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The power of negative leadership

April 1, 2014
by Steve Moffic
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As April Fools Day approaches, the title of this blog is not an April Fools joke. Really! Yet, if not, how can I be advocating negative leadership after writing the recent blog "Zen for psychiatric leadership," which portrayed and advocated the positive, cerebral strategy of the Zen master basketball coach, Phil Jackson?

Instead, the focus of this blog is another basketball coach, Bob (Bobby) Knight. Though just as successful as Jackson, albeit as a college coach, Knight was more of a negative, action-oriented, chair-throwing leader. He also has been aggressive and not too politically correct with his words. Recently, commenting on professional basketball teams drafting college players after they were in college just one year, he said: "It's as though they've raped college basketball." Afterwards, he defended himself by claiming: "The word rape can be used in several ways."

Like, Jackson, Knight also wrote an autobiographical book, Knight: My Story, published in 2002. Last year, with Bob Hammel, he wrote The Power of Negative Thinking.

Emphasizing negative thinking seems to go against the grain of the commonly spouted power of positive thinking. Even his wife, a former high school basketball coach herself, warned him against "being too negative."

Mr. Knight disagrees. He feels that his coaching principles can be generalized to leadership in business and other areas of life, presumably to include behavioral healthcare. As an example of these principles, he lists "always worry" as the third of his Ten Commandments of leadership. Especially worry about being overconfident, he warns. The ninth commandment is "never talk too much." Perhaps he broke his own commandment in his comment about rape!

Some of the leaders whom he feels succeeded through negative thinking are Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, and Pogo. He lists overconfident failures as Robert E. Lee, Napoleon, and Hitler.

What, then, of these principles could apply to psychiatry? "Always worry"? Doesn't that come from overly anxious patients who want that to decrease? "Never talk too much"? That's for the traditional psychoanalyst, not most of modern psychotherapists, is it not?

Could it be that the intent is psychologically paradoxical? As Knight says, the point is not to push people to do what they can't do, but to what they can do. Certainly this is good advice for both behavioral healthcare administrators and cllinicians. There is a problematic tendency to push people to do what they can't do in our field. Perhaps due, at least in part, to reimbursement concerns, role diffusion has spread. Most disciplines claim to be able to do psychotherapy, though often the cheapest, not the best, is preferred by payers. When should the prescribing of medication be limited to psychiatrists, rather than nurse practitioners, family doctors, and in some places, psychologists? Although the majority of psychiatric medications are prescribed by general doctors, the success rate leaves much to be desired. Within the profession of psychiatry itself, unless you are also trained in Child & Adolescent psychiatry, one should avoid prescribing to children. Whether you are running a sports team or a behavioral healthcare team, or participating in either, you need not only a clear appreciation of your strengths, but also your weaknesses.




Another corroboration of the usefulness of negative leadership was in the New York Times science section today, in the article "Spite is Good, Spite Works". In a recent exploration of spitefulness as a negative personality trait, psychologists are finding that sometimes "spite can make right". Research indicates that human decency and cooperation indeed need a certain degree of altruistic punishment, that is, the willingness of some individuals, which would obviously include leaders especially, to punish rule breakers even then the lapse does not directly hurt you. Other research indicates that spiteful behavior may help one's image as a leader, that you are more likely to get the reputation as someone not to mess with.

Dr. Moffic

In response to the article, corporate development specialist Billy Maynard sent me the following little ditty on leadership "from the other side":

Spite, paranoia and skepticism
Together, make a fine leadership system
They focus the weak
Spur on the strong
And enroute to success
Ensure no schisms!

They will do things your way
Come hell or high water
They might not like you
But they'll most certainly
Go farther

So stop being nice
Get on with the job
Give them good reason
To cross the chasm
For sending you results
Is their only possible

All hail spite, paranoia and skepticism!

Before get into this article I want to put some focus on different formats of leadership and its importance and characteristics. Most probably leadership is a term through which an individual can able to deal with his or her lack of confidential problems. A person should have better leadership quality in order to deal with different situation and handle the entire organization with effective way; therefore we need better leadership quality in our attitude and behavior.

So we should be a positive thinker instead of a negative thinker; it will ultimately develop our inner strength and quality of thinking. I hope the below presentation will be quite better to describe certain things about leadership.

Thank you, Ethan Hauser, for the unusual opportunity to keep the discussion about this blog alive one year later as we get close to another April Fools Day.

Today is the first day of Spring, yet in my neck of the woods, Milwaukee, the weather is still like winter, so we have to adapt. Same with leadership: sometimes the positive thinker is needed, sometimes the negative. In general, though, a positive leader, and positive reframing, is more successful in the long-run. It may be foolish to have a one size fits all approach to leadership.

-Steven Moffic, M.D.

Negative Leadership and negative thoughts both the issues are responsible for negative results. Basically we have found two types of people positive thinking and negative thinking and mostly positive thinkers are able to get quick success in life in comparison to negative thinkers.


H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...

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