ET-022: Beware and Run – The Dark Triad of Leadership
ET-022: The Dark Triad of Leadership
by Wayne Brown on November 22, 2022
by Wayne Brown on November 22, 2022
In our episode today we continue our epic adventure, this time stopping off in Athens, Greece. A city of sentimental meaning for me as it’s where I proposed to my wife, proclaiming her as Goddess APS against the backdrop of the Parthenon. It’s also home for our guest Mrs. Zoe Fragou.
What I really admire about Zoe is that she is carving out her business with a very sound foundational base. Digging into her academic studies and building up from here. So many professionals spend years studying one field only to find that their interests lie elsewhere.
And from our conversation is it clear that Zoe has a great grasp on multiple concepts in her challenging field of psychology. For this episode, we agreed to tackle a fascinating topic – the Dark Triad of Leadership and as you listen to the recording, you’ll understand why I say it is fascinating.
Here is a very short extract with Zoe speaking about one of the three triads – Narcissism.
“So, there’s also an actual codependency there in a hierarchical level. And therefore, that creates a weird vicious cycle of constantly searching for their approval, which, of course, you will never get because for start they don’t care. They’re very self-absorbed.”
Today’s Guest: ZOE FRAGOU
Mrs. Fragou is an Organisational Psychologist with an MSc in Human Resources Management, holding a clinical psychologist license, a diploma in Business Coaching & Mentorship and a Certificate in Agile Leadership.
At this moment, she is a PhD Candidate at Panteion University, and her research is mainly focused on the psychometrics of the corporate culture.
Alongside Zoe’s academic interests, she is operating professionally in the full spectrum of her science, taking over projects of culture transformation, employee training and development, business coaching, personal branding, public speaking, and writing, for both private and corporate clients globally.
She is a mentor for Women on Top, a feministic organization trying to bring equality in the workspace, a senior member of the Hellenic Institute of Coaching, and was voted best career coach in the Global Coaching Conference of 2021.
This is an important conversation as we tackle the darker side of leadership. In fact, 3 personal characteristics referred to in psychology as the Dark Triad. And Zoe’s message is clear should you encounter such a leader – Run, run hard and fast to avoid being consumed by this often-charismatic type of tyrant.
Final words from Zoe:
Yes, just a fun fact, actually, because I do think that it’s very strange. So dark triad as a factor correlates negatively with emotional intelligence. It makes sense, you know, that the less emotional intelligence you have, the more possibilities you have to deal with dark triads and the other way around. But narcissism on its own as a personality trait, it actually correlates positively with emotional intelligence.
So, narcissists can actually perceive emotions very highly. And that’s why they can be so manipulative. They come across as charming and they harm your self-worth.
Extremely charming and lovable and seductive. So, I just want to say to everyone that’s listening that this isn’t an open invitation. That’s a red flag. Keep it in mind. The moment somebody makes you challenge your self-worth and your self-confidence, and it triggers your instincts to run, run for it, listen to the run signal. You need to get out of there. These people don’t change. And it’s certainly not your job to change them. More probably, they will change you.
0:00:01.6 Wayne Brown: Hello, I’m Wayne Brown and welcome to the ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talent all over the world and we’re affectionately referring to it as Team ET. In our episode today we continue our epic adventure, this time stopping off in Athens, Greece. It’s a city of specific sentimental meaning for me as it’s where I proposed to my wife proclaiming her to the world as Goddess Abs and against the backdrop of the Parthenon. It’s also home for our guest, Mrs. Zoe Fragou. Mrs. Fragou is an organizational psychologist with a Master’s of Science in Human Resource Management, holding a clinical psychologist license, a diploma in business coaching and mentorship, and a certificate in Agile leadership.
0:00:53.6 WB: At the moment, she’s a PhD student at the Panteion University and her research is mainly focused on the psychometrics of the corporate culture. Alongside Zoe’s academic interests she’s operating professionally in the full spectrum of her science, taking over projects of culture transformation, employee training and development, business coaching, professional branding, public speaking, and writing for both private and corporate clients globally. She’s a mentor for women on top, a feministic organization trying to bring equality in the workspace, a senior member of the Hellenic Institute of Coaching, and she was voted Best Career Coach in the Global Coaching Conference of 2021.
