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Beware the Dark Triad: Your Worst Change Management Nightmare

What do you think is your biggest blocker, in terms of introducing agile software development to an organization which hasn't used it before?  Ignorance?  Lack of the proper tools?  Cube farms?  These perils are grave indeed, but they are nothing compared to something for which I have just learned the name:  the "Dark Triad." 
Machiavelli tells it like it is--or does he?
The Dark Triad consists of three personality constructs: Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.  As that source of all knowledge, wikipedia says,
  • The narcissistic personality (in the clinical sense) is characterized by a grandiose self-view, a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and egotism.
  • The Machiavellian personality is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, with a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and deception.
  • The psychopathic personality, is characterized by impulsive thrill-seeking, and in its "primary" form by selfishness, callousness, lack of personal affect, superficial charm, and remorselessness.
The Dark Triad is in the news this week because researchers have now confirmed that what these three constructs have in common, among other things, is that a member of the Dark Triad will statistically seem more attractive than her peers.  Better dressed, funnier, and worst of all, sexier! Two studies reported in New Scientist revealed that, in a survey of 35,000 people in 57 countries, that those men with Dark Triad traits were more successful sexually. “It is universal across cultures for high dark triad scorers to be more active in short-term mating,” David Schmitt, of Bradley University in the United States, told the New Scientist.

This is not because they are intrinsically more attractive, it turns out in the Scientific American study, but because they know how to dress and present themselves.  It's a killer combination, literally, when the person isn't "high functioning."  In a corporate environment, it can mean that the person about whom you make the quick snap judgement that "this person really GETS IT" is exactly the person you most need to watch out for.
So what, you say.  So--if you work in a corporate environment with executives who are trying to be promoted, you should know that "the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large," according to British researcher Jon Ronson, and those are just the ones who got to the top.  The road to the boardroom is littered with the debris cleaned out of corner offices where lesser Dark Triad members were identified and sent home.

If you work with 100 people during a large scale organizational change program, statistics tell you that four of them are going to be Dark Triad members.  The Triad is like Opus Dei as presented in The Da Vinci Code, or Soylent Green in the eponymous movie.  It is PEOPLE, it is REAL, and it is dangerous.

Stop and think about the people you work with.  Have you seen enough of them to know who is really trustworthy?  Or were you so excited finally to meet a person who understood you that you didn't stop to ask critical questions, or verify their behavior once you left the room?  Who have you been trusting in your environment and why?  When you rely on your instinct, have you been fooled before?

How do we deal with the Dark Triad triple threat?  I think there are two important lessons here.
  1. In the words of that awesome punk rock group, the Stranglers, "You'd better watch out for the Skin Deep."  Please take a step back as you are bonding with your team.  Trust, but verify.  Do not confide things, especially in writing, that could come back to haunt you.
  2. As TheGeekeryOnline suggests, albeit more with an eye towards scoring than implementing a robust agile program, think about applying Dark Triad behaviors to shake up your own marketing effort.  Be exciting!  If it works for evil, it can work for good too.
So my friends, be careful out there!  And watch for strangers with decoder rings and charming smiles.

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