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Introduction

Stress, mind and leadership

Stress causes brain dysfunction, impairing clarity of mind and judgment including the ability to evaluate one’s situation in a realistic way. Performance-impairing chronic stress is today very common at all levels of society.

It will be argued that stress-induced impairment of brain function has contributed importantly to the present serious world problems. This is because stress causes a.o. impaired judgment, lacking foresight, faltering realism, irresponsibility, strong egoism, shortsighted greed for money and power.

The impaired brain function has prevented leaders and decision-makers from making adequate decisions, and even worse, has made them neglect the interests and needs of the society for the sake of their own egoistic benefit.

Brain research reveals detrimental effects

Brain research has observed detrimental effects of stress on the functioning of the brain. Psychology has also arrived at a better understanding of the mechanisms of stress sensitivity, replacing intuitive and speculative ideas with experimentally validated theories. Human development psychology draws upon this knowledge and has developed a deeper understanding of the negative effects of stress on behavior and the development of higher stages of psychological development (self-actualization).

Chronic stress is abundant

Medical research indicates that chronic stress is abundant at all levels of society. For example, the chronic stress-related disease, high blood pressure is present in 70% of Americans at the age of 70. Of course, all cases are not caused by stress, but a large majority is.  According to American Psychological Association (2008), almost every American reported feeling stress to some degree. 30% reported chronic stress and another 50% percent reported moderate stress.

That is, 80 percent of the US population is reporting stress levels high enough to affect the mind including mental performance. Add to this the observation that many people are not aware that they are in a state of stress and you arrive at even higher number.

An important fact is that stress always affects the functioning of the brain in a negative way. Stress is an integrated part of the survival response that is activated when we consciously or subconsciously experience a threat.

Stress brings about a major shift in the control of behavior away from higher centers in the frontal brain to Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) organizing centers in the midbrain. In chronic stress, brain scans have revealed so-called functional holes where there is little or no activity, which may cause important brain dysfunction when present in important brain areas. Below to the right you find a picture of such a brain, having holes in the prefrontal cortex.

SOB brain

To the right a high level SOB brain with typical “functional holes” indicting no activity in areas responsible for honesty, good judgement, compassion, intelligence. creativty etc.

Conclusion 1: Brain dysfunction due to stress is epidemic

Because of the high prevalence of stress, disturbed, survival-oriented brain function is prevalent in probably a very large majority of Americans. Probably this goes for people in other developed countries as well.

Conclusion 2: Testing for low stress level in leaders is necessary

Because of the high prevalence of stress, in the population, the risk is considerable that societal leaders and other important decision-makers have suboptimal brain function due to stress. Reliable and sensitive tests exist and must be used to ensure that  leaders  are selected who have are not in a state of chronic stress or have a low stress tolerance.

This would reduce the risk that leaders are appointed who will  make serious mistakes, errors of judgment, or misuse their position for personal gain or criminal actions.

In this blog and associated articles, we will apply the most recent knowledge, suggesting constructive solutions to ensure better leadership which is greatly needed to solve the serious world crisis. For more, see the article “Stress and mind” and and the especially important posts

Jaan Suurküla, M.D.

How to deal with stressful superiors

Stress brings about a negative behavior pattern that may harm relationships seriously. By understanding its nature you will be able to handle it properly and preserve a good relation with a stressed superior in spite of his/her disagreeable behavior.

The physiological stress response is activated when you feel threatened. It may be due to a real threat, but most commonly it is due to emotional insecurity, called weak Emotional Basic Trust in psychology. Then primitive midbrain centers take over the control of behavior bringing about Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) that often causes relationship problems. They may have various intensity depending on the level of stress. Below is a list of pronounced SOB symptoms:

