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Shark Leaders

Posted on Monday, 1st August 2011 @ 01:01 AM by Text Size A | A | A

Leaders Sharks

Leaders can become myopic, focused on their perception of the perfect employee and quite often that perfect employee “looks” much like the person making the hiring decision. As a leader, if I look in the mirror and see piercing, unbending, cold and threatening that is what I will look for in the perfect leadership employee when I blunder my way through the hiring process. If you have never seen a shark’s tooth look at the photo attached. These ancient leftovers are not very endearing and I frankly want to avoid all contact with a Shark disguised as a leader. Though I must tell you, I have had the misfortune to come nose to nose with several in the last three years. Fortunately, they have an unreasonable need to self-destruct –after you lose good employees and perhaps your job.
Psychopaths, Wannabes and Sharks
If you read the literature on leadership you will be assured that organizations are lusting after honesty, integrity, vision, loyalty, courage, intelligence and tenacity. The words may vary, yet the aggregate is comparable from one leadership model to another. I wonder, is that really who we would find at the helm in corporate America today? As much as this pains me to say, we are finding disturbingly unique individuals at the helm and in other positions of authority—in fact, perhaps one percent of the population. These new folks in the corporate board room and the Dean’s office are Sharks. If you look at one closely—don’t get too close—you will notice a disturbing resemblance to the psychopath. Sharks are not without value, they are undoubtedly tenacious and intelligent. However, when you add paranoid, emotionally blind, intolerant, self-serving, dishonest and chillingly cold you have the genuine ignoble Shark leader.
Dishonest is a supremely descriptive word for this new breed of leader, according to the Free Online Dictionary, it means, “disposed to lie, cheat, defraud, or deceive.” If you are into adjectives and adverbs, here are a few more for your consideration, “lying, untruthful, backbiting, bent , bluffing, cheating ; adverb: nastily and unfairly” (
Dr. Robert Hare
Many of these cold, manipulative (refer to my book, The Manipulative Man, for a psychopath quiz) individuals are psychopaths or psychopath wannabes. According to the world renowned psychopath expert, Dr. Robert Hare,
They’re the charming predators who, unable to form real emotional bonds… They’re the con men like Christophe Rocancourt, and they’re the stockbrokers and promoters who caused Forbes magazine to call the Vancouver Stock Exchange (now part of the Canadian Venture Exchange) the scam capital of the world. … Psychopaths can be found in legislatures, hospitals, and used-car lots. They’re your neighbour, your boss, and your blind date. Because they have no conscience, they’re natural predators. If you didn’t have a conscience, you’d be one too.
Yes, that is a scary description, but it lacks emotional and visual impact. Once you have met a Shark (and you may have) you will add the emotional and visual aspect. You may decide that this and other descriptions used are simply hyperbole, not true. On the bright side, there is an inoculation aspect, once you have seen and identified a Shark you will recognize his type in the future. That has to be worth something. I spotted two at international conferences—both were speakers.
Why Would an Organization Hire a Shark?
Why would a corporation hire a shark? Naturally, the psychopath does not advertise his less worthy characteristics and he is quite adept at wearing a mask of respectability and charm. Are the corporate leaders actually taken in by this ploy? Or are some of them reckless enough to willingly put a shark on a lease? It would seem so. Sharks are accomplished in some areas, if you interpret the data with enough elasticity. Sadly for a corporate executive who makes a pact with a shark—sharks do not lead and they do follow and they do not honor agreements.
Dr. Hare’s Psychopath Checklist
Below you will find a portion of the Dr. Hare’s Psychopath Checklist. If you look at the list using his adjectives and descriptive phrases it probably does not appeal to the average corporate executive—I am being generous. However, let’s reframe some of these terms and adjectives in corporate (organizational), leader language. The terms on the right are the reframes, meant to impress though certainly not accurate representations of the true Shark leader.
Dr. Roberts Hare’s Psychopath Checklist
• glib and superficial charm VS charms and is well liked
• grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self VS creative and innovative with healthy self-confidence
• need for stimulation VS high energy level and ability to take interest in many areas
• cunning and manipulativeness VS intelligent and persuasive
• lack of remorse or guilt VS determined, assertive and forward thinking
• shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness) VS stable and centered
• poor behavioral controls VS extraverted, fun loving and gregarious
• lack of realistic long-term goals VS creative, innovative, a free thinker
• impulsivity VS willing to take a risk, courageous
OK, corporate leaders, Sharks may appear creative, innovative, free thinkers—even outside the box. However, be aware not only is he outside the box, he plans on burning the box to the ground and he doesn’t care if you happen to be in it. His need for stimulation may cross the line into illegal. He may be decidedly charming, but he cobbles up the people he charms. Those nice sharp teeth serve a purpose (review picture).
Be Careful
You may bring such a person onboard to straighten up a team, put them on the right track and meet your need for numbers. Any progress he (though some sharks are women) makes will be short lived and he may just snag your job before he moves on to the next sucker organization. Hmmmm, does anyone else hear the music from Jaws?

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