendor, and the evaporating ROI of our project. He did not want to hear about it and eventually asked us to stop this kind of analysis and reporting on the project -claiming it was wasteful. He thought the less he knew about it the less he could be responsible for standing up and fighting for the project, and the organization.
    take care,
    Ed

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