  • Strong egoism. This is a key expression of the “survival mode” – just caring about one’s own interests for “survival” in the widest sense. From this follows:
    • Ruthlessness. 
    • Irresponsibility, not caring much for the needs of others or the requirements of the society.
    • Weak empathy/compassion – insensitive to the suffering of people. The behavior is geared at personal survival without considering others.
    • Low moral standards, dishonesty. Compassion is a key factor bringing about a high ethical level. In survival mode these traits are weak and absent, so one does not care much about harming others directly or indirectly through unethical behavior. E.g. a SOB type does not hesitate to use lies to promote his interests.
  • Impulsivity, difficulty in controlling impulses and outbursts of anger.
  • Aggressivity. A tendency for harsh or violent ways of solving conflicts.
  • Arrogance, self-assertiveness. A psychological counterpart of survival-oriented attitudes.
  • Weak judgment, due to impaired thinking as a consequence of suppressed forebrain centers responsible for intelligence, along with an inclination to disregard or belittle important problems due to the presence of reality-distorting psychological defense mechanisms.
  • Insecurity – need for predictability. In situations that they cannot master, SOB-s experience increased anxiety – a symptom of stress. They prefer jobs providing predictability through a framework of strict rules, like bureaucracy, certain police jobs, military (in peace times), etc. From this follows:
    • Power/control-orientation. They want to be in control and dominate because it makes them feel more secure.
    • Intolerance. People that are unfamiliar in appearance or behavior are experienced as unpredictable and arouse anxiety, which can call forth bullying and aggressive attitudes against them. Ethnic and religious intolerance are expressions of this weakness. Bullying as well.
    • Conventionalism. Conventional norms provide a framework that increases predictability. SOB-persons tend to obey the prevailing norms ambitiously also because this increases the chances of being widely accepted. Unconventional behavior evokes anxiety and consequent rejection if not aggressive attacks.
    • Weak integrity, changing convictions and opinions opportunistically, even on key issues. This is a consequence of the need to be accepted by peers and society because this increases the feeling of security.

Dealing with SOB people

People with chronic SOB for psychological reasons, which is the most common form of SOB, have conscious or subconscious anxiety caused by inner insecurity. To reduce their anxiety they need predictability and a feeling of being in control.

Therefore, the major strategy to deal with such persons is to increase their feeling of security and not to challenge their strategies for handling it. Always keep in mind that SOB is not the result of bad intentions or meanness. It is the consequence of a “survival program”, wired in the brain, evoked by powerful stress hormones that are generated when the person feels threatened which is chronically the case in emotionally insecure people (which is a very common trait).

If such a person is your superior at the workplace you will probably be able to uphold a successful relation if you follow this advice:

  • Never oppose, criticize or express doubts about his/her opinions. This is strongly anxiety-generating because it evokes a sense of lost control. Ignore opinions that you dislike and don’t argue against requests of no real importance for you or the job. If they are important, deal with them very carefully and patiently,  without any opposition. Instead, without even mentioning the problematic opinion or request, make constructive suggestions for improvements or changes, preferably as questions like “what do you think of this idea?”.
  • Be very respectful and obedient. Otherwise, it evokes a sense of lost control, causing anxiety that may transform into aggressive behavior against you.
  • Show appreciation whenever convenient. Because of their psychological weakness, these people need much appreciation. But don’t overdo it, because they tend to be suspicious and may wonder what are your intentions.
  • Don’t react against any impulsive behavior, however provocative it may feel. It causes frustration and consequent anger against you.
  • Don’t propose unconventional ideas. This increases insecurity, arousing anxiety and may cause anger.
  • Don’t behave in an unconventional way. On the opposite, follow the informal conduct code of your culture very carefully. Otherwise, you generate insecurity, anxiety, anger. Such behavior is a common cause of being bullied.
  • Don’t try to improve or correct the behavior. This evokes frustration and anger because a habitual behavior is part of the framework upholding a feeling of security.
  • In every possible way, make him/her feel secure and in full control.

This condition influences the behavior so strongly that one inevitably fails even if one wants to behave in a more friendly and positive way. So be compassionate and feel sorry for this poor fellow. Assume a therapeutic attitude, be delicate, trying to minimize the anxiety and insecurity.

