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Paranoid Managers

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The essence of the ‘paranoid style’ is rampant, pervasive suspicion.

Michael Vannoy Adams,
cited from The Delicate Balance of Terror

People with paranoid personality disorder (PPD) have long-term unwarranted suspicions that other people are hostile, threatening or demeaning. These beliefs are steadfastly maintained in the absence of any real supporting evidence. The disorder name comes from the Greek word for "madness".

Paranoid managers are suspicious, touchy, humorless, quick to take offense and slow to forgive, self-righteous, argumentative, often litigious.  Paradoxically the same set of traits have Authoritarian managers, so you need to distibush between two.  One key difference is consistent tendency to interpret the actions of other people as deliberately threatening or demeaning and continual mistrust.  You need to understand that this type of corporate psychopath seldom exists in "refined" state. This style of behaviors is typical for most toxic managers but most clearly evident in authoritarians and micromanagers. The paranoid person creates a reality from his fears, because he feels the fears are present is surrounding world.

But "paranoid manager complex" includes more then that. Typically you can observe the following additional features:

Again all those traits are also present in authoritarians. At the same time paranoid managers are often behave like obsessive micromanagers (control freaks) which is less typical for authoritarians.  See Understanding Micromanagers and control freaks

All-in-all they is a very dangerous, really toxic personalities and you need to exercise extreme care dealing with them.

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[Mar 23, 2007] Management Fad Adoption: An Exploration of Three Psychogenic Influences by Kerry David Carson, Paula Phillips Carson, Patricia A. Lanier, Ross D. Judice

A second type of neurotic leader identified by Kets de Vries (1994) is the suspicious type. These managers feel like they can't trust anyone, so they are constantly on their guard. Therefore, they are always preparing to retaliate against all assaults from menacing forces. To help them prepare for assaults, they seek large inputs of information. Because of their hypersensitivity, distrustfulness, and suspiciousness, they try to control their work environment by being over-involved in rules and details.

According to Westen & Shedler (1999), individuals with a paranoid personality disorder are hostile people who express anger out of proportion to the situation. This anger is a result of their perception that others are trying to do them harm. They tend to misinterpret others' intentions as malevolent, frequently getting into power struggles and arguments. Once a conflict arises, the paranoid executive will tend to hold a grudge and be very critical of the other person, losing all capacity to see anything good in the other person. Projecting unacceptable feelings onto others, they tend to come across as self-righteous and moralistic. Once a major problem arises they see it as disastrous and unsolvable, but they won't confide their concerns to others for fear of betrayal.

The suspicious executive mistrusts everyone. S/he can be described as intense, cynical, inflexible, and distrustful. Because of their continuing paranoia, which is typically unjustified, suspicious personalities defend against any perceived threat--real or imagined. Stubborn and rigid, they rarely relax or let up their guard. They maintain that hypervigilance is their key to survival. Everyone in the organization is seen as a potential menace, so the suspicious executive keeps a safe distance from colleagues. This distance makes interactions seem impersonal and callous. They seem void of kindness, sentimentality, and compassion. On the occasions when suspicious personalities exhibit humor, it is usually thinly veiled hostility--expressed in a stabbing and sarcastic manner (Carson & Carson, 1997; Carson & Carson, 1998).

Suspicious executives need to control in order to ensure their safety and security. When they are not in charge, the suspicious personality feels vulnerable. However, they hide such concerns because to expose weaknesses would give others an upper hand. Therefore, the paranoid tries to conceal feelings of foreboding, tension, and distress. They bluff their way through danger by acting fearless, inaccessible, and potentially vengeful. To protect themselves, suspicious executives emphasize organizational structure, centralized power, environmental intelligence, and diversification (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1984). Management fashions are adopted by suspicious executives to reduce risk, increase control, and augment power. Fashions are then dropped to cover up failed initiatives, thus avoiding criticism and attack (cf. Carson & Carson, 1997; Carson & Carson, 1998).