0:01:41.5 WB: This is an important conversation as we tackle the darker side of leadership. In fact, three personal characteristics referred to in psychology as the dark triad. In Zoe’s message it’s clear, should you encounter such a leader, run. Run hard and run fast to avoid being consumed by this often charismatic type of tyrant. Please join me now as we converse with Mrs. Zoe Fragou about the potential ramifications of working under this style of leadership. Get yourself comfortable and ready for today’s episode which is titled Aware and Run: The Dark Triad of Leadership.
0:02:28.6 Speaker 2: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor, Wayne Brown, as we unpack an exciting future together.
0:02:45.1 WB: All right, well, Team ET, welcome back to another week’s episode. And again, we have a fantastic guest joining us today, this time coming from the wonderful land of Greece. And I believe, Zoe, you’re sitting in Athens.
0:03:03.3 Zoe Fragou: Yes, yes, exactly, Athens.
0:03:04.9 WB: As you heard in the intro, Zoe is an expert in many fields, including her major, which is psychology. I guess you’re a psychologist. So we’ll touch around this topic at some stage, but also you train in leadership, act as a consultant for companies in the area of culture change and business. You do many, many things. You wear many hats, as I like to think. So we’re going to touch on a really interesting topic today and I have to admit, prior to speaking with Zoe, I didn’t know too much about this is. It’s called the dark triad of leadership. It’s going to be a really interesting conversation, so I’m excited to get into it. I’d like to kick off with the question of any fun facts about you or about things that have happened in your life.
0:03:56.3 ZF: Fun facts? Well, I am Greek, that’s a fun fact. I live in Greece. I recently turned 30, so my club nights are over. More time for work now. Like you said…
0:04:05.9 WB: Now I’m feeling very old, Zoe. You know I’m twice your age.
0:04:09.0 ZF: It’s okay. After 50, it has the opposite effect, it’s backwards. Backwards it is.
0:04:15.9 WB: Oh very good. Very good. I’m coming back to you.
0:04:18.0 ZF: Like you mentioned, I am a psychologist. I’m an organizational psychologist actually, so I’m a psychologist for business. I do everything that has to do with team building, leadership development, crisis management, human rights in the workspace. I design my own team building activities as well and employee trainings. And I would say that the other 50% of my time, it’s my coaching clients. They’re global, mostly in the tech industry, and they usually come to me for soft skills development. And in the tech that makes some sense, because usually you have a developer who’s very, very strong in code and then one day they give them this big team of 10 or 20 or 30 people to manage. And usually they’re introverts, so it’s very hard for them.
0:05:00.6 WB: I’m sure you’re very busy. And as you look at the world at the moment, is there anything out there that’s exciting you, whether it’s in Greece, whether it’s in your own business, anything exciting you?
0:05:11.8 ZF: Business. I’m really excited with our future of work. And especially, actually, these days what goes around in my head is how the concepts of blockchain and decentralization are going to affect corporate policies in the future. And especially if you add also in this equation metaverse, and I’m pretty confident in the next 5-10 years, the workplace is going to be completely transformed and completely different than how we used to know it.
0:05:38.9 WB: 100% on board with you. I think the 21st century leader is really up for some major challenge in the next 5-10 years with technological advances at the pace of change that we’re seeing. As you look back over your career, is there anything that jumps out to you as a milestone or a pivotal moment for you in that career that really launched you in this direction towards being a psychologist?
0:06:09.9 ZF: I think that many people are. Okay, going so back to being a psychologist. Well, the reason I chose that is because I didn’t really know what exactly I’m going to do, but I was really good at studying. So I had a lot of choices with a lot of universities and everybody thought I should be a lawyer because I talked so much. And I guess I was a bit reactive at the moment and I realized that maybe it makes sense for me to learn how to listen a little better. It was a last minute choice. I just said to everyone, “I’m not going to be a lawyer, I’m going to be a psychologist instead.” And while I started studying it, I became fascinated with the different applications of this field, like how you can connect it with advertising or social psychology, especially, and research. So it became very natural, but after one point.
0:06:58.6 ZF: And then in the last years, I would say that, like many other people, something that really created an existential crisis for me and led to a lot of changes was COVID. Right before COVID, I used to be an HR director in a group of companies here in Greece. And it was the first time that I actually had time in my hands, because usually I was studying and working and studying and working at the same time for many years. So when COVID hit, I found myself with surprisingly endless time in my hands. And basically that’s when I started building my own company.