If you follow this advice carefully you may experience a positive change in the attitude towards you, especially if you are very keen on being respectful and obedient, even offering to ease the workload if possible. They may feel a relief to have a subordinate who does not make them frustrated through the overt or covert resistance and dissatisfaction that their behavior tends to evoke.

The only constructive thing you can do to bring about a change is to generate an interest in programs that may improve the basic problem, deep emotional insecurity mostly generated from insecure early childhood conditions. I will deal with this issue in a later posting.

Of course,  the above advice is valid in most parts for dealing with any SOB person.

Please make these points widely known

Use email, twitter, facebook etc and please “like” this post, because many “likes”  attract more readers. This is a very common issue that has caused suffering among hundreds of millions of people because the relationship issues due to SOB are very often handled in an inadequate and counterproductive way.

Military organizations may attract psychopaths

In the posting “The danger of Corporate Psychopaths” I explained the problems psychopathic corporation leaders may cause. But for similar reasons, they are dangerous in other top positions as well.

The military organization is of such a kind that it is attractive to SOB-types of all degrees, especially psychopaths because it satisfies their psychological needs and preferences:

  • The organization is strictly regulated, satisfying the strong need of the psychopaths for predictability (rigid, inhumane formalism is an indicator of this disturbance).
  • The especially great power over subordinates that the military organization offers satisfies their need to maximize predictability by being “in control”.
  • The possibility to express their aggressivity in their professional activity.
  • The possibility to achieve a high social status.

Paradoxically, such people are especially unsuitable in war conditions, because of their rigidity, reality-distorting defense mechanisms and difficulty to keep their head cool under severe stress in a situation that highly demands the opposite qualities. There are many examples of such inadequate, if not disastrous, behavior of some top officers in war history. You will find more details about this personality disturbance in the posting “Characteristics of very unsuitable leaders

The Swedish Air Force has realized the unsuitability of SOB-types in combat duty and has used the Defence Mechanism Test since over 40 years for detecting SOB in flight combat pilot training applicants, but there are good reasons to consider such a test for the selection of all military leaders.

The Norwich University Military College in Vermont, USA, has applied another approach for increasing what they call combat resilience, that is, stress tolerance in combat. They have included a technique in their curriculum that, according to several studies, has been found to reduce SOB effectively (including a study by the Swedish Airforce using DMT). The technique is called Transcendental Meditation (TM).  The Norwich Military College has launched a study for further evaluation of this technique, see “Norwich University studies the benefits of TM on Cadets“.

The strong neurotic drive of psychopaths to achieve maximal control, that is the very top position in an organization, combined with their ruthlessness and manipulative talents may bring such people to top national and international positions. See my blog: “How to identify especially unsuitable leaders“.

Most dictators and tyrants have pronounced psychopathic traits. As is well known, many of them have been military.

Conclusion

It is advisable for military organizations to follow the example of using the test developed in the Swedish Airforce (the Defense Mechanism Test) for selecting combat pilots.

But it should be used for all military officers, in all fields, especially importantly at higher levels. Not just for optimizing performance, including minimizing losses but as importantly for ensuring humane strategies, that is minimizing the suffering of civilians, and avoiding unnecessary killings etc in war conditions.

Same kind of “suicidal” crash as Germanwings has occurred before

Captain Jan Cocheret at Emirate Airways expressed fears of such a suicidal crash a couple of months before the tragedy.

In his premonitory piece, called “Will you just open the door?”, Mr. Cocheret said there have been several cases of pilots shutting out colleagues – either to stop them causing harm or to bring down the plane.

The most recent was in November 2013, when Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, the captain of flight TM470 from the Mozambican capital Maputo to Luanda in Angola, “deliberately” brought down an Embraer 190, killing all 33 on board.

“He waited for his colleague to leave the cockpit, and once that happened, he sent the plane into a nosedive towards the Namibian desert. The last sound heard on the cockpit voice recorder was a desperate banging on the locked cockpit door,” he wrote.

