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Working with Dysfunctional Dominant Personalities: The Destructive Pattern of Deny, Defend, Demonize, and Destroy

Michael Roman - Thursday, February 14, 2013

Few men serve as my hero.  This is one of those few. - Mike

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

One-third of the population have a “Dominant” personality.  I happen to be one of them, and many of my friends and clients are also.  We have high confidence in our opinions, which like most strengths can be good or bad, as strengths taken too far usually become struggles.  A deviant and devious version of this group is the Dysfunctional Dominant who always has to be right regardless.   Have you worked with a dysfunctional dominant personality?  Or, does it hit closer to home and you recognize those dominant tendencies in your own life? In essence, it’s the inability to be wrong. I call it “A Progression in D Major” because there are several “D” steps to this destructive leadership behavior.


The Symptoms

One of the best talents of dominant personalities is their ability to quickly “get it right.” They typically build a track record of successes; and these further stroke their ego, which in turn adds to their already high confidence. But no one can be right all the time; and when they’re confronted with being out of step, they have great difficulty accepting it.

Perhaps you have heard it said about a powerful leader, “There’s a graveyard just outside his or her office for those who dared to confront them with the truth.” Of course if you continually shoot the messenger, pretty soon you create a stack of dead messengers and no more messages. A good tipoff on dysfunctional dominants is that they attract weak “yes” people and get rid of those who stand up to them. 


The Pattern

As I observed this a few years ago, it occurred to me that what I was seeing was a Progression in D Major. How far the progression goes depends on the level of dysfunction of the individual. You can probably think of bosses, famous politicians, high profile coaches, and religious leaders who went down this scale.


Note the progression below when they are caught in a mistake:

Step 1 - Deny

Example - “That’s not true.” “It never happened.” “You’re wrong.”

Step 2 - Defend

Example - “You don’t understand; there is a good explanation.”

Step 3 – Demonize

Example - “They are out to get me. They are jealous, etc.”

Step 4 - Destroy

Example - In this step ruthless tactics are employed to undermine or eliminate the opposition.

After watching many leaders over the last thirty years, I’ve observed that the outwardly confident but inwardly insecure Dominant person is the most likely one to be caught in this progression.


The Next Step

Admitting that you recognize these tendencies in your own life is a significant step towards a renewed personal leadership outlook; there’s time to correct past mistakes and re-commit to honorable leadership. And if you’re being led by a Dysfunctional Dominant personality, know that their behavior will eventually catch up with them; the best thing that you can do is to commit daily to leading with character, trust, and courage in all of your relationships.

So, how have you related to a Dysfunctional Dominant personality in the past? When has your honorable leadership made a difference? Please share your comments and thoughts in this forum. 



Lee Ellis is a speaker and the author of Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares stories from his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps.  As president of Leadership Freedom, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee has consulted in the areas of hiring, team-building, executive development, and succession planning for more than 15 years.  For more information, please visit

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