The delusional games some leaders play

If you’ve ever worked for a boss who says one thing but does another, you will find yourself perpetually confused and possibly even wonder if the person in question is sad, mad, dangerous or just plain delusional. It will absolutely be like walking on egg shells.

You may work for a boss who wants results now; they want to be made to look good; to be seen as a person who gets things done; to be a hero.

The downside of that is they are invariably engaged in rush jobs; they decry any form of preparation; they feel that strategies are for wimps and then wonder why each member of their team or administration says a different thing when asked what the goal is, or what the time frames are or even what their part in the project is. It’s that famous saying, failing to plan is planning to fail.

We all have personality flaws; we all have ‘patterns’ of behaviour that probably don’t serve us. Mostly though, as adults, we become willing to step back from situations and to ask ourselves ‘how did I set this up?’  or ‘what was I thinking’ or even ‘why do I keep doing this when I know it doesn’t work?’

Unless we are brave enough to ask those questions, we are destined to repeat our unhelpful behaviours ad nauseum.

Eventually, after three bad marriages, or 5 bad bosses or several bankruptcies, we may get it, that we could be the problem.

Or we may work things out when a true friend or significant other points out to us our blind spots and self destructive behaviour. If we are smart we listen. If we are smart we do whatever we need to do to cease and desist from our self defeating habits.

With that feedback or realisation may lead us to seek the help of a counsellor, coach or mentor, someone who will challenge us to face our patterns and become more self aware.

Changing behaviours isn’t easy. I’m sure that most of us at some stage have tried to lose weight or get fitter; or drink less; or give up smoking and found it to be really hard. However, if what we are doing is affecting our health our relationships and/or our career prospects then not changing borders on insanity.

Every generation has a ‘light bulb’ book; a book that radically changes society’s thinking. For me ‘Games People Play’ by Dr Eric Byrne was one of my own light bulb books. I decided it was time for me to re-read it to see if that would help me better understand leaders who seem hell bent on causing havoc whilst totally refusing to acknowledge that ‘they’ are possibly the problem.

The ‘games’ Berne refers to are better described as ‘habits’ – ways of interaction we’ve either learned from our parents or behavioural habits we have adopted for whatever reason.

A positive example of a ‘game’ would be the late Dudley Moore – the hilariously funny comedian; part of the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore duo.  Moore had physical handicaps which led to him being bullied at school – he learned that humour kept him from the worst of the abuse and even led him into a career as a comedian. Humour was a survival game for him. Some other ‘games’ are not only unhealthy but even border on being decidedly dangerous.

A few examples of ‘games’ from Dr Byrne’s book:

  • Let’s you and him fight. This is a behaviour where one person causes trouble between a couple of other people and then steps back to watch and enjoy the fire-works.
  • I’m only trying to help you. These are the people in our lives who are determined that they know better than us how we should eat; live; speak; make decisions. These are people, who uninvited, keep telling us how to improve; earn more; be more; do more. These people are not to be confused with a significant other who lovingly points out behaviours that no longer serve us. You will absolutely know the difference.
  • Let’s pull a fast one on Joey. A game where two or more people gang up on a third (also called mobbing) to have a bit of ‘fun’.  To the people who are the perpetrators of this action, they probably see is as teasing but to the target of the game, it may  be hurtful and humiliating and is an activity which could easily descend into bullying if not checked.

Children are master game players

Kids test boundaries every day. They say they don’t like their parents preventing them from doing things, but at some unconscious level they know that their parents prevent them doing certain things because they care. Kids whose parents let them do anything or are so absorbed in their own lives that their children are morally abandoned are the kids who feel totally insecure. They internalise this non intervention as being ‘my parents don’t care enough to keep me safe’ and like the moth that keeps banging into a lighted flame, the children of non-involved parents keep taking bigger and bigger risks in the hope that ‘someone’ will care enough to stop them.

Naming the games

After working with teams for over 30 years, I know that naming the games is an incredibly courageous move for team members. At some stage of working with a team I would ask them ‘what behaviours is the team displaying that prevent you all from being awesome?’ And ‘what inappropriate behaviours have become normalised here?’

I often hear things like:

  • People gossiping about other team members in the lunch room
  • People only doing as much as they have to and never being willing to help out co-workers
  • People arriving late and leaving early
  • People coming to meetings late and unprepared
  • People taking credit for other people’s ideas

When working with a leader, the question becomes ‘what part do you think you play in this team not achieving it’s best results?’  Which is a huge question for them to take on board. It requires vulnerability, introspection; self awareness and more than anything, the ability to be brutally honest with themselves; to accept that they are not perfect. That they may be part of the problem but that they are also a huge part of the solution.

I heard the story of one doctor who received feedback from a peer – the feedback was that the nurses and younger doctors were terrified of him. They found him arrogant and impatient and downright rude at times. Which was a shock to the person as he didn’t see himself that way at all. However, once he had taken the feedback on board, he actually gave everyone around him permission to call him out. If he was behaving rationally and humanely they were to call him by his first name (let’s say John) but if he was slipping into his arrogant mode, they were to call him Doctor John.

This simple process alerted him to his possibly unconscious behaviours and helped him correct them. It also made him more human to the people who worked with him and earned him massive respect for his courage to own his bad behaviours.

Naming the games and giving permission to address them requires everyone; leaders and workers alike, to look at their behaviours and to question which ones are actually productive and which ones are destructive, hurtful or damaging.

It requires us also to ask our customers and suppliers for feedback and to really take that feedback on board.

Looking in the mirror will be the hardest thing we ever do, but not being willing to do that means we will go through life repeating our self destructive ways until we are left, jobless; friendless or in a prison jump suit.

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

 Ann Andrews CSP

Author: Lessons in leadership: 50 ways to avoid falling into the ‘Trump’ trap

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