0:07:31.1 WB: The impact of COVID in Europe, in Greece in particular, I guess… I know that here in China, we’ve seen a very high increase of particularly mild cases of depression, people feeling extremely anxious. Has there been that type of ripple effect coming out of COVID in particular in Europe?
0:07:56.6 ZF: Well what happened with COVID is that in the beginning, many people thought that being at home is going to give them a lot of rest and they’re going to actually get some free time, but actually we noticed a significant increase in burnout syndrome. So the fact that people were at home led to even more burnout and even more depression of many cases. And one thing was that they had to work from home and for many people that didn’t necessarily have the right equipment or a workplace that was functional at home. And our problem was that for many bosses or managers, the fact that you were all day home meant for them that you could also work all day. So it was much harder to set boundaries there. Other people also seemed they didn’t know what to do with their time. They put extra pressure on themselves to be extra productive and do even more on the usual.
0:08:44.8 ZF: And then, of course, you know, having the children all day at home was very hard for many parents out there. Imagine a house where two people have to work from home and they have a child and they have to show the child also. So COVID create extra burden for many people.
0:09:00.7 WB: We can talk about that last topic for a long time. I have first hand experience.
0:09:07.6 ZF: I saw a lot of memes about the teachers and professors laughing at parents. For many parents, this was the first time that they actually spend quality time with their children and they actually get to know their children. So, yes. But another thing that’s interesting is that recently there have been some researches that came to the conclusion that change and how often a person is to change might actually be a gene. And therefore there are people that are born with a predisposition to be open to change and it’s easier for them. While there are others that are genetically predisposed to be more reluctant. And this also explains why for some people it’s easier to jump from one job to another or from COVID to non-COVID, while for others every single thing is more of a struggle.
0:09:52.8 WB: Let’s touch on the topic of the dark triad of leadership. So maybe if you don’t mind, Zoe, could you sort of give us an introduction around this topic?
0:10:07.0 ZF: Of course. Okay. So the thing is that in leadership, what we found after years of research is that there are three specific personality traits that we find in one individual so often to coexist that they create what we call a factor. Imagine that the factor is something like a package of traits, so these three tend to go together. And these three trait that we do call the dark triad of leadership is basically narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
0:10:36.3 WB: So at the risk of putting you on the spot, three big words. Are you able to share a little bit about what each one might… How would you define each one before we then look at the actual person displaying those? So narcissism, what are the characteristics that we would normally see from a narcissist?
0:11:01.8 ZF: The thing about a narcissist is that usually people think that whomever is very posh or snobbish or just very rude, they think have themselves, “It’s a narcissist,” but that’s not it. Some people are just, I don’t know, vacuums. And many times they don’t necessarily annoy anyone. They’re just very happy and super confident, and that’s all. That’s not the case. With narcissists, it’s more about making the other person feel small. It’s not just the fact that they are better. It’s that the other person touches the ground and they’re not existing anymore. They will do everything in their power… They’re very manipulative also, so they’ll do everything in their power to cause emotional damage to the point that the other person loses their identity and completely have a collapsed self-confidence.
0:11:49.1 WB: Okay.
0:11:49.6 ZF: So obviously a narcissist is a person who thinks they’re very entitled, like I said, very manipulative. They think that they deserve better, that they’re better than anyone. But that’s not just it because there are many people that are like that and they can still respect someone else and be healthy towards someone else even if they’re like that. But with narcissists, it’s not the case. They’re very toxic and in a very subtle and subconscious way after all. Therefore, people encountering narcissists usually end up being depressed or completely emotionally collapsed.
0:12:19.6 WB: Interesting.
0:12:22.2 ZF: They cause also a lot of dependency. They’re the kind of people that if you are a little bit of a dependent personality, seems to be dependent on them and be dependent on their approval and be dependent on their acceptance as well.
0:12:35.4 WB: So based on that, I can imagine that there are a number of parents who also would fall into this category.
0:12:43.1 ZF: A narcissist can be a parent, can be a husband, a spouse, a leader. They exist anywhere. But in general, they tend to do good in life because when you don’t care about anyone else, and you only care about yourself, that’s a very good beginning. When you can embarrass everyone else, usually they try to keep appearance. So it’s very common that we find them in positions of power.
0:13:07.7 WB: Is this more dominant or predominant in the male gender or do you see it in both male and females?