Defective Bosses Working for the Dysfunctiona... - Google Book Search

By Kerry David Carson, Paula Phillips Carson. Published 1998 Haworth Press. Business / Economics /
Finance. 169 pages. ISBN 0789005808

Paranoid Bosses can be described as distrustful. intense, cynical, uncompromising, and guarded. Because of their lingering suspiciousness, which is typically unjustified, paranoiacs take precautions against any perceived threat -- real or imagined. They infer hidden motives, overreact to slights, and are quick to counterattack. Stubborn and rigid, they almost never relax or let down their guard against possible assault or derogation. They believe that hyper vigilance is their key to survival.

Everyone is a potential enemy, so paranoid bosses keep a safe distance from employees and peers. This distance makes interactions with them fell impersonal and cold. They seem void of kindness, sentimentality, and compassion. Paranoid bosses are unemotional and they are definitely deficient when it comes to a sense of humor. To them, the world is not a funny place. On the rare occasions when paranoiacs so show it, it is usually thinly veiled hostility expressed in a biting and sarcastic manner.

... ... ...

Interpersonal relationships are avoided by paranoiacs. They resist collaborative associations and seem unable to compromise. They refrain from group participation unless thy can control and dominate.

Office Coach by Marie McIntyre Immature, insecure top execs create toxic conditions at work

Q Our new CEO is very vindictive and has a network of "spies" who feed him stories about people he doesn't like. He uses fabricated information to fire people and displays his power by having security escort terminated employees off the premises.

Another manager and I met with him to talk about how customer service and employee morale have been affected by all this negativity. We had numbers to prove that customer satisfaction has declined and employee turnover has increased since his administration came in.

In the meeting, we presented our concerns professionally and did not complain about the CEO. The end result was that he had Human Resources place us both on final written warning for insubordination. For the next year, we can be immediately terminated for any additional offenses.

Now that I have become a sacrificial lamb, I need to know how to direct attention away from myself, especially since the CEO questions people about my activities. What sort of relationship is it safe to establish with this person? And do you think this type of leadership will succeed?

A. With a malicious and destructive CEO, the only safe choices are to lie low or leave. The CEO position has almost unlimited power, which can readily be used against anyone viewed as an adversary.

Immature and insecure executives take any negative feedback as a personal betrayal, which is why your well-intentioned comments were perceived as insubordination. Your final warning puts you perilously close to receiving one of the infamous security escorts.

To escape this fate, you must focus on your work and avoid drawing attention to yourself. If you see the CEO, smile pleasantly and say hello. When talking with him about business issues, be your most agreeable and friendly self. After awhile, his wrath is likely to dissipate.

But even if you survive, you're still stuck in a toxic organization, which is harmful to both your mental and physical health. To reduce your stress, stop trying to change things that are completely out of your control, like your CEO's management style. Instead focus your energy on exploring possible opportunities elsewhere.

Paranoid managers almost always fail in the long run. Their brutal style drives away top performers and keeps people from telling them about problems.

But this downfall often takes quite awhile, so you would be wise to get a job search under way.

Q I am a part-time horticulturist in a large hotel. My job is to keep all the inside plants clean, watered and disease free. I work all night on the graveyard shift with another co-worker who does the same job full time. He also goes to school and has two part-time jobs.

The problem is that my co-worker uses this night shift position to sleep, so I have to work twice as hard. Our boss is not here at night, so he thinks this person is just the greatest. I don't want to be a snitch, and I don't know whether I would be believed anyway. What should I do?

A First, ask your manager to differentiate clearly the duties of these two jobs. Explain that the work can be done more efficiently if you each have distinct responsibilities or a specific territory to cover.

Then you must do only your own job. If you stop covering for the sleepyhead, your boss will eventually notice the dry, dusty foliage in his area.

Your other option is to make an appointment with Human Resources and describe the problem just as you have here.

