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Executive Coaching confronts the Dark Triad of Leadership

Executives and managers often struggle with trying to get the best out of their employees. In fact, many successful leaders have a hard time keeping their employees engaged and productive.

This is where executive coaching services can help you turn things around and take your leadership to the next level. Executive coaching is a process that helps leaders identify areas where they need improvement and provides them with tools and guidance to make positive changes.

It can be an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills. And it can be especially helpful for those who struggle with the “dark triad” of leadership: Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy.

If you’re struggling with any of these traits, don’t worry – you can use executive coaching to overcome them and become a more effective leader. Keep reading to learn more about the dark triad of leadership and how executive coaching can help you overcome it.

“Every leader, to a certain degree, possesses these dark personality traits which are completely natural. It is imperative that this fact be acknowledged and be aware of when it emerges so that it does not impact the leader’s performance” (Lucas, 2017) [1].

Executive Coaches

Executive coaching is a popular career development method for executive leaders, providing invaluable guidance and insight. It can be utilized to identify strengths and weaknesses, develop executive presence, enhance communication skills, solve problems, and improve decision-making abilities.

Working with their coaches on their leadership or their career can help executives gain the skills necessary to reach their highest potential in their current field. Expect robust coaching services which will challenge them to stretch themselves above their comfort zones while providing critical mentoring and deep personal development that fuels professional growth through self-discovery.

“When open and consistent communication exists between

Leadership and the workforce, positive outcomes will follow”

-Beth Armknecht Miller

Whether you are trying to make yourself more competitive in the job market or need objective feedback on your performance at the current executive level, executive coaching may be just the ticket for you!

The Dark Triad of Leadership

The Dark Triad of Leadership refers to 3 personality traits present in executives that can make them extremely difficult to work with. These traits are machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

  • Machiavellianism

“Machiavellianism is characterized by the manipulation and exploitation of people to achieve your own ambitions. For people who possess this trait, the ends always justify the means. They have no morals or empathy and often employ manipulative strategies that disregard morality. People with higher levels of machiavellianism try to control others through direct and indirect means as well” (Wilkinson) [2].

  • Narcissism

Narcissism can be best defined as ‘self-love’. Narcissist always tries to affirm their own idealized self-image through vanity or by gaining the admiration of others. It often leads to a person thinking very highly of themselves and they develop a strong sense of entitlement. They are very intolerant of criticism and have no problem manipulating others.

  • Psychopathy

Psychopathy is a social disorder that presents itself as a lack of caring for others, no empathy, and low impulse control. People with this disorder often have trouble forming normal functioning relationships and are extremely egocentric. There are 2 main forms of psychopathy:

  1. Primary psychopathy manifests itself as reduced social cooperation and lower levels of agreeableness.
  2. Secondary psychopathy is shown by high levels of neuroticism expressed as anxiety and emotional instability as well as lower levels of agreeableness.

Since psychopaths show no remorse for their actions and are prone to anti-social behaviors, many of them are explosive and controlling. They are the most toxic of the Dark Triad group and have the most negative effect on the employees’ mood, mental health, and job performance.

These personality traits create a tense work environment because of the lack of trust and safety that the employees feel from their executives.

“The value of a true leader is not measured by the

Work they do, but by the work they inspire others to do”

-Simon Sinek

People exhibiting these qualities demonstrate an unwillingness to cooperate with others, lack empathy for coworkers, frequently exploit or manipulate people on their team, and are unable to manage their own emotions.

If you find yourself working with someone like this, executive coaching services can help you improve your executive style!

Many coaching programs focus on leadership development that helps participants become better leaders by recognizing their blind spots and addressing the dark triad traits described above.

These executive leadership coaching sessions are designed to facilitate generally greater emotional intelligence in the workplace.

The Light Triad of Leadership

The light triad of leadership is the antithesis of the dark triad. Where the dark triad refers to psychopathy, machiavellianism, and narcissism, the light triad focuses on humanism, faith, and Kantianism.

The Light Triad of Leadership Traits is a set of qualities that successful leaders possess and are beneficial to everyone to whom the leader is connected.

  • Humanism is all about valuing the dignity and worth of everyone and recognizing the responsibility to lead an ethical life and aspiring for the greater good.
  • Faith, or more accurately faith in humanity, is the belief that people are fundamentally good and will choose the morally correct path if given the option to do so.
  • Kantianism is a moral theory that is often referred to as the “Respect for Persons” theory. It is basically the opposite of machiavellianism.

“Coaching executives to recognize the light and dark within themselves is a great strategy that includes using leadership profiles to measure the light triad and dark triad traits within the individual and provides insights on the impact of the individual’s behavior. This kind of coaching is important for leadership level especially when there is a clear lack of constructive feedback” (Webster, 2020) [3].

All three qualities allow leaders to create a positive atmosphere within their team, build trust and respect among members, and motivate people to work together in achieving common goals.

Successful leaders possess all three traits, allowing them to foster strong relationships with their employees and build successful teams.

The light triad of leadership qualities is beneficial in many ways. For example, having a leader who is altruistic, humble, and transparent can help create an atmosphere of trust and openness in the workplace.

An altruistic leader is someone who puts the needs of their team first and works to ensure that everyone’s concerns are addressed. This can help foster cooperation and collaboration among team members, leading to better overall performance.

