Martin was clearly one of the most talented business leaders I'd ever met—super smart, strategic, articulate, and motivational. Had it not been for certain self-limiting behaviors—especially his hair-trigger temper—he could easily have become CEO of a global company. He was once on the very threshold of achieving that lifelong aspiration when his angry, self-righteous outburst at a Board meeting literally scuttled the Directors' decision to appoint him CEO. Martin left that company immediately and despite all of his leadership assets, he didn't realize his career goal elsewhere. It was as if his reputation—potential for the amygdala hijack—preceded him. I would describe him as distinctly perilous... painfully perilous in that it was he who single-handedly sabotaged his becoming all that he desired to be.
In my recent book, Behind the Executive Door: Unexpected Lessons for Managing Your Boss, I described three leader types—Remarkable, Perilous and Toxic. Based on my analysis of 300 executive coaching cases, a significant majority (60%) of these business executives fell into the Perilous category. Like Martin, these leaders possessed capabilities on a par with those of Remarkable leaders. While they were capable of leading remarkably well at times, underlying issues—especially what I have termed their sense of unrequited work—influenced leadership behavior that was fundamentally more Perilous than Remarkable.
Like unrequited love, unrequited work involves something desperately wanted but unrealized. In a career, unrequitedness is fuelled by lost opportunities and the failure to achieve strong work-related aspirations. One's unrequited sense of work can be manifested in chronic frustration, disappointment, and the envy of more successful others. For those reporting to them, no work effort is ever quite good enough and there is little, if any, affirmation of efforts made to achieve results (see cartoon below).
In addition to the over-arching theme of unrequited work, there are three factors that contribute to one behaving as a Perilous leader; (1) lack of total brain leadership (TBL), i.e., the failure to integrate left brain rational thinking with right brain interpersonal relationship sensibilities, (2) variable emotional intelligence—especially problems in controlling negative emotions such as anger and, limited empathy for others' personal issues or work-related concerns, and (3) narcissism that is more unproductive than productive, i.e., getting one's own ego needs met transcends leading people in a fair and reasonable manner.
We need to pay attention to Perilous leaders—not just because of how numerous they are or because of the grief they can bring to themselves and others. We need to pay attention to them because they have the potential to be Remarkable—and, our generous efforts can help get them there.
For those of you with a Perilous boss, here are some suggestions that could help you "manage" him/her and thus influence a more productive and positive atmosphere at work:
Remember: If you are successful in helping your boss (or yourself?) be less Perilous, this has implications for improving his/her overall effectiveness, your happiness, and the success of the company.