Action is quite likely to follow, since hotel management is not paying people to snooze.

Paranoid managers almost always fail in the long run. Their brutal style drives away top performers and keeps people from telling them about problems.

● Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at

I have a boss who does not trust me. She is suspicious of me and sees ulterior motives behind everything I do. How should I handle this?


In the Line of Fire

Dear Line:

Is it just you, or does she treat others on the unit the same way? You may be working for a paranoid individual (or you may be paranoid yourself). If you are working for someone who is paranoid, you have to tread very, very carefully.

Make sure that you do not behave aggressively, as this reaction could cause her to attack you. Defend yourself against your boss's accusations, but don't get into an argument. If she makes you angry and catches you in a contradiction, she will become more paranoid. Protect yourself by documenting your work, by informing her in advance of your activities, and, in general, by over-communicating. Don't surprise her.

Finally, look for a new job.

How to Work for an Idiot by John Hoover, Ph.D.

When your boss is an idiot.

"Although idiots are barnacles on the ship of executive survival, they can nonetheless serve valuable functions – as long as they're not in charge," says business consultant and admitted "recovering idiot boss" John Hoover. "The bad news is they usually are in charge. The good news is, talented and dedicated people can rise above the situation and thrive in spite of their idiot bosses."

If you work for a difficult boss but happen to like or need to keep your job, your choices are limited. Doing nothing leads to resentment, while trying to change your boss is most often futile and might even cost you your job.

What you can change is your reaction, which is the main focus of Hoover's book, offering "methods and techniques to help you deal with fools in positions of power more easily."

As a mid-level executive at Walt Disney, a manager at McGraw-Hill, and in positions of power at other companies, Hoover confesses "I've had a bitter pill of self-aggrandizement lodged in my throat for years."

When it comes to dealing with an idiot boss, Hoover recommends you first look at yourself to see if you have the same traits. "Things that annoy us about others are often characteristics we possess," he says. "Our own flaws are almost indescribably irritating when they show up in the words and actions of someone with power and authority over us. If you can spot it, you've got it," he quips.

He suggests that it might also help to identify your triggers and pet peeves, and strive to eliminate them, so your boss can no longer push your buttons. If you can't beat him, you might as well join him because "Your idiot boss needs to feel that someone is on his side, in his corner, and has his back."

To muster a little empathy for your boss, Hoover prescribes imagining "the Idiot Police" showing up one day and taking her away, then ask yourself, "What things wouldn't be done? Would any positive activities cease?" More times than not, despite the menacing attitude, your boss probably does serve a purpose.

Other advice includes getting along with coworkers and doing little things around the office that will gain notice, like watering the plants or picking up trash off the floor. Also a self-confessed workaholic – he's been filing income tax returns since the age of 11 – Hoover lists a serious work ethic as another way to garner recognition.

Dressing the way your boss dresses is another way to curry favour, according to Hoover, even if your boss has questionable taste in clothes or clearly lacks the fashion gene. "It's hard for people with taste to dress poorly," he admits, but he contends the effort will pay handsome rewards. "He probably won't realize what you're doing, but he'll feel strangely more comfortable around you." A word to the wise though: "remain aware of how your wardrobe choices and grooming will affect your most immediate relationships. It can be a tough call."

On the bright side, if you do have an "idiot boss," things could be worse. Hoover classifies bosses into several categories – God bosses, Machiavellian bosses, masochistic bosses, paranoid bosses and buddy bosses, to name a few – many of which are worse than an idiot boss, but he offers concrete strategies for dealing with each type.

Much of Hoover's advice is encouraging, such as, "Don't allow poor performance reviews to wound your ego. They are a more reliable indicator of the boss's mood and ability to deal with people issues, than they are accurate reflections of performance."

The book is loaded with sayings that are both humorous and profound – like "Even a broken clock is right twice a day." "It's easier to push off toward the surface from the bottom of the pool," and "The ways in which we humans think and act are like the tires on your car. You never give them any thought until one goes flat." – that make reading this book a pleasure.

