Do You Have a Mean Man in Your Life?

In a recent post, I came up with a working definition of the kind of “mean” man I discuss on my blog and in my forthcoming book. We defined him as a man who is “almost pathologically driven to succeed and doesn’t care who has to suffer for him to do so. His flagrant, unchecked abuse of others is enabled by the immunity granted to him by his wealth, power, and/or sheer charisma.” If this describes the genus of our bête noir, what are the different species of mean men that roam our halls of power?

1. The Unprincipled

This man has an inflated sense of self, shows an indifference to the welfare of others, and is routinely deceptive in his social interactions. He exploits others and expects special recognitions and considerations without taking on the necessary, reciprocal responsibilities. Unprincipled has little access to an inner moral compass, what psychologists call our superego, which represents society’s standards and determines our personal sense of right and wrong. He enjoys the process of outwitting others, and he maintains relationships only so long as he has something to gain. Unprincipled displays an abject indifference to the truth and an artful, cool lack of concern if confronted with his own deception. He is adept in the nuances of social influence, using glibness, charm, and a studied naïveté to get away with his lies.

Mascot: Double-talking, bloviating New Jersey governor, Chris Christie

2. The Disingenuous

Disingenuous is the life of the party, characterized by friendliness and sociability. But it’s all a show. While he makes favorable impressions on new acquaintances, the facade begins to crack as the hallmarks of his true self come through: unreliability, impulsivity, and deep resentment and moodiness. He is facile in social settings, seeking attention and excitement with more than a hint of seduction. However, his relationships are shallow and fleeting and often come to a disastrous end. Underneath his superficial charms, Disingenuous is contriving and plotting; crafty and scheming; insincere, calculating, and deceitful. His insincerity is boundless, as he does anything necessary to get what he needs and wants from others. He seems to enjoy seductive gamesmanship, deriving satisfaction in the excitement and tension of the deceit. Disingenuous is sometimes mistaken for Unprincipled when seen in the wild, but his deep need for attention and approval are a marked difference from Unprincipled, who has an essential self-centeredness that leads him to not care too much what others think.

Mascot: Shady, sneaky, desperately insecure founder and once again CEO of Zynga, Mark Pincus

3. The Risk Taker

This species engages in risk taking just for the thrill of it. Taking risks gives him excitement and makes him feel alive, which he’ll pursue regardless of the damage to his bottom line, his reputation, or those around him. Risk Taker responds quickly without thinking, his reactions unreflective and uncontrolled. His behavior goes beyond impulsiveness; he is essentially fearless, unmoved by events or circumstances that most people would find dangerous or frightening.

He may appear to others like a fool or a hero—Risk Taker doesn’t care. His need for autonomy and independence overrides his self-discipline. Internally, he is consumed with doubt about ever truly achieving his potential, and his experiences often leave him feeling empty and forever chasing new ways to prove himself.

Mascot: Shamed subclinical psychopathic cycling legend-turned-disgrace Lance Armstrong

4. The Envier

The essential feature of Envier is his blatant self-aggrandizement. Envier feels that life has not given him his fair due, that’s he’s been deprived of his rightful amount of love, support, and material rewards. And now, Envier wants revenge. He wants what’s coming to him. Envier is the most likely species to have brushes with the law, since he may pursue what he feels he’s owed through acts of destruction, theft, or abuse. He will never feel he has acquired enough to make up for what was taken from him in the past.

He is pushy and greedy. He is the poster boy for conspicuous consumption. He is self-centered and self-indulgent, unwilling to share with others for fear that he will lose again what he’d so desperately desired. Envier never achieves a deep sense of contentment. He feels unfulfilled, empty, and forlorn, regardless of his success, and will probably remain forever dissatisfied and insatiable.

Mascot: Rags-to-riches-to-reprehensible advertising impresario Peter Arnell

5. The Explosive

This quarrelsome species is known for their rages and may draw much attention for their temper tantrums and outbursts at friends, employees, or family members. Not unlike the tantrums of children, Explosive’s behavior is an instantaneous reaction to cope with frustration or fear. While this behavior may have the effect of intimidating others into silence or passivity, for the Explosive, it releases pent-up feelings of humiliation. Disappointed and feeling frustrated in life, he loses control and seeks revenge for the mistreatment and criticism to which he feels subjected. His rages often have no apparent provocation. He is hypersensitive to feelings of betrayal or may be deeply frustrated by the perceived futility and hopelessness of his life. Explosive is unable to verbalize what he feels and why, so he responds in the only way possible to remove the irritation. A sense of impotence and failure typically lie beneath his aggression.

Mascot: Impassioned, ranting, raging tech/design genius Steve Jobs

6. The Dogmatist

Dogmatist may be more overtly and directly contentious and argumentative than other species. To him, everything and everyone is an object available for nagging, a sounding board for discharging his anger, or even a target for litigious action. He is relentless in magnifying every minor friction into repeated and bitter struggles. He may insist that his argumentativeness is rooted in certain higher principles, but while there may be a grain of truth found in their beliefs, these “higher principles” are mostly simply opinions. He is unquestionably right; others are unquestionably wrong. Dogmatist achieves delight in contradicting others, regardless of the legitimacy and logic of his reasoning. His hostile and oppositional style is at the core of his persona. His knack for denigrating anyone in the name of whatever principle he happens to espouse is well rehearsed and relentless. Criticism of others “is good for them.” He believes he takes no personal satisfaction in berating people or has any ulterior motives for imposing his opinions, so he feels unconstrained, free to say anything “to set people right.”

Mascot: Scumbag former megachurch preacher who claims to speak for God himself Mark Driscoll