He also expressed suspicions that the disappeared Malaysian flight MH730 might have been subject to the same kind of co-pilot takeover by locking out the colleague.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/netherlands/11506244/Dutch-pilot-predicted-French-Alps-crash.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/dutch-pilot-predicted-germanwings-crash-in-article-about-returning-to-a-locked-cockpit-door-weeks-before-disaster-10148000.html

Comment

This indicates that this was not an isolated accident.  It underscores the need for general implementation of Defense Mechanism Test, DMT the combat pilot selection test that is used by a number of air forces to ensure that really psychologically healthy persons are selected. Common psychological tests are unable to reliably reveal these disturbances and even skilled psychologists and psychiatreists have likewise mostly not been able to detect this disturbance according to the experience of the Swedish Airforce.

The Germanwings 9525 intentional crash could have been prevented

It is now established that the pilot had mental problems including suicidal tendencies and that he crashed the plane on purpose. He had had depressions and stress burnouts see Dailly Mail. He had some mental problems even during pilot training, but the course leaders obviously did not react probably because he was cleared as basically stable at the selection test.

In ordinary tests used for pilot selection, a person who very much wants to pass, can easily learn how to provide the “right replies” that hide such problems. This pilot was very anxious to become a pilot and successfully fooled the tests.

Such very severe personality disturbances that cause grave destructive behavior of this kind are not of a temporary nature. They are deeply engrained in the personality, commonly from early childhood, and impossible to reliably detect with common tests. Even deep personal interviews by experienced psychologists often cannot discover the disturbance.

This is why the Swedish Air Force ordered the development the Defense Mechanism Test (DMT) which the developer, military psychologist Thomas called “Mental X-ray”. It has been very successful. Since introduced in the 1970-ies the flight crashes not caused by mechanical failures have dropped from 20-25 or more per year to zero. It is used by a number of Air Forces in the world, but some have dropped it, including the US. (It is suspected that DMT dismissed a too large proportion of the applicants, which is not surprising considering the high stress level in the American Society which makes it difficult to have a sufficiently harmonious and peaceful childhood -consider the heavy flood of TM videos that are not suitable to create a feeling of comfort and security in the child – rather indoctrinates into the belief that life is full of dangers and mean persons).

I have been told that on the basis of DMT experience the psychologists have improved their ability to discover such disturbances so more people can be stopped without testing. But in the last stage, among those ultimately cleared, DMT is made and always detects some deeply hidden cases.

As said in my posting “Air France 447 crash – such mistakes can be prevented” it is unacceptable that Flight companies don’t use this test for selection of pilot training applicants. Also read Increased flight safety“.

Please help stop these disturbed people from becoming pilots

You can contribute to block mentally disturbed persons from becoming pilots, by sending info about DMT to airline safety departments.

Please do help, everyone is needed even if you can only contact a few airlines.

View: Please help make all airlines use a pilot selection test that safely reveals disturbed persons

And do share it on social media, see below.

Why we need self-actualized leaders

[Last updated in Oct 28, 2016]

How self-actualized (BEB) leaders would lead the world

Forebrain-controlled leaders would express the best of humanness in their behavior and decisions. This behavior, which is the opposite of the brain-dysfunctional SOB, includes compassion, friendliness, honesty,  reliability, high integrity, clear thinking with excellent judgment and foresight, creativity broad-mindedness and tolerance (for details, see BEB).

  • In a world with such leaders in all key positions in governments, international organizations, finance institutes, corporations,  highly effective efforts in close and constructive cooperation would be taken for the rapid elimination of world problems.
  • Their compassion along with good judgement, broad-mindedness and foresight would never allow them to make any decisions that cause harm to mankind or nature.
  • Their integrity, honesty, reliability and absence of greed would never allow them to accept big sponsorships or take bribes that force them to take decisions that run counter to their convictions and values or might be harmful to the citizens or the environment.
  • In a world with compassionate and friendly  BEB-leaders, there will be no wars and poverty will vanish. In stead, in such a world, peace, harmonious cooperation and consequent prosperity will prevail.

