Jerks, narcissists and psychopaths… oh my. When working for a lousy leader might pay off.

Posted April 13, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Ah, to have the ability to click your heels together and transport yourself away from a bad boss! They seem to be everywhere these days, but after watching Anna Wintour of Vogue in the fascinating movie The September Issue, I began to wonder if there were any career benefits to working for an abusive boss.

The September Issue chronicles the development and release of the September issue of Vogue (the biggest and most important issue of the fashion year). The documentary film crew follow Vogue’s editor-in-chief, the legendary dragon-lady Anna Wintour and her chief creative director Grace Coddington as they stalk each other through to the finished product.

This is yet another fascinating view at leadership in action and starkly contrasts the styles of the two icons, Wintour and Coddington.

Coddington is approachable, authentic and kind. Frankly, this woman looks like someone who might be working as a Walmart greeter as opposed to being the top creative director at Vogue! Despite her obvious talent (and therefore potential for hauling around a big ego), she is shown making sure that the catering crew save a piece of strawberry tart for one of her models, helping a junior staffer navigate “Ms. Wintour” and seeing that a man’s tummy isn’t airbrushed out of a final studio shot. People seem to enjoy working with and for her, and she gets great results.

 Wintour, on the other hand, lives up to her “Devil Wears Prada” reputation with icy remarks to employees that would make the most secure person question their own competence (check out the last scene in the official trailer). It’s hilarious to watch her try and maintain a façade of control when bad news is presented to her. You get the distinct impression that, if the cameras hadn’t been rolling, a major hissy fit would have occurred! And, there’s a scene between Wintour and Coddington as they wait in a lobby for an elevator which is absolutely painful to watch. The tension between the two is palpable.

Certainly, Wintour has been a star performer for Vogue and carries a major stick in the world of fashion. But is all this nastiness really necessary and why do people as talented as Grace Coddington continue to work for her?

The answer may be that when someone is truly exceptional at what they do (ie: they really are a genius) the payoff in what you can learn from them allows you overlook their lousy leadership behaviour. Working for a nasty twit probably wouldn’t hold the same appeal.

If you can stomach it for a year or two, the amount you can learn from a true (evil) genius about their area of expertise could be worth more than 10 MBA’s stacked end-to-end.  Just please don’t repeat the lousy leadership part of the equation when you emerge from your prison-like employment.  Workplaces could use more Grace Coddington-type leaders than the Anna Wintour-type leaders, in this LeaderTalker’s humble opinion.

Happy leading!


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