But if you do read his book, Hoover offers this sage advice: "Do not leave How to Work for an Idiot lying around the office, unless it's on your worst enemy's desk."

Title: How to Work for an Idiot
Author: John Hoover, Ph.D.
Publisher: Career Press
ISBN: 1564147045
Review written by: Marc Duane Anderson
Reviewer's Rating:9.5

Reader's Rating: 10.00
Reader's Votes: 1

No, you're not being paranoid – your staff really don't trust you

They may smile, nod and agree with you, but if you are a boss, your staff are unlikely to trust you, according to a new survey.

A study of more than 1,000 people by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that trust in senior managers is declining, particularly in the private sector.

Bosses need to be doing more to earn the trust of their employees, and just being the boss no longer guarantees you automatic trust and respect, it argued.

Just a quarter of employees in the private sector said they were willing to place a lot of trust in senior management to look after their interests, with more than four out of 10 saying they had little or no trust in them to do so.

The survey, Employee Well-being and the Psychological Contract, has been launched to coincide with a psychology at work conference run by the institute.

Trust in immediate line managers had also declined, dropping in the private sector by more than 10 per cent over the past two years, said the CIPD.

Fewer than half of those polled said their supervisor motivated them and only four out of 10 – 37 per cent – said their line manager actually helped them improve performance.

Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: "Trust is a key element in the psychological contract between employers and employees. If employees have a positive psychological contract, this means they will show higher levels of satisfaction, motivation and commitment to the organisation.

"So if employees don't trust their employer, or don't feel they are being treated fairly, this will be reflected in their lack of commitment and underperformance," he added.

Employers needed to work a lot harder in order to get the best from their staff, with good communication being the key, he suggested.

Other recommendations included consulting people about change and ensuring they felt involved in the decision making process.

But warned Emmott: "Too many firms are not getting the basics right."

The survey also suggests that stress is a major issue, with employers falling below what the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has identified as an 'acceptable standard' on the core factors underpinning workplace stress levels.

For example, more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents say their workload is too heavy and one in five do not believe the demands of their job are realistic.

Taken together, Emmott said, the findings suggest that managers have a significant job on their hands in motivating a majority of their workforce.

"Those who are not looking for a traditional career are less likely to feel the need to make a favourable impression on their employer and less likely to demonstrate positive behaviours such as offering help to colleagues beyond their contractual obligation," he said.

Have Management Gurus Made Us Slaves or Superheroes

Excerpts from The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus

The best place to begin any discussion about the future of work is a large, elegant flat in Putney, a prosperous suburb in West London and the home of Britain's best-known guru, Charles Handy. His forecast a decade ago that fewer than half the workforce would be in "proper" full-time jobs by the turn of the century has just about come true in Western Europe; in America, the proportion of people who are unemployed, self-employed, or on short-term contracts is currently about 35%.

Anybody who accepts the notion that work is changing is immediately plunged into two fierce debates. The first revolves around the question of whether the new work culture liberates or enslaves the working man or woman. The second debate, which tends to be greatly colored by the diagnosis of the first, turns to prescription. What should be done to make jobs more liberating experiences? What should a manager demand from his or her employer?

Managers, Tom Peters suggests, are on the verge of a new, empowered age. "Forget loyalty. Or at least loyalty to one's corporation. Try loyalty to your Rolodex -- your network -- instead." Everybody should become an independent contractor or think of themselves as one. "Powerlessness is a state of mind," declares Peters.

Many other gurus reckon that "powerless" is exactly what most managers are. The most downbeat are the "end-of-work" crowd. A gloomy prognosis of the future of work has become a staple of left-wing politics everywhere. Both America's former labor secretary, Robert Reich, and Tony Blair, the leader of Britain's Labour Party, have talked about the rise of "the anxious class," most of whom hold jobs but are justifiably uneasy about their lack of security.

