Understanding the Psychology of the Kiss-Up/Kick-Down Leader

In the field of organizational psychology, this type of leader was first recognized in the 1950’s. You may find yourself working for or with this type of person, and yet no one else in authority seems to recognize it.

The KU/KD person is very charming and perhaps adored by those who are friends or equal-status colleagues. They go out of their way to compliment their peers or those they view as in higher positions. However, if you are a person who is seen as inferior or who has a lower position in a company or organization, watch out! You will be subject to a barrage of negativity and blame you may have never experienced before.

The KU/KD person was likely raised by an authoritarian parent, thus molding how they interact with fellow people in authority, and those who are under their authority. Unfortunately, the KU/KD person also gravitates towards positions of authority, thus spreading their influence.

Symptoms of this Personality

In my own person experience, I find this listing of symptoms of the KU/KD person right on target.

  • Mistakes are concealed
  • People are under constant stress
  • Power is based on fear, not respect
  • Information is withheld and distorted
  • Information flow is primarily from top down
  • Behavior is forced; does not come naturally
  • Behavior is not consistent with true feelings, which adds to the stress
  • Conflicts and problems are blamed on the dependent’s “poor attitudes” and “character flaws.”

(From the Authoritarian Personality study, 1950, UC-Berkley).

What can you do?

Unfortunately, this is a type of personality disorder, and there is little you can do when working for or with this type of person. If you are working for this person long term, you need to leave the organization or company as soon as possible. Their negativity will be extremely stressful and ultimately do damage to your career.

Do not think you can convince others in authority who are this person’s peers or supervisors that this person is negative and destructive. They are charismatic and have spent years developing the dedicated and “wonderful” persona.

Do not think you can talk to the person and ask them to consider changing. They do not allow anyone to challenge them, and they despise admitting mistakes. In fact, if you are questioning their decisions or behavior, they have already put a plan in motion to whisper about your own competency or value to the company or organization.

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