Are you working with a psychopath?


They aren’t just confined to your television screen. How to tell if a workplace psychopath is in your midst.

A good friend of mine was complaining to me about his boss. He quipped that he thought his managing director displayed a raft of psychopathic tendencies, but quickly retracted his statement, saying “that’s not right – after all, psychopaths are killers”.

“Not so!,” say many experts. Only a small number of psychopaths are criminals. Others make use of their traits to navigate or “take hold” of the workforce. Yes, that’s right! You did not misread: there are many more psychopaths in the broader community than you would like to believe.

Our perception of psychopaths being violent criminals stems from an array of television shows that portray them as serial killers who simply cannot function in a normal society.

Yet the reality is, if you believe the many anecdotal accounts of those in the workplace, there are literally hundreds of non-criminal but self-serving, egocentric, conceited, self-loving people in the workplace – some of whom lead major organisations or hold senior leadership positions – who qualify as psychopaths or at least possess psychopathic tendencies.

The Traits

Taking the criminal element out of the equation, ask the average worker to describe the characteristics of the workplace psychopath and the traits pour forth:

  • an exaggerated sense of self-worth
  • pathological lying
  • a heightened lack of emotional intelligence and lack of empathy
  • a skilful manipulator
  • a parasitic workplace style
  • a master of persuasion
  • a lack of self-control and a remarkable absence of social conscience.

And this list is by no means exhaustive!

Just to seemingly mitigate the impact of these characteristics, workplace psychopaths have another set of characteristics – they can be absolutely charming, a master of disguise, and can be amazingly charismatic.

And here’s the rub – some experts believe that, in many organisations, positive characteristics such as charisma conceal narcissistic behaviours in a way that portrays the workplace psychopath as emerging leadership talent.

The Outcome

Once in a leadership position, those with psychopathic tendencies will use their traits to carve out distinguished careers for themselves while leaving behind them a path of destruction, with the professional lives of subordinates being the carnage along the way.

And a further warning – psychopaths are attracted to organisations that allow their negative traits to go unchecked. There’s a message there for all human resources professionals. And a broader lesson – inappropriate and poor behaviour going unchecked in the workplace provides a foundation or fertile breeding ground for the wrong type of leadership. It allows those with psychopathic tendencies to take hold of an organisation, so that their negative characteristics and behaviours appear to become the norm. And, once they are entrenched in an organisation, they are there for a very long time.

So, I explained to my friend that he ought not dismiss his thoughts about his managing director. That got him thinking more – that there might be more than just one psychopath in his organisation.

Professor Gary Martin is Chief Executive Officer, the Australian Institute of Management WA, Board Director, and an International Management and Leadership Commentator. This is an edited version of his LinkedIn article

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Beth
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Beth

In any case, a toxic worker of any kind should be avoided in the workplace! It provides more benefit than taking one on simply because they are an A-player. It’ll make the environment toxic, even if it’s a slow process.

Catherine Cahill
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Catherine Cahill

The greatest difficulty working with people like this is that they just don’t follow the same rules as everyone else, and responding to them as if they do, will never work. We all have to get better at identifying and responding appropriately to these behaviours, because the psychopaths are not going to change – and the stock standard ways of managing people will never work with them. I can recommend Billy Eddy’s work on High Conflict People for clear strategies and steps to make sure you can protect yourself (and your sanity) in most situations, and Emotional Vampires by Albert… Read more »

CJT
Guest
CJT

Over the years I have identified that these psychopathic managers tend to lack effective communication skills, poor management/leadership skills, no measurable experience, dull emotional intelligence and can show signs of low self esteem. Perhaps their behaviour is due to the lack of toys during their childhood? Who knows? Although I’ll always wave my banner high in support of HR, there remain times as to where our HR colleagues do not have an effective process to deal with such situations. This includes HR receiving higher management support when the issue is identified.

CJT
Guest
CJT

I have identified that these psychopathic managers tend to demonstrate poor management/leadership skills, lack people experience, lack effective emotional intelligence and, appear to have low esteem. Perhaps these behaviours are due to their lack of toys during their childhood? Who knows? Although I will always wave my banner high in support of HR, I have also identified that organisations do not have an effective strategy to deal with such situations.

More on HRM

Are you working with a psychopath?


