It’s always been a mystery to me why so many arguably evil managers and leaders not only last but seem to thrive inside certain organizations. 

You know the type.  Hey, maybe you are one.  If so, chime in.  I’ve never actually heard from an evil leader that was willing to talk openly about why he is the way he is. 

Evil leaders tend to fit one or more of these profiles:

  • The dictator
  • The assassin
  • The two-faced politician (is that redundant?)
  • The warlord
  • The megalomaniac
  • The evil genius
  • The double agent

While this might sound like the cast of a great new movie, I know a few people that would agree that it looks a lot like a quorum at their senior management meeting.

Is it our nature to gravitate towards evil leadership in our pursuit of power and wealth? 

I sure hope not, because I’m missing that gene.

I’ve worked in and with organizations that seem to cultivate and reward more than their fair share of villains, thugs and hoodlums masquerading as leaders.  My observations as to why some environments seem to produce a bumper crop of these dysfunctional characters include:

  • No visible sign of values in action—the sign might be on the wall outlining the values, but other than that, nothing.  No teeth and no meaning behind those words.
  • Some leaders just like to be surrounded by enforcers.  One leader I encountered as a consulted tolerated a truly heinous individual because in his words, “I like to have a pitbull in the office looking out for my interests.”
  • Some senior leaders enjoy the conflict.  It is entertaining and it fits their Darwinian view of the world.
  • Some leaders are sensory deprived—they are so preoccupied with their own issues they are truly blind to the carnage going on around them.  While they hear isolated reports, they are not perceptive enough to see the patterns.

The Cures:

  • If you have the chance, fire an evil leader or even a future evil leader.  I actually enjoy this.  Ooops, is that a sign that I might be moving to the dark side?
  • Regardless of where you fit in the food chain, establish, promote and reward those that show character and reinforce proper values.  Fire the others.  Yep, still enjoyable.
  • If you are in charge or starting up, establish clear, meaningful values from day one and build your culture and team around those values.  Abstinence from evil leaders is still the best bet.
  • Help the evil leader unmask himself or herself.  This is not for the faint of heart or light of bank account, since you are in essence playing their game but often without the power. 
  • Find a new job and company, but remember to do a great job culture sensing before you sign up.  You would hate to move from one evil den to another. 

If you have a good evil leader story, the readers would love to hear it.  Unlike most stories, we like these to end poorly for these people.  It just makes us feel like the good people have a chance.