Let me begin with a statement from a previous posting:
“When people are given the legitimate authority associated with a position in an organization’s (management) hierarchy, they are also necessarily entrusted with the development of those over whom they have been given formal authority. Sadly some become intoxicated with exercising power over others that they deny and ignore the responsibility for the care and concern of others. Upholding this latter responsibility is in large measure what separates the good leaders from the bad.”
Toxic leaders—dysfunctional leaders—are so harmful to the human spirit that the organization they lead becomes a living hell for employees. Seemingly for these leaders, caring and concern stops at their own skin. To these people what matters is what’s in it for them—to them me getting mine is what counts! And when they don’t get what they want they often whine—just like spoiled little children do—feeling that they’ve been victimized. Clive Boddy, among others, has characterized these toxic leaders as corporate psychopaths. As Boddy asserted “as corporate psychopaths have little or no conscience or any feelings of care or empathy for those who report to them, then it follows logically that they are not driven by any notion of social responsibility or commitment to employees.”
[Aside: This causes me to think of the few CEO’s who have demonstrated no commitment to their employees in proclaiming they will limit the hours of workers and/or lay-off workers and/or raise their prices because of the prospect of having to provide healthcare insurance for their full-time employees.]
Since they don’t demonstrate a sense of concern beyond selfish concern, it is argued this type of leader has not developed morally beyond Kohlbergs’ Level 1 stage 2 (i.e. pre-conventional morality of individualism). In short they are egoist. They’ve clearly and completely bought into the morality of egoistic economics. That is, for them what is right is defined by what satisfies their self-interest. Consequently you would find people at this level of moral development believing that right action is determined by the result—ends justifying the means—particularly when it comes to them getting what they want. It seems that what is good is what satisfies their pleasure irrespective of the pain it causes others.
Organization as Instrument
So why do people submit to working for these leaders? Why don’t employees leave their employ? The fact is that most can’t because they are held hostage by their need to meet the basic needs for food and shelter; they have no other choice, they are trapped!
Adding insult to injury they are trapped in an organization with not-so-rosy long-term prospects. Why are the prospects not so good? An organization led by a person who diminishes the likelihood of people realizing their potential diminishes the organization’s viability and will inevitably destroy the organization. But as long as they are satisfying their wants, then they could care less about their impact upon the viability of the organization.
These leaders aren’t pro-business—although superficially they talk as if they are—rather what they are really for is extracting whatever they can from whomever they can for their own personal gain. They leverage their positional power in exploiting others in service to their personal gain.
Moreover these type executives take the metaphor of the organization as machine to a far more destructive level. No longer is the organization a clockwork mechanism, wherein people are parts of the machine in service to the needs of investors and the market. To these toxic leaders the organization is an instrument for sucking the energy out of others—like parasites—in service to their self-interest.
It’s About Energy
Good leaders use the positive energy triad involving self-initiation, non-attachment and engagement, whereas toxic leaders rely upon negative energy with fear-based methods. Leveraging their positional power in exploiting and controlling others their misuse and abuse of power turns the organization it into a black hole.
According to physicist David Bohm, black holes are singularities in the fabric of space-time within which all the known laws of physics must breakdown and basic structures, such as elementary particles, cease to exist. Simply, as defined by NASA, a black hole is “a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out.”
It is the trapping of our light that is most relevant to understanding these executives and our experience in organizations they control. Moreover, the concept of a back hole has metaphorical relevance to organizations, in particular those controlled by a corporate psychopath.
From the energic perspective, living systems—and people are living systems—are dynamic entities of energy. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, we aren’t the bulb we are the light! We don’t possess energy we are energy—we each re-present human energy. That is, what underlies all that we experience is the flow of energy for it is what travels in and through relationships. Surely you’ve experienced the exhilarating reaction to an enthusiastic person or the devitalizing effect of a depressed person. In life we are constantly transforming and exchanging energy as we strive to both continue in existence and in our unfolding. So, when we are held down, when we are suppressed or oppressed, when the light that we are becomes trapped we feel unfulfilled and less than what we are.
In black hole organizations the vibrancy of the human spirit (a.k.a light, psychic energy) is unable to unfold and find a means to manifest in creative expression. So when people work in black hole organizations the essence of their very being is extinguished. For employees a black hole organization is an entropic system; there is less and less energy available for exchange because the organizational environment traps people thus inhibiting their development, as well as that of the organization.
Because we are deeply connected and because we each have a need to self-actualize—to be and become what we potentially are—black hole organizations are not good for all of us, let alone any one of us! We are all diminished when another’s light is extinguished.