They aren’t just confined to your television screen. How to tell if a workplace psychopath is in your midst.

A good friend of mine was complaining to me about his boss. He quipped that he thought his managing director displayed a raft of psychopathic tendencies, but quickly retracted his statement, saying “that’s not right – after all, psychopaths are killers”.

“Not so!,” say many experts. Only a small number of psychopaths are criminals. Others make use of their traits to navigate or “take hold” of the workforce. Yes, that’s right! You did not misread: there are many more psychopaths in the broader community than you would like to believe.

Our perception of psychopaths being violent criminals stems from an array of television shows that portray them as serial killers who simply cannot function in a normal society.

Yet the reality is, if you believe the many anecdotal accounts of those in the workplace, there are literally hundreds of non-criminal but self-serving, egocentric, conceited, self-loving people in the workplace – some of whom lead major organisations or hold senior leadership positions – who qualify as psychopaths or at least possess psychopathic tendencies.

The Traits

Taking the criminal element out of the equation, ask the average worker to describe the characteristics of the workplace psychopath and the traits pour forth:

  • an exaggerated sense of self-worth
  • pathological lying
  • a heightened lack of emotional intelligence and lack of empathy
  • a skilful manipulator
  • a parasitic workplace style
  • a master of persuasion
  • a lack of self-control and a remarkable absence of social conscience.

And this list is by no means exhaustive!

Just to seemingly mitigate the impact of these characteristics, workplace psychopaths have another set of characteristics – they can be absolutely charming, a master of disguise, and can be amazingly charismatic.

And here’s the rub – some experts believe that, in many organisations, positive characteristics such as charisma conceal narcissistic behaviours in a way that portrays the workplace psychopath as emerging leadership talent.

The Outcome

Once in a leadership position, those with psychopathic tendencies will use their traits to carve out distinguished careers for themselves while leaving behind them a path of destruction, with the professional lives of subordinates being the carnage along the way.

And a further warning – psychopaths are attracted to organisations that allow their negative traits to go unchecked. There’s a message there for all human resources professionals. And a broader lesson – inappropriate and poor behaviour going unchecked in the workplace provides a foundation or fertile breeding ground for the wrong type of leadership. It allows those with psychopathic tendencies to take hold of an organisation, so that their negative characteristics and behaviours appear to become the norm. And, once they are entrenched in an organisation, they are there for a very long time.

So, I explained to my friend that he ought not dismiss his thoughts about his managing director. That got him thinking more – that there might be more than just one psychopath in his organisation.

Professor Gary Martin is Chief Executive Officer, the Australian Institute of Management WA, Board Director, and an International Management and Leadership Commentator. This is an edited version of his LinkedIn article

11
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Beth
Guest
Beth

In any case, a toxic worker of any kind should be avoided in the workplace! It provides more benefit than taking one on simply because they are an A-player. It’ll make the environment toxic, even if it’s a slow process.

Catherine Cahill
Guest
Catherine Cahill

The greatest difficulty working with people like this is that they just don’t follow the same rules as everyone else, and responding to them as if they do, will never work. We all have to get better at identifying and responding appropriately to these behaviours, because the psychopaths are not going to change – and the stock standard ways of managing people will never work with them. I can recommend Billy Eddy’s work on High Conflict People for clear strategies and steps to make sure you can protect yourself (and your sanity) in most situations, and Emotional Vampires by Albert… Read more »

CJT
Guest
CJT

Over the years I have identified that these psychopathic managers tend to lack effective communication skills, poor management/leadership skills, no measurable experience, dull emotional intelligence and can show signs of low self esteem. Perhaps their behaviour is due to the lack of toys during their childhood? Who knows? Although I’ll always wave my banner high in support of HR, there remain times as to where our HR colleagues do not have an effective process to deal with such situations. This includes HR receiving higher management support when the issue is identified.

CJT
Guest
CJT

I have identified that these psychopathic managers tend to demonstrate poor management/leadership skills, lack people experience, lack effective emotional intelligence and, appear to have low esteem. Perhaps these behaviours are due to their lack of toys during their childhood? Who knows? Although I will always wave my banner high in support of HR, I have also identified that organisations do not have an effective strategy to deal with such situations.

More on HRM