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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Your Dealership's Version

  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Your Dealership's Version

If you’re familiar with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP) in the mental health field, then it won’t be a stretch for you to understand how the disease manifests itself in the sickest of dealership organizations worldwide.

Medically, in this mental disorder a person acts as if an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not actually sick. In the case of a parent who cares for a child, the mother or father may actively induce the symptoms of MSBP in the child to get control of the treatment professionals while wanting to be affirmed as an excellent parent by the doctors and nurses.

Those afflicted with MSBP often seem to be addicted to doctors and are driven by their illness to be viewed as knowing more than the doctors and medical staff.

Here’s how it works in business. Chris is the Vice President of Business Development for a family-owned three hundred employee automotive organization. In his 50's, Chris was promoted from within and basically advanced to his level of incompetence (see The Peter Principle). His leadership skills were lost in the organizational pyramid paradigm of the 1960's and office morale is comparable to a San Quentin prison sentence. The VP has exceptionally qualified people working for him but he enjoys creating unnecessary crises and then swooping in with his shining armor to solve the impending disaster.

Always currying favor with the owner and his family, Chris will listen to the Dealer Principal’s ideas for business development enthusiastically, and then proceed to feign execution of the vision while silently sabotaging it. When a campaign subsequently falls flat on its face, Chris goes back to the owners with a better idea.

Eventually, the pattern is so obvious to everyone that employees begin to wonder why the Dealer Principal can't see through the VP's smoke and mirrors. There are multiple explanations for lack of ownership intervention in corporate MSBP syndrome but the most common is that loyalty to an executive that has advanced through the ranks of your company is sometimes blinding. Furthermore, when another company executive or employee attempts to address the issue with ownership, he or she risks their future employment with the organization.

Do you have an MSBP practitioner in your dealership? Most likely. And the perpetrator is not always an executive like Chris. It might be a rank-and-file salesperson, technician, or office person at any level. So what do you do if you find yourself in a corporate culture that supports this type of mental disorder? You have two choices: take a risk and address the problem, or seek employment elsewhere.

The ravages of corporate MSBP take a toll on the physical and emotional well-being of staff members that have to deal with VP's and employees like Chris. Don't let yourself be a casualty!

Tom McQueen is PDP's automotive industry expert and has consulted with over 400 dealerships on performance improvement and employee engagement.