IS MY BOSS A POTENTIAL PSYCHOPATH ?
Is my boss a potential psychopath ?
I’m often asked by people who are having trouble with their boss if that boss might be a psychopath. To which my answer is always it’s possible but very very unlikely. That said some people do exhibit behaviour that could be seen as indicating psychopathic traits. From some research studies the level of psychopathic behaviour amongst CEOs is more than 4 times that of the normal population. Interestingly the next highest % is amongst lawyers. But that doesn’t mean they are all psychopaths.
Often the behaviour that causes this question is a boss having an outburst of some type or behaving badly because things have gone wrong in some way and they are under pressure. This is much more about “letting off steam” in a way that is perhaps un-called for and unprofessional in a leader, but it’s not indicative of the boss being a psychopath, probably just very stressed and in need of some development !
Interestingly the loud outburst is in some ways the opposite of those with psychopathic traits who are often much more in control, plan actions and never seem to be subject to such obviously bad behaviour unless as a last resort to intimidate once unmasked.
It also needs noting that many people may exhibit one or two of the classic psychopathic traits, eg being self centered. These individuals are probably just selfish and not a budding psychopath. However if the individual is then made aware of the impact of this on others and they say they just don’t care that could be an indicator. It’s when most of the traits are present and exhibited over time questions need to be asked.
Certainly the psychopathic individual has considerable charm and ability to manipulate by seeming to be genuine, to continuously move though teams and up organisations manipulating people so they have positive feelings even though there is an increasing body of evidence that the individual is behaving badly by being totally self focused. It is only when people finally add up all the evidence come to the conclusion something is wrong and object to the individuals behaviour that things get worse. Rather than a denial and charm strategy the individual will move to an isolation strategy to undermine the person questioning their behaviour with other team members.
The negative impact that such individuals can cause an organisation, especially in a senior role, is massive. In the end everything is about them – other people and the organisation come second. Whilst supporting the organisation serves their agenda they do so, the moment it doesn’t they will break every rule they need to in their own interest. Current values of most organisations and assessment systems now mean that it’s just as much about “how” as “what” is delivered, so self focus is relatively quickly identified and dealt with.
In reality the best way to get to the top of an organisation is by being a highly professional, caring, inspiring and focused leader who believes in We not Me. This is the opposite of the psychopath. In the end both get identified for what they really are and reap the rewards – the good leader respect and recognition, the psychopath rejection and removal.
So how can you tell who might be a potential psychopath ? Here are the signs to look for ! And if by chance you find yourself doing any of these things stop, remember that in the long run focus on yourself at the expense of others is self defeating and more easily identified than ever before. .
The more of the things on the list people are doing the more likely they are to be moving towards being a psychopath.
1. Charming – Are they chatty and entertaining? Is this combined with other signs of psychopathy. They can be great conversationalists, telling unlikely but convincing stories that show themselves in a good light. They always present themselves well and are often very charming.
2. Egocentric – They think everything revolves around them and thus are not bound by others rules. A classic “me not we” approach.
3. Grandiose – They make big plans but are often unable to focus in on the operational delivery details, it is beneath them. They will have great visions for themselves, and include others to get them engaged, and like to tell people about these.
4. Lack of remorse – They aren’t concerned about the impact of their actions on others, they just don’t care. They rationalise their behaviour so they don’t bear any of the blame so therefore no guilt is required. If they did something that went wrong they will probably deny it even happened.
5. Lack of real empathy -They can’t see things from the perspectives of others, there is only one valid perspective, theirs. However don’t think they wont listen, that’s part of their skills in manipulation. They will listen intently to make you feel good, but what you say won’t have any impact on them.
6. Deceitful – When they are confronted with their failures or untrue statements they will seem unconcerned as they will alter what they said, change information or in some other way deflect the other person so that it appears that it’s never happened or the other persons recollection but be wrong or a misunderstanding.
7. Superficial emotions – After a time with them it becomes clear that any expression of emotion – concern, interest in what you are saying, desire for a more friendly working relationship, are all very superficial and lack genuine intent. They are saying the words they think you want to hear.
8 Impulsive – They tend to jump from one “great plan” to another as if it is one of their ideas and therefore must be excellent. The consequences for others and the wider effects are of little interest to them, even when pointed out. Everything and everyone must be subservient to the successful implementation of their plan.
9. Highly defensive – They will react very strongly to anyone who suggests that they are in anyway less than perfect. In some cases this may be to an extent that others perceive as “over the top” or even intimidating. But this part of their total belief in their own perfection and infallibility.
10. Risk taking – They like to take risks and push things to the limit of what’s possible. The routine is boring for them as it does not give them an opportunity to show how good they are. The risk taking often will extend to breaking the boundaries of legality or morality just to show they can achieve more than those around them in their view. With them the “end” does really justify “any means”.
11. Not keeping to undertakings – Just because they say they will do something it doesn’t mean they will. This is part of keeping people happy by saying what they want to hear to achieve their own objectives. When it doesn’t happen they will then, or course, deny they ever said it.
This applies to people everywhere, from work to social life, from sport to government. Who can you spot in global leadership and public life who score “well” on the list ? There are a few who do frighteningly well, but as for who….you could say but I couldn’t possibly comment.