Muller argued histrionic managers can cause “considerable suffering in the workplace, as well as lost productivity and revenue” (p. 402). Histrionic managers operate primarily based on emotion. Reason takes a backseat. They tend often to:
- “not to see to the heart of things”
- exaggerate information
- overact to matters that could be handled more easily by rational discussion
- have flawed understandings
- have trigger points that set them off “sometimes angrily and aggressively”
- have “hyper suspiciousness”
- be sources of stress, frustration, anxiety for others
Intrigued by Muller’s discussion, I researched histrionic managers in peer-reviewed journals. I found only one study. In 2005 Board and Fritzon (University of Surrey) compared personality data (MMPI-PD) from 39 senior business managers (male, British) with personality data from over 1000 male hospital patients who had been diagnosed with mental illness, psychopathic disorder, or other psychiatric problems. One of the 11 MMPI scales measured histrionic tendencies. The senior managers scored higher on the histrionic scale, significantly higher, than the hospital patients (t-test, p < .0045). In this study senior managers were more likely to have histrionic behaviors that the patients. Board and Fritzon concluded these senior managers were more likely to display “superficial charm, insincerity, egocentricity, manipulativeness” (p. 25).
1. It is difficult to draw conclusions from two studies, one naturalistic, the other a limited sample. Even so the concept of the histrionic manager, or managers with histrionic tendencies, would seem worthy of more study.
2. Muller emphasized the potentially harmful effects of such managers. His experiences were up close, personal, and negative. Are there managers, even leaders, who operate more from emotion, who have people running scared? Yes. Working with such managers is clearly challenging with no easy answers.
3. Board and Fritzon suggested histrionic behaviors were consistent with achieving high management positions. They administered a personality inventory, or obtained that data, and did statistical analyses. Are there some elements of histrionic behavior in high achieving individuals? Perhaps some. Perhaps sometimes.
4. There may be times when even the best leader has an emotional outburst. The key is not to make it a way of life.
Board, B. J., & Fritzon, K. (2005). Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime & Law, 11 (1): 17-32.
Muller, R. (2014). Histrionic managers wreck havoc in the workplace: Identifying the phenomenon. The Humanistic Psychologist, 42, 402-412.
"Challenge" © John Ballard, 2015
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Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations, coming in May,