0:13:18.1 ZF: I’ll tell you it’s expressed with a different way, much different way. So in male narcissists, usually they’re more openly dynamic, openly assertive. They can even be aggressive. While in women, sex plays an important role. Narcissistic women, they use appearance. They use a lot of seduction in order to achieve their goals and be more manipulative. Therefore, they’re also, I would say… Also women, it’s harder for them to reach leadership positions. So it’s harder to understand when a woman is a narcissist because usually it’s much more subtle. Another thing is that a certain amount of vanity is allowed socially in women. While in men, a certain amount of vanity might even consider feminine. Therefore, how narcissism reflects in males and females is completely different.
0:14:04.7 WB: Very interesting. I’m guessing there’s an overlap with Machiavellianism people as well, to some extent. Is there or are they very distinguishably different from narcissists?
0:14:18.8 ZF: Somebody can be… There is. And that’s why we call it the dark triad of leadership, because in these three traits, they really correlate positively. So when someone is a narcissist, it’s very possible and very often that they also score high in psychopathy or in Machiavellianism, more in both. Therefore, yeah, we tend to find it in common.
0:14:37.7 WB: Okay. So if you then had to define a Machiavellianism individual, what characteristics would they display that would be different?
0:14:48.5 ZF: Well basically, if you’ve read, I don’t know in English what’s the name of the book but probably translates to something like The Leader because it translates back from Greek. So it’s The Prince, maybe. I think The Prince is the original title.
0:15:01.5 WB: Yeah, The Prince or The Leader or something like that.
0:15:01.8 ZF: Part of The Prince. So Machiavelli, he used to be a Italian general and he wrote this book The Prince about how to be basically a leader. And his main mantra, his motto was… Again, I have to translate back from Greek, sorry… Something like, “Any means necessary.” Like you should achieve your goals with any means necessary. And pretty much that’s what Machiavellianism has to do with. It’s about having your own agenda, having your personal interests, and not caring about anything else. And you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way as long as you achieve exactly what you wanted, so.
0:15:40.7 WB: Right. So I’ve heard words used like they tend to be unscrupulous or they are very comfortable with the art of deceit and these types of actions.
0:15:53.9 ZF: Everything. It was always cunning, deceit, manipulation, passive aggressiveness, open aggressiveness, everything. I had a client, a coaching client, and she was a ballerina in Broadway. And one of the other ballerinas actually tricked her so she would break her leg and she would lose her position in the show.
0:16:15.5 WB: Wow.
0:16:16.1 ZF: So she could be lead ballerina instead. This is a very Machiavellian way to get what you want. This isn’t the kind of behavior that the average person would engage.
0:16:27.7 WB: Absolutely. Hopeful, yeah?
0:16:27.7 ZF: Hopeful, yeah. [laughter] That’s very intense.
0:16:33.5 WB: All right. And that leaves us with the psychopath. Any standout characteristics of the psychopath?
0:16:39.7 ZF: Well, basically, psychopathy, yeah, it’s against basically whatever means necessary. Not high emotions, not strong understanding of emotions either or portrayal of emotions. So in a way, it resembles a lot with Machiavellianism, but the main difference is that psychopathies are genetic. So basically, you are born and you are a psychopath. While when it comes to Machiavellianism, well, it’s more of a lifestyle choice, I would say. You could be in a different way. You actively chose to be like that.
<span>0:17:12.8 WB: So when you say you’re born with it, does that mean one or more of our parents have this trait as well? </span
0:17:18.9 ZF: It could be, but there are also other types of combinations of genes that can create the outcome. But the thing is that, well, we’ve all seen these things about children that like to torture animals from a very young age and maybe even cause fires or accidents. And usually they commit their first murder sometimes even before reaching puberty. Psychopathy is a bit of… It can be controlled, of course. Everything can be controlled as long as you start receiving treatment very soon in life and therapy. But we don’t have so much research because usually these individuals are also very high functioning and very intelligent. So they exist in society and they find ways to put their aggression into socially acceptable forms and hide the socially unacceptable parts.
0:18:03.1 WB: So if we now look at a leader that we would accuse of erring or leaning into the dark side of the triad, or the dark triad, how would that play out in the real world? Like what might be an example of this type of leader?
