(a) the anxiety they feel resulting from great accountability and great privilege. Games can be seen by the games-player as a way of reducing anxiety in the short run (only).
(b) They may possess ego’s that veer towards narcissism, hubris, and paranoia when under stress.
As a tragic example of this let’s examine what happened at Pfizer
under Jeff Kindler as CEO and Mary McLeod as SVP HR. Kindler was CEO at Pfizer from July 2006 until he was asked to leave in December 2010 (during this time stock price went down from 26$ to 16$). By then, the management team reportedly had “descended into behaviors that would make Machiavelli proud.”
Kindler was a top trial lawyer who had previously worked as general counsel of McDonalds. However, he was very anxious in this new role. “For all Kindler's talents, he remained palpably insecure, acutely sensitive to anything or anyone he feared might undermine his standing.” This anxiety led to a number of destructive games:
- Pecking Order: Mary McLeod, the company head of HR, was treated differently than all the others. She had his ear, used her power to control access to him, and herself played the game “The Boss Said”. A destructive influence, Kindler apparently called (admiringly) “Neutron Mary” after his hero Jack Welsh. She had infamous access to company helicopters for commuting from Delaware at a time when Pfizer was downsizing. She became feared, and one of the executive team said "There was Mary and Jeff, and then there was the rest of us."
- Outsourcing Management to Consultants: anxious about his relative outsider status, he was very reluctant to put any trust in long term employees of Pfizer, and preferred to listen to consultants. “For all of Kindler's lack of pharma experience, he didn't seem to trust Pfizer veterans that did have it. … he employed swarms of consultants, working on initiatives to reorganize Pfizer into business units (instead of geographical regions), change reporting lines, and trim bureaucracy.”
- Soothing Guilt: Kindler could be particularly vicious to team members in public. At a 2008 retreat he publicly berated Read (who incidentally became the CEO after Kindler) which made the other team members cringe. However sometimes after his angry outbursts he would send flowers to women the day after he had brought them to tears. One executive said: "Don't call me at five o'clock in the morning and rip my face off, then call me at 11 o'clock at night and tell me how much you love me."
Through all of this there was a narcissism that was expressed by Kent Bernard, one of his colleagues: "Jeff seemed to believe he was the only smart guy in the room." His failure to move from “coping” with anxiety by playing games, to “caring” and working in an open way with his colleagues to work through the very real challenges Pfizer had, let to much misery for employees and shareholders alike.
Fortune, “Inside Pfizer’s Palace Coup” July 2011 http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2011/07/28/pfizer-jeff-kindler-shakeup/
“Revenge, Betrayal and Power: What happened at Pfizer?” http://worldofdtcmarketing.com/revenge-betrayal-and-power-what-happened-at-pfizer/bad-practices/