The term psychopath usually evokes thoughts of serial killers and horror movies, but far scarier than any fictional Norman Bates or Patrick Bateman is the possibility that you could be sharing an office space with a real-life psychopath right now. There’s even a formal name for such individuals: Corporate psychopaths, or successful psychopaths working in the business world.
Not all psychopaths are violent criminals. While the classic psychopath is callous, unemotional, and lacking in any real empathy for others, tons of psychopaths lead largely normal, quite successful lives. It turns out the same traits that are conducive to violent crimes also lend themselves quite nicely to the corporate world. Psychopaths are cold, calculating, and unremorseful in private yet put on a fake facade in public in an attempt to charm and influence others. In other words, many make great managers and executives. A corporate psychopath won’t think twice about approving another round of layoffs, nor will they hesitate to hand themselves a hefty raise.
To be clear, psychopathy isn’t an all or nothing affair. Plenty of people display just a few traits associated with psychopathy but aren’t necessarily full-blown psychopaths. Still, all it takes is one or two psychopathic characteristics to make a very bad boss.
Corporate psychopath warning signs
If you suspect your manager, supervisor, or another higher-up in your company is a corporate psychopath, look out for these signs of psychopathic behavior:
- Superficial, manipulative charm: Psychopaths often act differently depending on the person they’re interacting with at that moment. Their main motivation in virtually every conversation is to manipulate and influence the other party for their own gain.
- No emotional depth: Like a dollar store mask on Halloween, psychopaths are known to perform their best impersonations of emotion in order to fit in among others. This thin charade usually crumbles under pressure.
- Pointless mind games: A hallmark of psychopathy is seeing oneself as superior to all others. Psychopaths often treat other people like children treat ants on the playground. A psychopath in a position of corporate power will likely formulate hoops for their employees to jump through for no other reason than to watch them leap. No answer, even the correct one, will be good enough, and no level of dedication will earn a compliment.
- No accountability: A major giveaway of psychopathy in the workplace is the adoption of a “rules for thee, not for me” mindset. Corporate psychopaths expect employees to follow every policy precisely, yet won’t hesitate to throw out the rule book when it comes to themselves.
- Impulsivity: Psychopaths are also known to seek immediate gratification and bore easily. In a corporate setting this may translate to making major decisions that affect the lives of employees carelessly or taking certain actions simply for the “thrill” of it. Ironically, such behaviors are often seen in the business world as signs of self-assuredness and quick thinking.
A bad boss leads to bad employees
Some may subscribe to the “tough love” school of management and believe a bad boss, if anything, should motivate employees to work harder to change their situation – but the science doesn’t support this notion. A recent study published in the scientific journal Group & Organization Management actually found that workers who are especially passionate about advancing their careers and climbing the corporate ladder tend to become less likely to take charge of work situations after experiencing abusive management. After all, when a bad boss is in control of your career, what’s the point in putting in maximum effort?
Alternatively, plenty of studies tell us that kinder, empathic leadership is the best way to garner positive results in the workplace. One such report, published in The Leadership Quarterly, found that when managers and executives make a genuine effort to be nice to their employees and take an interest in them as individuals and not just worker bees it results in a notable boost to both productivity and overall job performance.
Ready to say goodbye to the bad boss raining on your parade? Start exploring your options with Ladders today.