0:18:19.5 ZF: Well this, for start, it’s very common actually, especially in CEO positions C-suite positions and we’re talking about high functional leaders. The dark triad leaders are very successful. They climb the earth’s ladder very fast. They push all the limits. They don’t take no for an answer, and therefore they’re usually very successful. They’re doing great in business. And the employees, on the other hand, are also very high functional but with also very high rate burnout and very fast rate burnout. And yeah, we’re talking basically about a boss, a manager who is making you feel bad, making you feel guilty, who drains you both emotionally and physically, finds a way to reduce your self-worth, your self-confidence, puts you in a situation where always they take the credits for your own work or they maybe doubt yourself, take him off this case. But it’s also in a way that you also doubt yourself. You also are not sure what’s happened. You also have a question and you start thinking that maybe that’s the way. You’re not enough or you don’t have what it takes. So it’s a very tricky emotional state to be.
0:19:28.2 WB: So you tend to start relying or leaning, looking for their favor or looking for their confidence in you, I guess, when you work under them. So you’re always looking to them. Would that be the case? You’re looking for their approval, may be the best way of saying it.
0:19:45.3 ZF: Yes. Usually they’re very charming. So they find a way to, like I said, very manipulative. So and the narcissistic part in them create this kind of codependency. Therefore, and also at the same time, there is, of course, the actual state of the fact that there is a boss. So there’s also an actual codependency there in a hierarchical level. And therefore, that creates a weird vicious cycle of constantly searching for their approval, which, of course, you will never get because for start they don’t care. They’re very self-absorbed. For seconds, it’s a very nice means of controlling the other person. Therefore, why would they give you their approval when they can always take it and leave it and take it and leave it and you’re always there seeking for it and therefore doing your most of the best in all always get it.
0:20:33.2 WB: Yeah, so I have this vision of the carrot and stick type leader who dangles the carrot just to bring you in and do what you need, but at the same time doesn’t really acknowledge your reward in the way that and therefore they leave you needing more. If somebody came to you, if you were practicing as a psychologist, I mean, how would you help them or advise them? I’m not asking for advice at the moment. How would you work with them to deal with that type of leader?
0:21:10.6 ZF: Well, depending what exactly the situation, but most of the times if the person can leave, I will say run like the wind. And the reason I would say run like the wind is I’m not the kind of coach or psychologist that say to the people, oh, if the environment is toxic or if you think that’s not for you, you should leave. And the reason is that most of the times it’s not toxic. It’s a difficult environment. It’s not a culture fit for you. And maybe you don’t like it there, but most of the time the people that you meet in one environment, they tend to reproduce, especially in cold, cold environments. It’s usually the same kind of difficult people that you find again and again. And therefore you need to learn how to deal with them. Otherwise, you can be always just changing jobs again and again. They’re going to be there. And it’s about you learning the lessons that you have to learn before you leave a job and go to the next.
0:21:58.5 ZF: But if you actually have a dark triad leader, there’s no solution. And the reason there’s no solution is that they’re so successful and you never find them in jobs that don’t have very specific KPIs that they can prove their performance in their work. A dark triad leader will never be a teacher or I don’t know… No, never. They will be in sales. They will be in business development. They will be in tech. They will be in positions where they hold a lot of power because of their know-how, because they hold the clients, because they hold the money of the company. Therefore, they are irreplaceable in the company. Or they’ve made the management or the shareholders believe that they’re irreplaceable. And therefore, even if the company understands, and by the way, 9 out 10 they do understand. They know that they’re issues because these kind of people, they tend also to have a very low retention rate in their employees. So they think change and change again and again and again.
0:22:55.9 ZF: So it’s very rare that the company doesn’t know. Usually they pretend they don’t know because they can’t really handle it or they don’t know how to handle it or they don’t care how to handle it. But in any case, if the company knows, then they can’t. They don’t know how to handle it. And the reason is that if they, let’s say, fire dispersion, then they will also probably lose all this job position that we’re trying to protect. So they are put in the position that they don’t really know what it is. And they start building the entire system around dispersion. And that’s why if it was really dark triad, yeah, I would say, no, you need to find something else. If you can’t stand it and it’s not for you, then you need to go somewhere else. Otherwise, this thing is going to drain you emotionally and physically. It’s going to lead to burnout and it’s going to be much harder later.
0:23:46.8 WB: At the risk of generalizing, is there any statistic that would say one in five leaders tend to be like this?
0:23:54.2 ZF: I’ll tell you, that’s fun. It’s hard to have statistic. There is usually very incompetent in leveraging the past. So they know what to say and they know how to play the interviewee or they know how to play the psychometric tests. And therefore, that’s why we can’t have any accurate statistics. However, I think that at least once we’ve all have encountered at least one dark leader in our life. People that have worked in corporations.