A third group of people, including Charles Handy, seem to hop from one side of the fence to the other, sometimes celebrating those who have the necessary skills and knowledge to flourish in the new economy, sometimes sympathizing with those who will be left behind.

Everyone seems to agree that there is a growing division. The mistake the pessimists make is to assume that most people in the Western world fit into the losing camp. There is a big and growing, group of workers who should gain from the technology that is making it easier for people to set up on their own. Wander around a Denver suburb or even a Cotswold village, and you will find any number of moderately qualified people working for themselves -- and usually being paid more for it.

That said, there is also a class of people who are doomed to lose out. This group certainly includes some managers. However, there does not appear to be a shortage of managerial jobs. Most people read Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America (1995), an autobiography of a manager named G.J. Meyer coming to terms with unemployment, as a primary example of a new sort of "work-horror" genre: "In Edvard Munch's The Scream, a solitary empty-eyed figure stands in a roadway clutching its head, mouth open wide," proclaims the self-pitying author. "I hope that's not what I look like as I walk the streets of Manhattan." At the end of Executive Blues, however, the author has to admit that he has found "a job that I like very much with a company that I like very much on the outskirts of Cleveland." The real losers are the unskilled poor, who are now more likely to spend their lives drifting between short-term jobs, or perhaps dropping out of formal work entirely.

That suggests that managers should be worried about the poor and not themselves. However, the winners and losers in this new world of work should be judged in psychological as well as material terms. Here managers fare less well. For all the talk of empowerment, most are scared and anxious creatures. The main contribution to this psychological unease is probably overwork. One of the developing world's biggest problems (and one for which management theory should take part of the blame) is that modern economies seem to combine rising unemployment with longer working hours for those in jobs. On balance, Handy's rule (about half the number of people being paid twice as much to do three times as much work) looks like an exaggeration; but even if they are working only one-and-a-half times as hard as they used to, most workers feel shattered.

Managers are nearly always the hardest working of the lot. Once again, management fashion is partly responsible. Delayering reduces the number of managers available to do jobs. Reengineering forces managers to take charge of an entire process.

To add to these psychological strains, the fashion for long hours has gone hand in hand with the fashion for flexibility. Workers often devote themselves to their companies almost to the exclusion of their social lives. Poring over reports takes the place of hobbies; networking on the telephone takes over from normal socializing. People disrupt their family lives in order to take foreign postings. They also make many of their strongest friendships at work. Suddenly the firm is reengineered, and they become surplus. The thing that has filled their days and given their life purpose is taken away from them. The overworked company man suddenly becomes just another anomic citizen.

One day, this may change. Companies may employ more people and make them work less. Workers will agree to work at strange shifts in exchange for working fewer hours and getting paid the same. A few companies have experimented along these lines. But most would rather work their existing workforce to the bone and reward them accordingly.

The new work order is producing not "the unemployed manager," but the paranoid manager. The probabilities remain firmly in his favor (it is still predominantly "his"): he will keep his job; even if he loses it, he will be reemployed fairly quickly. What have unhinged him are possibilities: the possibility that he could be one of the minority of managers who get sacked and are not employed again; that technology will replace his job rather than just make it easier. As he commutes to his home in Pasadena, the paranoid manager does not find the idea that his new neighbor is a consultant who works from home and earns more money than he does encouraging, but frightening. And his own company plays on this insecurity by telling him that he will only be paid more if he works harder.

John Micklethwait, the New York bureau chief of The Economist, has written for the Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on National Public Radio. Winner of the Winscott Award for financial journalism, he lives in New York City.

Adrian Woolridge, the West Coast bureau chief of The Economist, has written for The Wall Street Journal and The New Republic. He lives in Los Angeles.

Reprinted and excerpted with permission from The Witch Doctors, Making Sense of the Management Gurus
Copyright 1996, 1997 by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge

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