Yes, this may sound like an utopic dream, but it is a well established fact that self-actualization/BEB is real and all the above is just a logical deduction of its consequences. So it is definitely a theoretical possibility. It is just a matter of selecting the right people.

Considering the great advantages for everyone, even for the finance and corporate sector, who would not go for it?

Elitism?

Some accuse such thinking for elitism, but this is a misinterpretation. Elitism is an ideology favored by financial&corporate and political elites based on the belief that good education and top-level experience should justify a preference for such leaders. However, this does not mean that such people are self-actualized, rather the power-greed and need for self-assertion characteristic of SOB is likely to make this trait overrepresented among said elites.

Favoring BEB-people is not elitism. It is just the understanding that compassion, friendliness, tolerance, honesty, high integrity, good judgment, creativity and foresight would ensure optimal solutions. One neither needs to have top level education nor political experience for being an ideal leader of a nation. What counts is the highly integrated and orderly forebrain-dominated brain-function that brings about the self-actualized behavioral pattern.

According to Abraham Maslow, who coined the concept self-actualization, few US presidents seem to have been conspicuously self-actualized. In a thorough survey, he found only George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Truman made a clear-sighted statement that one would expect firsthand from a self-actualized person: “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook”. This is not sufficient of course for judging, but makes me want to look more into his biographies.

Conclusion

Chronic stress-related brain dysfunction (SOB) is common among world leaders and is harmful to the whole mankind.

Therefore, it is important to select leaders with opposite qualities, that is the BEB dominant – self-actualized leaders.

This would enable a solution of present world problems and lead to world peace, prosperity and harmony.

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Worldwide interest in Stress, Mind and Leadership blog

Over 26.690 views from 153 countries

[Updated on March 24, 2015]

The interest in this blog, “Stress, Mind and Leadership” is global.

Without any marketing at all, the blog has somehow become known all over the world. The numbers, over 26.690 views since febr 2012, are quite good for such a “narrow” blog, I suppose 830 followers is also an encouraging figure.

What is even more encouraging is that the visitors come from 153 countries from all over the world including every major country. Here is a captured map from the WordPress statistics for visitors since Febr 2012 – Aug 2014, with numbers for the most common countries listed. White means zero visitors (but also lakes). The darker the color, the higher the number. Very few white areas:

Views since Feb2012

Views since Feb 24, 2012

It is fascinating that people from widely separate countries and cultures are among the top visitors, the top twelwe being:

US-UK-India-Canada-Australia-Sweden-Philippines-Norway-Malaysia-South Africa-Estonia-Pakistan.

This indicates that this is issue has an universal appeal that transcends cultural boundaries.

Please help increase visitors

I think the main message is important – that brain dysfunction due to chronic stress is very common, and has dangerous consequences when found in leaders of governments, banks, corporations, military. It has caused many world tragedies, but it can be prevented.

For example, the world depression of 2008 was evidently due to such dysfunction, causing bad judgement, reckless gambling, irresponsible, yes criminal misuse of lenders’ money, etc. , see  “Economical crisis – impaired brain function a major cause“ (Oct 2008) and “Wall Street brain disorder” (Feb 2009).  I am happy to find, that recently other researchers have come to exactly the same conclusion, using an almost identical wording, see The danger of Corporate Psychopaths.

Considering the tremendous damage to the world that they already have caused in every respect, a consensus is required in society about the obvious fact that they are worse than unsuitable for top level governmental, military, corporate and financial positions (for details, see “Why we need self-actualized leaders“). Laws must be changed that require testing them for stress-related brain dysfunction before appointment of top officials and major corporate leaders.

So please use emailing, Twitter, Facebook,  etc to help spread the word.

Perhaps you want to use this wording:

Have a look at the blog “Stress, Mind and Leadership“. It has an important message for the world about the dangers of stress-induced brain dysfunction in leaders of government, banks, military, etc.