0:24:26.1 WB: I’m sure most of us probably, now that we’re talking about if our listener is identifying themselves as this type of leader, any suggestions for them, what can they do to change if they have that desire after hearing…
0:24:46.6 ZF: They will never have a desire. They will never have a desire.
0:24:49.5 WB: And why is that?
0:24:49.6 ZF: In their minds, it’s just everyone else’s problem because we’re all weak and we can’t be as good enough productive the most successful as them. And that’s why we’re trying to create guilt so that for some reason, they start being such superior beings.
0:25:05.1 WB: That’s very interesting. So anyone that’s on the show today listening to this and you feel like you want to make some changes, they’re most likely not one of those people that we would label as as on the dark triad side of religion if you feel that you want to make a change.
0:25:22.8 ZF: I don’t think that any dark triad leader would ever even think because for them, the other people don’t really exist. They don’t see them as actual humans. They just see them as variables in the bigger picture that they have to do in order to achieve their goal to get where they want to go.
0:25:39.5 WB: In your profession, when you’re working with companies, I’m sure you identify leaders like this on a regular basis.
0:25:48.8 ZF: Yeah, yeah, of course.
0:25:48.8 WB: When you’re working with a company, how do you deal with that situation or do you deal with that situation where you need to make a recommendation for change or you have to just accept it? How do you cope with that?
0:26:05.1 ZF: With the companies that I’ve worked, they all knew it. So, I didn’t bring any specific news. I just put a definition or a term, it’s something that they knew. They would say, yeah, we have a problem there we know, but we can’t really do anything because, oh there is information before. They have a lot of power. They have the biggest clients or whatever. So usually how we treat it is by creating a system that can support them. So basically, I usually go in and change the recruitment. The recruitment. I add different values in the culture so that it’s going to be easier to deal around people. So you can be having a dark triad leader in your company, but at the same time tell me that you value, for example, I don’t know, positivity. No, because if you bring someone who’s positive and who’s a little bit naive and who’s very you know, cute, then they’re going to end up destroyed. No, you need to find people that are more similar to that person. They enjoy competition, for example, and they thrive in fast-paced environments. So basically, you create a situation where somehow it can be more functional.
0:27:14.8 WB: Is there a risk that the company starts to hire people that mirror that leader and the culture then really fast-tracks in that direction? Is that a concern?
0:27:28.1 ZF: They’ve already made the choice. In the first case, this is already part of the culture, but they don’t have a unified culture. So basically, I don’t do anything that’s not already there. I’m just fortifying the culture. I’m telling them, these are your options. You have dispersion, but create this culture. If you really want dispersion, but you don’t want the culture, we need to change the culture towards something that can work and be more functional with that person inside. Otherwise, you need to make a tough call. What can continue happening, because in the long run, it’s never functional, is to create subcultures inside an organization.
0:28:00.0 ZF: And there is dispersion, who’s very toxic, and then there are these people that hate dispersion, but they don’t know what to do, and they’re stuck there. And there are some others that are caught in the middle, and then there’s the management pretending that nothing’s going wrong. That’s the issue. I mean, at that point, it’s a personal choice. Oh, you’re not fooling anyone anyway. It’s a company, it needs to be productive, it needs to be creating profit. Okay, no one will judge you that’s the decision you make. At the same moment, you do have the responsibility to make it easier for everybody. So why keep bringing on board people that you like, but you know that they’re going to be burned out and drained in the months?
0:28:41.8 WB: Yeah, I can visualize situations like meetings, where you end up with groupthink based around the leaders’ voice, you end up with a risky shift in all of those different scenarios. Very interesting. If you were… And I know you do training and leadership training as well. So if we’re in a situation now where you’re facilitating a group, and you have this type of leader within the classroom or within the virtual environment…
0:29:12.0 ZF: It has happened.
0:29:12.5 WB: It has happened, I’m sure.
0:29:14.4 ZF: Of course, it has happened. They never understand I’m talking about them. They always say, oh my God, what kind of people are there? That’s crazy. I can’t believe there are people out there doing the same. And then everybody else in the room is rolling eyes. They never… And to be fair, another thing that’s important is that no one really tells them, because they start being overachievers from a very young age. Therefore, people start needing them from a very young age. And people start not actually facing them with an open communication anymore. So nobody tells them. Every time that someone is about to have a conflict with them, they will never tell them that you are the problem, your disease is this. They will try to work around it. And like I said, since they’re very manipulative, they know how to turn the conversation against you. And they know how to put you on the spot and how to make you feel very bad. So it’s very difficult to find someone that actually could bring an open conflict to them and stand by it and do pushback until they get the message through.
