#sowhoknew: Is your boss a psychopath?

We’ve all called our boss a ‘bit of a psycho’ at some stage but some recent research has discovered that it’s actually true for 21 per cent of CEO’s. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the same ratio seen amongst prison inmates.

The study was conducted by two Universities in the U.S and Australia involving 261 ‘corporate professional’ test subjects who were assessed for various signs of psychopathy. It revealed that an astonishing 21 per cent of the study group exhibited ‘clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits’. By comparison to the general public it transpires that high performers in business are up to 25 times more likely to elicit psychopathic behaviour.

Which careers are high upon the list for this perceived psychopathy? Surgeons. Politicians (hey Donald). Lawyers. And people who work in Media (well, that’s me nailed then).

The notion of the ‘Successful Psychopath’ is not exactly new. American psychiatrist Herve Cleckley coined the phrase in his 1941 book “The Mask of Sanity”. He paints a picture of a person who is outwardly quite charming but underneath is self obsessed, dishonest and lacks empathy for others. That said he also conceded that it was these very same traits that make them excel in several industries.

So how can you spot the telltale signs in your boss, or maybe even in yourself? Here are the 5 signals you need to look out for:

  1. Insincere Emotional Responses – because psychopaths often have an inability to show real emotion they attempt to mimic what they believe to be appropriate reactions (look out for unusual body language or inappropriate tone of voice)
  2. Air of Superiority – successful psychopaths have a genuine belief that they are intellectually superior to their colleagues. They also believe that they can easily spot other psychopaths which again makes them condescending. Always narcissistic and with a total lack of self awareness.
  3. Mass Manipulation – they will often assume the role of a self proclaimed puppet master and take an intense pleasure in trading people off against each other.
  4. Impulsive Compulsive – because they have such a strong self belief in their abilities they will take unilateral decisions without any consultation from their peers. This is also coupled with an innate foible for risk taking because they like the thrill of a high stakes gamble
  5. Machiavellian Machinations – selfish and slavish in their pursuit of money, success and power

Australian author David Gillespie has delved deeper into the topic in his book “Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing With Psychopaths At Work and At Home” and concluded that, “Although charming in the early stages of a relationship or employment, they will leave you feeling cheated and humiliated, will dominate and manipulate you, denying reality to the point where you question your sanity.”

Does any of this sound familiar? And if so, what can you do about it?

Well, according to David Gillespie, there are 10 ways to survive a psychopathic boss:

1. Accept reality – you cannot change what they are. It’s them, not you.

2. It’s temporary – the strategy is about survival. Don’t forget, it’s not sustainable

3. Maintain decorum – always be polite and professional. A psychopath will never respect you so don’t bother trying

4. Protect your privacy – they want personal information to use against you. Don’t provide it. Keep it strictly business only

5. Honesty is the best policy – psychopaths love to muddy the waters. Don’t let them. Keep everything factual.

6. Fact check – linked to point 5, record what they say and check it with reality. They use lies to manipulate you. Don’t fall for it.

7. Comply – psychopathic bosses always micromanage. They will always think you are an idiot no matter what the reality is, so there is no point trying to dissuade them of this opinion. Remember this situation is temporary (see point 2). For the short term at least, just fill in the forms and do the menial tasks instructed even if you know that they are a waste of time.

8. Show no emotion – they want a reaction. Don’t give them one.

9. Establish a support network – Work colleagues if possible but more likely it will be friends and family. Talk about how it makes you feel with people who will empathise and (hopefully) even make you laugh about your situation. Ever seen or read ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ There you go then. Don’t bitch about it, just deal with it.

10. Be prepared – expect the worst. Ask for clarity so that there is zero ambiguity. Document every conversation, especially the negative or abusive ones. Be crystal clear in all exchanges whether they are face to face, via email, in meetings or on the phone.

So do you recognise any of these characteristics in your current boss or possibly one that you may have worked with previously? If you are a business leader, do you relate to any of these attributes? And, if you think you might be a psychopathic boss, do you think it really matters as long as you deliver results? As ever, I’m keen to hear your thoughts…

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Via Digital Market Asia

Copenhagen INK

Lars is Google’s Head of Marketing across Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. With nearly two decades of international experience in the Internet and media industry, his passion lies at the intersection of technology and marketing. His career spans across the globe - from Europe to the emerging markets in Asia - from early stage start-ups to large organizations, providing him with an in-depth understanding of marketing, sales and business development across cultures and industries. In his current role he is responsible for local B2B and B2C brand and product marketing across all Google and Youtube services and devices.