12/16/2010 11:00 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ogres and Narcissists in Management

It's amazing to me how often I come across organizational problems and inevitably learn that someway, somehow, there is a person with a pesky attitude problem buried at the heart of it. Each time it happens I think there must be a Buffoonery School of Business somewhere that I don't know about, that teaches "All About Me Management." I am sure however, that I have come face-to-face with a quite a few of its graduates.

Recently, I sat in on a meeting during which time I was being asked to assess the development needs of a company's management team. Instead, I listened to fifteen managers crammed into a conference room bemoaning the woes of having to work with one senior executive in particular. They complained that he was overbearing, obsessed with control, always had to be right, overrode other people's decisions on a whim and basically screwed up the flow of work across the organization. I thought, "Well that's easy. Why not just fire him instead of hiring me?" But since it wasn't that simple, (it never is) I began wondering when, how and under what circumstances does an inherent and legitimate need for personal focus and self-esteem turn into an obnoxious state of self-absorption and disregard for others?

Armed with a burning desire to confirm that I hadn't missed something more obvious than simply telling this guy to stop acting like a Neanderthal, I got a second opinion from a respected colleague with whom I've worked for many years. She suggested that a relationship may exist between talent and a lack of people skills. I'd buy that if we were talking about Picasso, a certifiable genius and bastard who had the good sense to isolate himself from innocent bystanders. But in business, if madness drives ability, then we're really up a creek, because it means that the reason these people have their positions is inextricably linked to the reason we want them to go away. But they don't, unfortunately. Instead they cling to power as if it is the last mast above water on a sinking ship. And most perplexing of all, industry encourages, excuses, ignores, placates and tolerates these egos-gone-wild in people who think theirs is the only existence. Why? Look where it's gotten us. Politics. Medicine. Business. Education. Religion. Infected, sick and diseased, through and through.

It worries me to think that we turn a blind eye when people appoint themselves center of the universe. It only takes one of them to disrupt an entire group that would otherwise function well and harmoniously, not to mention more productively. But worse, multiply that out by the scores of people clawing their way up the corporate ladder, and look what we've got. A whole lot of mess, that's what.

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