0:30:24.8 WB: If you are the leader within your team of leaders, you find this situation, would you handle it differently first?
0:30:33.8 ZF: Personally, I really value diversity and equality in the workspace. So I’m a person that could never exist in an environment where there is this level of toxicity or let me put like that. I have existed, but it was always clear to me that there was no organizational commitment on my end. It was clear for me that I’m here because I need to learn one to three, and there’s nothing more to me here. So it’s kind of easy for me to depersonalize myself from the work. I’m here. I’m learning. I’m doing this thing. And then it’s just something that in five years from now, I won’t even remember these people’s name. It’s just something that I was doing in 2012. So but then that’s not gonna be for everyone, there are many people that they can’t necessarily separate their work environment from their personal lives. And they internalize all these emotions and they take it home with them.
0:31:22.2 ZF: And they think about it. And that’s not necessarily bad. I just happen to be more independent in this end. But at the same time, work is still at least 30% of our lives, minimum. So obviously it’s a big and important space. Another thing is that for many people, teamwork is important, and they care about big parts and they care about having the team that they like and they have fun at work, and it can even be their environment of socializing as well. So you can’t really have these kind of people and at the same time have a dark, dark, dark triad leader. It’s just opposite power, it’s not working.
0:32:00.6 WB: For those that did work under the dark triad leader for a period of time, what sort of impact does it have psychologically on the employee?
0:32:12.5 ZF: Very bad impact, especially in the long run. Like I said, increased burnout and emotional drain to the point that many people lose their identities after having worked for dark triad leader. It takes them a lot of time to feel better again and to find trust and to be able to have confidence again in their powers and their strengths. So it’s never a good idea.
0:32:34.9 WB: Sure, and do you…
0:32:35.5 ZF: And it’s not a game that you can win because these people are so experienced in that. So experienced, they’ve been doing it again and again. And for you, this is the first time you probably meet someone like that. But for them, they’ve met people like you and your family. It’s just Monday morning. So what you get obsessed over, by the way, they cause obsession. So even if you find people that are working with dark triad leaders, one of the first signs that something’s not working is that they can’t stop talking about how unjust this is and how bad it’s feeling for them and how bad the environment is and they get depressed and they can’t take their minds on something else and they keep telling you and they keep telling their friends. But at the same time, they also don’t leave.
0:33:16.2 WB: I’ve seen many people like this, now that you highlight it, it’s quite interesting. Do you see that there’s a shift with the different age demographics in terms of tolerance towards it? So if I’m an employee and I’m a millennial versus a Gen Z versus a baby boomer, do you see a different level of tolerance in these demographics?
0:33:41.6 ZF: Of course. I saw a video on TikTok and it was amazing about the different approach of the different generations at work. And they saw boomers and they were like, “Okay, I’ll work for you for 40 years and then it’ll take some time to drop dead.” And then millenials were like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll work for you, but can I have some time for myself? I don’t like to do work extra or whatever.” And then Gen Z, they show up, “Before we discuss, you need to tell me what the conditions are here and why are people leaving? And I got a good bye.” So I think that we live in a Gen Z world and we don’t know it. I really, really, and I teach at the university as well, so I have a lot of students about this age and I love their courage. I love it. How they’re saying, it’s okay, I don’t care. You know, if I don’t find a job because it’s good for me, I can just create TikTok and I can still buy myself little food. So why put myself through that? And finally, I think that basically what it’s going to do is what millennials started but we didn’t finish. They’re going to force corporations to revisit their cultures and actually make change towards a more self-based context.
0:35:02.6 WB: And if we expand that perspective now and we look at country cultures, we have different locations in different parts of the world who have still a very hierarchical culture and in some cases, still a very autocratic approach to their company structures. So I imagine they also fall very heavily into this dark triad leadership mold in many cases.
0:35:32.7 ZF: Have you watched an American show called the Silicon Valley?
0:35:36.6 WB: I’ve heard it but no. I haven’t watched it.
