Think your boss should be feared? Well, you may not be imagining things. In some cases, you may be dealing with a psychopath — someone who lacks a normal conscience, targets others for abuse and termination, and manages to lie with impunity.
Earlier this year, the Boston Globe‘s Kevin Lewis summarized a recent study by Paul Babiak, Craig Neumann, and Robert Hare, documenting higher measures of psychopathy for managers:
One of the authors of the study was hired by companies to evaluate managers — mostly middle-aged, college-educated, white males — for a management development program. It turns out that these managers scored higher on measures of psychopathy than the overall population, and some who had very high scores were candidates for, or held, senior positions. . . . The authors conclude that “the very skills that make the psychopath so unpleasant (and sometimes abusive) in society can facilitate a career in business even in the face of negative performance ratings.”
Babiak, Neumann, and Hare are leading researchers on psychopathy. Here’s the citation for their article: Paul Babiak, et al., “Corporate psychopathy: Talking the walk,” Behavioral Sciences & the Law, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Pages 174 – 193 (2010). (An individual or institutional subscription is necessary to access it.)
Helpful background info
Industrial relations professor Mitchell Langbert (CUNY Brooklyn College), in a piece titled “Managing Psychopathic Employees” (link here) published in the Cornell HR Review, provides a useful overview on psychopathy in the workplace:
What if a small but definable subset of the employee population were responsible for a major share of corporate crime and ethical breaches? If so, then developing policies that target them would improve the firm’s performance, not to mention its ethical climate. In this article I claim that psychopathic employees constitute such a subset, and I suggest human resource policies that can help firms cope with them.
In this piece, Langbert draws heavily upon the work of Hare and Babiak, including the aforementioned article and Hare’s important Psychopathy Checklist Revised. Hare maintains a website, Without Conscience, devoted to his study of psychopathy.
What does this mean for the anti-bullying movement?
The worst — and scariest — workplace bullies have these personal characteristics. In fact, they make the “regular” workplace bullies — petty jerks with short fuses and insecure, dysfunctional managers — seem like lightweights by comparison. True, the psychopath workplace bullies may be very small in number, but they make up for it with a cold, calculating lack of conscience and a recidivist nature.
Many also are adept at escaping detection, having mastered the art of kiss up, kick down. Their friends at work — mostly peers and higher ups but rarely subordinates — cannot believe they would treat anyone in an abusive or predatory manner. If legal counsel gets involved, the cloaking effect often succeeds, because the attorneys will seldom go beyond the inner circle to learn what’s really going on, especially if the alleged targets are rank-and-file workers.
This post is the third of several devoted to 2010 Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.