This blog post was featured on Medium.com on October 25, 2016.

As I read about Donald Trump, I recall a chapter in a book I wrote more than ten years ago(1)  about a style, PAEI code (–E-), whom I named AN ARSONIST.

Below are some edited excerpts:

“What is important to (an arsonist?) ….. What we do is not important. How we do it is not important either……they are concerned with why not. With change. With exciting ideas…… For the Arsonist, planning does not mean committing the organization to a course of action. To this type of (leader), planning means presenting a long list of wishes……

The (–E-) habitually exaggerates. He favors words like “never,” “always,” “impossible,” ….. in order to set fires under his subordinates’ (followers???)  feet………

…. Arsonists act out of emotion and nervous energy; very often it’s negative energy. They have a huge need to build something new, which often means destroying what’s already in place…. to start from scratch, (an arsonist) must find something wrong with everything………

…….. An (–E-) is always busy planning, then promoting, the brilliant innovations he’s going to make. But how much will they cost? What repercussions will there be? “These are details,” he’ll shrug…… This is why an Arsonist can build a big company and lose it overnight……… (He or she) works with a big brush on a wide canvas… The (–E-) style corresponds to an eagle, soaring thousands of feet above the ground. From up there, everything looks simple; after all, with one movement of its wings it can fly from boulder to boulder. The eagle cannot comprehend that down on the ground, in order to move from one location to another, you may have to hike up and down mountains and canyons……

(He) is like an actor, constantly performing…. desperately needs an audience……. is usually very likable, ….. is stimulating, enterprising, and full of energy….. Likes to witness the furor that his initiatives cause…… likes an atmosphere of urgency and is delighted when his subordinates are rushing in and out, trying to cope with the emergencies he’s created…

Agenda? … If there is one, he violates it, moving from subject to subject at will or raising subjects that were not scheduled to be discussed….. Hates boundaries – and those who set them – with a passion.…… marches to their own drummer, on their own road, to their own destination….  doesn’t like to finalize anything; everything can be improved; even in mid-change anything might be changed in yet another, “better” direction. Everything is open-ended…….… Because they create on the run, Arsonists often contradict themselves….. An (–E-) often says, “It’s too late to disagree with me; I’ve already changed my mind.” Eventually you can’t follow what he’s saying……. Yet not being understood upsets and offends an Arsonist, and he can react with unbelievable hostility.….. hostile with those people who haven’t understood him, deciding that it’s all their fault. Here is a typical (–E-) expression: “It is difficult to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys.…….” When a small child cannot explain himself, he might start screaming and crying and banging the table with his fist. An Arsonist is like that small child. ……. Arsonists, can be outrageously vulgar and abusive in their anger……..

……. An (–E-) …..makes all the decisions; whoever disagrees with him or is less than enthusiastic in his support becomes an enemy. “If you are not for me, you are against me,” is a typical (–E-) attitude…….. They cannot tolerate dissent.…. perceived threats can trigger rage….….. if they get disapproval…., they become hostile and sometimes destructive….. If an Arsonists loses control of a company he built, he might actually kill it, like an animal that eats its own young…… An Arsonist views a public disagreement the way an opera singer might view a heckler who boos when he is at his high C. The Arsonist holds grudges and will not easily forget this threat to his ego……

They always act like they know best. They are constantly giving advice and can hardly stand to take it. Their behavior is driven by a tremendous need for approval and applause.…… Although [they] often say that they want teamwork, what that means in practice is that they want a group of yes-men……

There are two elements that drive the Arsonist: his ego, and an intense fear of death. The (–E-)s fear oblivion and crave immortality.…..…. Arsonists cling to their dreams even after they become implementation nightmares. They refuse to wake up…….. Arsonists…… have a hard time accepting reality. … This type of manager (leader) is seldom right but never in doubt…..…. Deep in his mind, an (- -E- ) believes, “I am going to do what I want to do, and don’t you worry, everything will turn out all right.……”

….. The (—E-) is the worst listener.….. as he expands he listens even less to words of caution and advice… Rather than try to persuade those who disagree with him, he feels justified in ignoring them… is impulsive… emotional and expressive…… like a narcissist, is in love with his own work and ideas – with himself.

Maccoby, in his book: Narcissistic Leaders(2)  says: “(Narcissists assume) flagrant risk-taking that can lead to catastrophe…. Because of their independence and aggressiveness, they are constantly looking out for enemies, sometimes degenerating into paranoia when they are under extreme stress.…………” Arsonists really believe that somebody is screwing up…… the Arsonist will look for a scapegoat…… Arsonists always have a “villain on duty…….”

Summary: (Arsonists) question everything; comes with his own agenda, disregards the existing agenda……. Thrives on (change) and loves it if he introduces it; resists it when generated by others. Appraises himself by: The existence of a beehive atmosphere; the appearance of productivity, usually manifested in crisis. Most distinctive personality traits: Enthusiastic, stimulating, charismatic, creative and exciting. Wants the spotlight; charming to outsiders (those he does not know); tough with insiders; criticizes people in public; looks for the hole in the doughnut instead of the doughnut, “Bugs Bunny syndrome” – full speed ahead, in neutral, seldom right but never in doubt; personalizes problems……. Offers only negative feedback, and often. Will criticize in public. If you don’t accept his criticism, he escalates the criticism. No one is good enough….…. does not want to commit himself to anything….…. Temporary, no permanent commitments; proactive decisions, but (inadequate) follow-up.…. Brushes off problems or solutions that other people have invested time and energy into; ideas aren’t any good unless they’re his ideas, and he insists on the right to changes his decision frequently…..”

  • (1) Ichak Kalderon Adizes: Management/Mismanagement Styles (Santa Barbara, CA: Adizes Institute Publications, 2004) page 107
  • (2) Michael Maccoby: Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007)