Coaching services provide support for the organization’s leadership, helping them identify and work on their strengths as well as recognize areas of development that could benefit everyone around them.

Executive coaching is not simply about discussing weaknesses but strengthening positive traits like active listening, empathy, collaboration, team problem-solving skills, and executive-level communication.

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that

Needs to be let out. Sometimes a little nudge, a little direction,

A little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen”

-Pete Carroll

Leaders who embrace executive coaching can become more confident in their roles, better able to assess the situation before them, and make faster, more informed decisions. It also gives the leaders hope that improvement is possible — providing feedback in a supportive environment can help drive long-term approaches to success.

How A Good Coach Deals With The Dark Triad of Leadership

Good coaching methods for executive positions can help to counteract the dark triad of leadership—a dangerous mix of machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

“The first thing to remember is that these people are not necessarily ‘evil’ and their behavior should not dismiss their good qualities. Sometimes these traits are actually indicative of insecurity or a lack of self-esteem. They tend to project an air of confidence and fool everyone, including themselves, into believing the false bravado but it may be their way of hiding their insecurities” (Czernik, 2018) [4].

For executive coaches, this means modeling healthy behavior in order for their clients to adopt positive personality traits such as trustworthiness, reliability, accountability, anger management, etc.

  • A good way to deal with narcissism is to challenge the narcissist with good counterpoints. Narcissists tend to have big egos and don’t usually expect to be challenged.
  • For Machiavellian people, it is a good idea to take note of their behavior and try to identify their manipulators. Whenever their manipulative behavior emerges, it is best to confront them about it and point out the harmful effects of their behavior. Hold them accountable for their actions and use performance agreements as a way to appeal to their logical side.
  • Psychopathic people usually have problems dealing with their anger, so their situations usually require a quick defusing of their anger. It is best to keep a healthy emotional distance and try to identify the source of their aggression.

Executive leadership coaching can also be effective in supporting those who have been exposed to the darker qualities of the triad, offering coaching services that prompt increased self-awareness of one’s own behaviors while allowing employees to adjust communication tactics in order to become more successful. It is important to routinely check in with executive coaching clients to ensure a sense of accountability as they continue to learn and grow as leaders.

The Effect Of Coaching On The Dark Triad

Executive coaching services are becoming increasingly popular amongst executive leaders looking to maximize their performance, increase their level of job satisfaction and rid themselves of any negative habits such as Machiavellianism, Narcissism, or Psychopathy.

Recent success stories from executive career coaching have seen executives take control back of their own behavior and characteristics which can benefit both personal development and long-term business success.

“The real benefit of coaching is being able to stay focused on a

Problem for long enough to reach a desired action or solution,

Without being distracted by others or yourself”

 -Michael Peiniger

Through executive coaching, these dark triad leaders can gain better self-awareness, develop healthier relationships with their colleagues, and become more effective communicators. In addition, it can also provide them with a greater sense of purpose and help them stay motivated to make long-term improvements in their personal and professional life.

“The goal is to discover if there is a dark side to leadership in the organization. A leader whose personality is composed of a trio of negative personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy, and machiavellianism – is a dark leader” (Fouts, 2020) [5].

The identification of this dark side goes a long way in trying to help coaches tackle this dark side so that the organization as a whole can thrive based on good leadership.


Executive coaching can be a powerful tool for leaders with the Dark Triad of Leadership traits. These leaders often benefit from working with a coach who can help them understand and manage their tendencies.

There are many things to consider when looking for a good executive coach, but some key factors include experience, expertise, and compatibility. Leaders who have worked with a good coach report feeling more confident and capable after completing the program.

It is important for organizations to consider investing in executive coaching for dark triad leaders so that they can reach their full potential and contribute positively to the organization.

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to

The past or present are certain to miss the future”

 -John F Kennedy

Ultimately, executive coaching can be an effective tool for people who possess the dark triad of leadership traits. It encourages self-reflection, improved communication skills, and a greater sense of purpose that will ultimately empower these individuals to become better leaders!

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Executive Coaching confronts the Dark Triad of Leadership

Coaching 4 Companies – Your premier executive coaching service


We are a young, vibrant, and diverse executive leadership coaching group, with the operation registered in 2019, however, the formation was a 45-year career lifetime in preparation. During that period our founder Wayne Brown observed and worked with leaders of all levels in organizations across industries and cultures globally.

Based on that exposure, our company has intentionally set out to support those practicing the art and science of leadership – or as often referred to, “Executive Talent.” These are people who acknowledge that they are not experts. They are open to opportunities for continued growth and carry the desire for learning what is needed to become a success in today’s complexity and uncertainty.

To this end, we have purposely structured our company and engaged with associates in strategic global locations, so that we are able to provide the full suite of transformational executive leadership coaching, facilitation, and education support required.



[1]: Erika Lucas, 2017, How Leaders Can Make Their Dark Side Brighter

[2]: Vicki Webster, 13th January 2020, Cultivating ‘Light Triad’ Leadership: An Antidote To The Dark Triad

[3]: David Wilkinson, Coaching: Dark Triad Traits in the Coach

[4]: Annette B. Czernik, 7th January 2018, The Dark Triad Or The Fifty Shades Of Gray In Leadership

[5]: Melinda Fouts, 7th October 2020, The Dark Side Of Leadership: How To Identify and Steer Clear Of It When Job Hunting

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