Jaan Suurküla, M.D. Author of this blog.

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The danger of Corporate Psychopaths

corporate-psychopaths(First published on July 30th, 2013. Second version Aug 17, 2014)

I have pointed out the danger of corporate psychopaths in a number of postings since 2008.

Now I found that  a recent book agrees closely with what I have written in this blog, especially in “Why companies decline..” (published in Feb 2011).  Its title is “Corporate psychopaths – organizational destroyers” (published May 2011), written by Clive Boddy, Professor at Middlesex university in London. I am mentioning the  publishing dates, because this indicates that we arrived at the same understanding independently (even if Boddys book came 3 months later, the manuscript was probably finished months before).

We both very closely agree that the employment of a psychopath in the management can have disastrous consequences. Because of their ruthless manipulative skill they are able  to reach the very top of the management.  Boddy confirms my opinion that a psychopath in top position may destroy the organization.

Furthermore, Boddy argues that it was the psychopathic behavior of the financial elites of Wall Street that, in 2008, brought about the severe global recession. In Oct 2008, I expressed the same opinion in my blog “Economic crisis – impaired brain function a major cause?”, see also “Wall Street brain disorder“.

Addition March 2014

In an article from 2014 by Richard Gale and Dr. Gary Null, the above mentioned Buddy is quoted along with some other researchers. Their formulations of the dangers of corporate psychopaths are almost identical with those expressed in this blog since 2008. Excerpts:

” He [Dr Bayer, a psychoanalyst who, since 30 years, has been treating Wall Street financial executives, CEOs, traders, lawyers etc] estimates that among his Wall Street clients, this [psychopathic behavior] is the norm. ”

As long as such people are placed in charge of banks and firms that control so much of our economic lives, and we continue to elect legislators and presidents based upon charm rather than true integrity and moral substance, the US as a nation is destined to continue on its long descent into psychopathology and towards a future of narcissistic bliss for an oligarchic elite and immense suffering for everyone else.

Source: “Who Controls our Government? The Psychopathic Corporate Elites of America“, Global Research, March 03, 2014

End of addition

The reason why I started this blog in 2008 was to point out the unsuitability, yes dangers, of psychopaths in top positions. I am happy to find that now an increasing number of other researchers are joining in at voicing the same concerns as I have expressed about this issue.

The problem is not limited to corporations

It is important to realize that this psychopath problem may occur other organizations, especially those where there is a concentration of power, including military, political parties, governments and governmental institutions.

I have moved the ensuing parts of this text to a separate posting.

Addition March 2014

It is a mistake to restrict the concerns about risky leaders to psychopaths only

During the last few years other books as well as articles on the corporate psychopath problem have appeared. They all warn about it in similar terms as done here and estimate that the percentage of psychopaths in society is 5-12 percent, but this is a severe underestimation of the problem.

  1. Even if psychopaths are a small minority in the population, many are, because of their nature, attracted to power, and are capable of achieving top positions because of their ruthlessness and manipulative skill. So the percentage of psychopaths in leading positions may be much larger than around ten percent. Very obviously they are in a great majority in the criminal Wall Street financial institutions as well as in transnational companies wreaking havoc with the global environment or making harmful products in spite of knowing better.
  2. As explained in “Why companies decline“, Survival-Oriented-Behavior, being a milder variety of the same kind of disturbance, may cause considerable trouble as well. If this is overlooked and SOB types are allowed to lead a company, this may be damaging as well. This I have illustrated in the case studies found in “Why companies decline..” and in “Why IBM was declining“. SOB is very common today and therefore a more serious societal problem than the psychopaths.

Conclusion

People who are aspiring for top positions in international organizations like the UN, in governments, as well as in the business and finance world should be tested, so as to minimize the risk for appointing of people with Survival-Oriented-Behavior including its most extreme variety, the  psychopaths. For a suggested test procedure, see “SOB-test“.

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