In South Africa, we have been forced to “adapt or die”, either you become used to the breaking news of corruption, crime, lies and deceit, or you will crumble and collapse under the continuous onslaught of bad news, human fallibility, doubtful integrity and evil intent.
Perceptions that the fabric of society is collapsing are rife, while values and integrity do not seem to exist anymore. It is incomprehensible that human beings can regress to such an extent that to lie, steal, murder and manipulate others become the new normal. This has resulted in many seeking to blame a “third force” - whoever and whatever that may be. However, much of this can be taken back to bad leadership.
The dark triad
An interesting phenomenon in leadership and politics originates from a book by Niccolo Machiavelli that was published in 1532 titled “The Prince”. Today his name is used to describe one of three distinct types of personalities that are jointly referred to as the “dark triad”. In this triad are included Machiavellian, Psychopathic and Narcissistic personality traits.
Although much more complex, those with Psychopathic tendencies tend to have no conscience as to the impact of their actions. Narcissists are driven by the need to be centre stage and admired/revered by everybody. Those with Machiavellian tendencies are characterised by scheming and manipulating others to ensure position and power.
The kind of person he found in politics all those decades ago as someone who would stop at nothing to ensure their own power. Believing that “all is fair in love and war” they would strategically work to establish their control over everything and everybody. They regard it as just “part of the job” to eliminate rivals, lie, plant false information, create innuendo and manipulate them whilst building their own coalitions of like-minded people. They see no reason to feel guilty as this is what they regard leadership to be.
Those who show Machiavellian traits can also be seen as charming, persuasive and even empathetic. Their ability to “read” others is at the core of their ability to manipulate. They use the needs or weaknesses of others to their advantage, and if they can get to the “soft underbelly” of friends, colleagues or competitors, it provides them with the kind of power they enjoy. Acting with seeming morality is only important if it serves the ultimate purpose of impressing or manipulating others.
The damage created by a Machiavellian leader is significant- particularly if the behaviour is allowed to play out without challenge or consequence. Using a combination of some truth, half-truths, false information and manipulation, they can create such doubt and suspicion that their opposition may pitch against each other rather than confront the leader.
Those who have the courage to go against them will know how frightening it is. It is important to recognise that no amount of power, money, property, position or admiration is ever enough for these individuals. Note also that their own conscience will not curb their behaviour because they feel very little or nothing, for others.
All of the above is in stark contrast with what research and literature describe as required from 21st century leadership where democracy, integrity, honesty, humility and respect align closely with adherence to laws and good governance.
We must make sure to choose our leaders very well. Be careful of charisma and appearance, rather look below the surface and listen carefully to the feedback from those few brave individuals who see dark behaviour for what it is. Give particular attention to their past behaviour in as much as it predicts future actions. Dark leaders can destroy what may have been built up over many years.
Dr Jopie de Beer is the CEO of JvR Africa Group.