If you are reading this right now and you work in financial services, there is a chance that your boss is a complete psychopath.

This doesn’t mean that they are likely to kill you with an axe and casually stroll down the corridor leaving blood-soaked foot prints behind them, but it does mean that they are pushy enough and uncaring enough to put their lust for power ahead of almost anything else, including your emotional and physical well-being.

In fact one of the outstanding things about working in financial services for the past 20 years has been watching, largely without comment, the success of people who are self-obsessed and arrogant, who have risen to success at the expense of more balanced and thoughtful colleagues.

In fact even a cursory examination of this industry will highlight whole organisations where the path to success is well trodden by people who reflect these ideals.

The reasons for this are clear: this industry rewards people who manage upwards well, are articulate as well as numerate and have the particular ability to see humans, not just as friends or enemies, but as resources in a chess game which drives them forward.

Let’s pause here for a second, because it is interesting to look at the broad scope of human behaviour in this space and see where most leaders come from and what that means to you.

There are three or four basic types of human and each human has dominant or recessive characteristics in this area, much as we might expect the chemical influences of genetics to behave on their physical appearance.

At CoreData, we break this down into three key types:  worriers, who represent about 50% of the population and make most decisions based on fear – of rejection, loss or disturbing the status quo;  externalisers, who represent  about 30% of the population and seek external affirmation for their decisions; and controllers, who represent about 20% of the population , defer pleasure and like to either be actively or passively in control of every situation.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the dominant behavioural group in management positions in almost all companies is controllers.

What may come as a surprise is that controllers share many of the same behaviour characteristics as mass murderers – that is, they are able to compartmentalise their emotions so effectively they don’t associate the pain of the people around them with reality.

This was brought home to us here at burningpants after this correspondent read two books written by people I had worked for, which outlined the key things they had done to become uber-successful.

Apparently they followed their dream; were in love with the customer; empowered the people around them; let their feelings show and they were modest and self effacing.

At no stage did they:  work their teams to a standstill; promise on things they didn’t deliver; cut adrift members of their staff who had collapsed after months of sensational work; bully people; lie to suppliers; renege on agreements; work hard behind closed doors to knife colleagues or simply lie to shareholders or manufacture a business which was beautifully balanced – being in equal parts smoke and mirrors.

It was the gap between what this correspondent actually saw happening at these places and what they wrote about which struck me as interesting – and potentially one of the barriers to success.

If we lived and worked in a world where successful people were authentic, modest, hardworking, truthful and really interested in the success of others then communism would be a terrific success, businesses would be politics-free zones and the world would be a just place.

However the reverse is true. The world is far from just and success doesn’t stem from working hard and keeping your head down. Success inside organisations means some really clear things:

Rule One:  Relationships Matter

If you want to be successful you need to sit down right now and think what you can do to ensure that the influencers around you – usually your boss or your bosses boss – knows who you are, thinks well of you and wants you to be successful.

Little else matters in your working relationships.  In fact the more important relationships that you can make, the more successful you are going to be.

Rule Two:  Take Out Your Rivals

Honestly, this is where the real psychopathic behaviour comes in. To be really successful you have to be prepared to wield the knife; in the front, in the back, in the side and if you are really highly skilled in this area: get someone else to do it. But whatever the case make sure that your rivals are taken out.

The finest example I have seen of this is the manager who started a meeting to establish the agenda for all other meetings at a particular fund management business, then carefully ensured that the meeting would occur at a time when his closest rival for the top job would be persistently unavailable.

Rule Three: Be Associated With Success

This is the scariest part of watching people be successful, not because they didn’t work hard on their projects, but because whatever work they did on their projects was matched by the work they did on making sure that each project was seen to be successful.

I have no doubt that time and time again, people reading this blog have sat by and watched as meaningless change programs were feted as “revolutionary,” or “game changing” – only to have nothing happen.

Rule Four: Don’t Stand For Anything – Unless It’s Popular

This is straight from the book of Sun Tzu who advises all warriors to be formless – so that they may not be measured or judged – and doesn’t really need explanation.

Rule Five: Build A Tribe Or Join One

The greatest lesson in this has been taught to us recently in Australian politics. Kevin Rudd has gone because he was popular with the Australian people – not with one of the labor tribes.

Julia Gillard is Prime Minister because she is popular with both the right wing and left wing tribes of the Labor party. She’s not a leader of either tribe, but a tool for them to exercise power.

The lesson here is clear.

All of the things that you would like to believe about getting and gaining power are by and large not true; the things that you have to focus on are venal, bloody and, just like nature, red in tooth and claw.


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