0:35:38.6 ZF: It’s very funny and it’s very realistic because there was a leader who was completely dark triad, he was would say, the leader of a tech company called I don’t remember the name. So and he had this guru, his coach, and no matter how pathogenic things he was saying, how crazy things he was saying, the coach always said to him, yeah, Kate, in someone weaker, it would be a problem but in someone as strong as you, it’s actually a strength. So the fun fact about dark triad leaders is that they tend to find consultants and coaches that agree with them.
0:36:10.8 WB: I love that.
0:36:11.4 ZF: They always surround themselves with people that don’t push back, the people that agree. Therefore, if a company wants to make any change, well, they can’t go to a boomer. And the reason is that it is about generation at this point. Boomer it is a generation of they’re more comfortable with the hierarchies. They’re most comfortable with status quo. They won’t really break eggs in order to make omelette. So they need to find people that are Okay and open to speak freely. Otherwise, it is working because it is. Just let everyone know what that is.
0:36:46.7 WB: It’s a highly fascinating topic, I have to say Zoe. We’ve probably under-scratched the surface of it, but I find it extremely interesting and something I need to do a lot more research on myself just to get my head fully around it and probably put myself through therapy as I uncover some of my history. Is there anything that you’re working on at the moment? Are you writing books or are you preparing for a new program or what are you doing to occupy yourself these days?
0:37:18.8 ZF: Well, I write, I write a lot of articles these days. And the reason is that I have so many different things in my mind, but I can’t really get them together and put them in a book. And that’s why I write them different topics. Yesterday I wrote an interesting piece about pettiness and how pettiness can steal one’s career. And the other day I wrote about mentorship. So this is something I’m doing. I’m having some corporate projects at the same time. I just came from Dubai. I was there for some blockchain events. I’m consulting in a blockchain company and I’m still processing what I sold. It’s very futuristic for me. So I’m still processing these things as well. Therefore, I would say that I’m, yeah, I deal with a lot of different things at the moment. And I’ve always preferred it that way. I like the change and I like the variety.
0:38:07.5 WB: It sounds like a very interesting lifestyle. I’m sure there’s many challenges as well. So people shouldn’t get too carried away, but it sounds nice.
0:38:18.3 ZF: I think the biggest challenge is, you know, like for most people that are working on their own and they choose a client and they choose the projects, is discipline. The part that you don’t have anyone over your head every day so you need to find the inner strength to sit down and write the article or to do your research or to never cancel your sessions.
0:38:38.6 WB: So if somebody wants to connect with you or find you, where would they go?
0:38:42.0 ZF: Well, like a classic millennial, I have no social media. So feel free to reach out. Of course, I have a new website, so fragouzoe.com. I’m very active there as well. Yeah, sure. If somebody wants to continue the conversation, I’ll be more than happy.
0:38:57.7 WB: Very good. Last question or last comment. Any words of wisdom for the audience that are listening and thinking about our topic, in general as well? Any words of wisdom?
0:39:13.3 ZF: Yes, just a fun fact, actually, because I do think that it’s very strange. So dark triad as a factor it correlate negatively with emotional intelligence. It makes sense, you know, that the less emotional intelligence you have, the more possibilities you have to deal with dark triads and the other way around. But narcissism on its own as a personality trait, it actually correlates positively with emotional intelligence. So narcissists can actually perceive emotions very highly. And that’s why they can be so manipulative.
0:39:47.5 WB: They come across as charming and…
0:39:50.9 ZF: Yes, they come across as charming and they harm your self-worth. And that’s why for many people, when they meet a narcissist, even more than a dark triad, because like I said, they also have the psychopathic trait and that doesn’t make them so popular. They’re very… It’s very clear that you need to guard yourself. But especially narcissistic people, they tend to be extremely charming and lovable and seductive. So I just want to say to everyone that’s listening that this isn’t an open invitation. That’s a red flag. Keep it in mind. The moment somebody makes you challenge your self-worth and your self-confidence and the trigger your instincts, that’s a run, run for it, it’s a run sign. You need to go from there. These people don’t change. And it’s certainly not their own job to change them. More probably, they will change you.
0:40:46.3 WB: Great advice. We will make all the links in our show notes. And I’m hoping that our listeners will reach out to you because you clearly have a wealth of knowledge to share and I’ve loved the conversation. So thank you very much for being a guest on the show. I’ve learned so much. I’m sure that our listeners also have. So thank you.
0:41:08.3 ZF: And thank you for the invitation, thank you again. Take care.
0:41:12.4 Speaker 2: Thank you for joining us on the ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, ebooks, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.