Anatomy Of A Troubled Boss

Anatomy Of A Troubled Boss

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

As a child, I loved a board game called "snakes and ladders." If you land on a ladder, you climb up, but if you land on a snake, you go as far down as the snake's tail. Naturally, I loved ladders and dreaded the snakes. When I would come to the top row and see the "Finish" corner, my heart would start racing in anticipation of the victory. Then I would look at all the snakes in the top row and I would feel a knot tightening in my stomach.

I hated the fact that in this game there were no ladders at the top, only snakes to bring me down into the snake pit.

In the world of grownups, many bosses find themselves in a similar situation. Being at the top, they can't see any additional ladders to climb, but plenty of "snakes" to bring them down.

In the corporate world, some are absolutely convinced of the axiom, "Only the paranoids can survive." The premise of aggressive bosses, particularly the ones who possess high hostility and cynicism, is that in order to survive in this ruthlessly competitive world they feel that they have to be always weary of everyone and control everything! As a result, they get into a rather unenviable position where they have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

For paranoid bosses, it is really lonely at the top. Their excessive concern for possibly losing their status combined with distrust of everyone makes them a "control freak." They come across as angry and controlling.

Underneath the hostile and demanding outer cover, there is a person who feels constantly threatened. They tend to rely on those who inflame their sense of insecurity and corroborate their paranoid view of the world. They feel more secure in the presence of those who confirm their belief that others are incompetent and unreliable.

Many executives battle depression on an ongoing basis. It is estimated that one in four CEOs go through depression at some point in their career. Some who run big corporations either have or had major depression with suicidal thoughts. Beside the loneliness at the top, the monster of depression stares in the face.

As the saying goes, "Weary lies the head that wears the crown." The "pressure cooker" over time takes a toll on the emotional reserves contributing to depression and cynicism.

Some bosses become totally disillusioned. Once you get there you have nowhere to go. You wonder why you made all those sacrifices, staying late at work and not watching children growing up, missing out on family meals and not taking those vacations with the family. "What was the point of missing those years, away from the family?" a disappointed boss asks himself.

Here is what one executive told Hara Estroff Marano, in May/June 2003 issue of Psychology Today: "You discover that the real fun was getting there. Once you're there you live in fear that you're going to lose it."

Marano observes, "When you are at the top, life is no longer based on whether you're going to get it but whether you are going to lose it."

Some families break up during the journey one takes to get to the top. As result, the loneliness is not only at the top but it's also right in the family den.

Perhaps, executives who lose total sight of their family, personal health and recreation might be driven by fear of failure rather than the vision of success.

Some aggressive or arrogant bosses who overtly seem to have high self-esteem actually suffer from low self-esteem. People who have genuine high self-esteem respect and support others. One of the characteristics of people with high self-esteem is that they make others feel good about themselves. In their presence you'll like yourself even more, and as a result you will love them.

Those who try to shame or belittle others grew up with a low self-esteem. They must lower somebody in order to feel taller.

Among those who never attain their intrinsic self worth, some may find a "high" in external achievement. For example, bringing a report card with an "A," winning a trophy or an award for some other achievement followed by a jubilant response from significant adults could fill a gap a child has not been able to fill otherwise.

When children are not loved for who they are but for what they can accomplish, the chances are that some of them as adults will be desperate to achieve something to gain approval rather than find their self-worth. Such adults also run the risk of not getting their priorities right. Instead of striking a balance between career, family and personal well being, they may lose sight of what really matters.

Nobody makes a conscious choice of undermining his or her family, personal health or a well balanced and fulfilled life. We all subscribe to these values. What makes us different is in what we actually do in the span of each day we live.

If you are an employee, recognize that your boss doesn't have control over everything. If you are a boss, acknowledge that you can't control everything.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted July 2003


Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor