How personality traits can make or break a business

The Darker Side of Work
116 Pall Mall recently hosted a talk on Mental Health and Resilience in the Workplace. The guest speaker was Dannielle Haig, who is a qualified business psychologist, coach and psychodynamic therapist.

She is also an expert in an area known as the Dark Triad, which is made up of three overlapping personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. We all either work or come into contact with Dark Triad individuals. And while this may sound like an exceptionally toxic combination, Dannielle explains that people with these traits can be a huge asset to any business.

‘They Are All Around Us’

“They are fascinating characters,” she says. “A narcissist is financially driven, a psychopath is incredibly impulsive compared to the other two, and Machiavelli wrote The Prince, who could manipulate and deceive. It’s all about power and prestige. And they are all around us.

"But instead of trying to look at them as negative people, I think about what we can learn from them. What makes them successful?

“One of the things it comes down to is resilience. They have an incredible level of mental toughness. They don’t feel fear in the same way that most people do. They take risks. They are very committed to their goals. They are extraordinarily confident. They are successful by themselves. They are very ambitious, and are incredibly hard working, particularly if they have narcissistic or Machiavellian tendencies.”

Believing Their Own Hype

Dannielle acknowledges that while they can be very charismatic and persuasive, Dark Triad individuals also have the potential to cause chaos if they’re not managed in the right way.

She advises businesses on how to tread that fine line.

“If they feel they are not getting the right opportunities they can be quite passive-aggressive. So, I work with CEOs or boards to help them understand how to put the right targets in place, how to give Dark Triad people the right management skills and how to respond to what they’re saying to make them the best they can be.

“But what you also need to avoid is those people getting to the top and believing too much of their own hype. That is when everything can crumble around them, which often happens.

“It’s about understanding the people you’re working with to get them to reach their potential and maximise their skill sets.”

The Key Takeaways

There is no one-size fits all approach - “With Dark Triad individuals, I use the analogy of a cake. If you use different measurements and ingredients you will get a different tasting cake. You can have someone who is a prominent narcissist, or psychopath and depending on what balance you get, you can end up with a very different outcome.”

They are high achievers and high maintenance - “Because they are successful, people will have a tendency to follow them and believe in them. In some businesses that is great, because they can take a group of people really far together. But if you’ve got everyone following an individual, and you manage to p*** off that person, they can destroy an organisation without a second thought.”

We can learn from them - “They are confident and very resilient. They can have the best outward looking appearance when they need to, which is why they are so successful.”

Wellness at Work

Danielle also acts as a consultant for companies in the area of mental health. She says, “Up until a year ago the focus was on restructuring and change-management, helping with assessments, motivation and engagement, whereas now there is such a huge shift towards mental health and wellness.

“But businesses still don’t really know what is the best and most effective thing to do. There is still the bottom line, or the ROI, to consider on top of the fact you’re supporting the mental health of your staff.

“So, I help companies to implement long-term wellness strategies.”

She explains, “The first thing I will do is carry out interviews. Normally they are confidential questionnaires so I can understand what the staff really want. You can do all the things under the sun but if the employees and individuals don’t feel it’s right for them then it is never going to work.”

As an example, Dannielle questions whether having a designated ‘mental first aider’ in the workplace is really the best way forward.

“I know it’s a step in the right direction, but it feels like putting a plaster over a broken leg. To have a member of staff or a cohort, who has had a week of training, or less, in mental health support won’t provide much security or psychological safety. Also, there are some things you don’t want to tell your colleagues.”

Balancing Openness and Confidentiality

Instead, she advocates a different approach for individual cases.

“One of the best things is to offer a coaching service to a client where they can get in contact when necessary and it should be confidential. Then the staff know they have someone they can talk to who understands the mind, psychology, stress, the workplace, and is separate from anyone to do with work or their personal life.”

When it comes to issues that affect the whole team, Dannielle says that workshops can be best solution when trying to create a culture of openness.

She concludes, “Workshops can be really useful in being able to say ‘this is too much’ or ‘we need to delegate this work’ but without fear of repercussion.

“Having that openness is particularly important in a small business.”

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