Psychopath CEOs, organizational culture, and workplace bullying clusters

“Okay, bosses, count off by fives…”

When talking about abusive work environments, it’s natural to focus on individual aggressors, bullies, and harassers — especially if you’re on the receiving end. However, we also know that bullying and mobbing behaviors are typically enabled by organizational cultures that promote, defend, and/or allow such mistreatment. In attempting to understand these two perspectives, it helps to go straight to the top: Look for a CEO, president, or executive director who embodies the worst of these qualities.

On this note, I’ve been meaning to write about a study conducted by Nathan Brooks (Bond U.), Katarina Fritzon (B0nd U.), and Simon Croom (U. San Diego), suggesting that roughly one in five corporate CEOs demonstrate psychopathic personality traits. As reported last fall by Michael Arria for AlterNet:

According to a new study, one out of every five corporate bosses is a psychopath.

The study surveyed 261 corporate professionals and determined that their “clinically elevated levels of psychopathy” were on par with the prison population. Nathan Brooks, a forensic psychologist at Bond University and researcher on this study, told ABC, “Their personality usually leads them to exploit every avenue open to them, whether it’s in a criminal setting, or within organizations.”

. . . According to Brooks, a certain “successful psychopath” has been allowed to rise in the corporate world, despite the fact that they’re more likely to break the law or engage in unethical activity.

In other words, it starts from the top. Good CEOs hire good mid-level managers and good HR directors. Toxic CEOs hire managers and HR staff who effectuate their abusive leadership practices. It rolls downhill from there, in either good or bad ways.

The bullying cluster hypothesis

For what it’s worth, the 1 in 5 figure makes sense to me. For example, in a 2013 post, I looked at various prevalence studies and assessments and concluded that “between 1 of 6 and 1 of 7 bosses may behave in a manner that causes underlings and other co-workers to think of them as psychopaths.” Close enough, yes?

The figure also may support a hypothesis I floated in 2012, namely, that some workplaces are “bullying clusters.” I suggested that “(b)ullying behaviors are not evenly distributed among all employers. Rather, bullying behaviors are disproportionately concentrated in a smaller number of toxic workplaces.” I further asked, “might the old chestnut, the “20/80 rule,” apply here? Could, say, 20 percent of our workplaces host 80 percent of the bullying?”

So…a 20 percent psychopath CEO rate…and a question speculating that 20 percent of our workplaces may account for 80 percent of workplace bullying. Maybe we’ve got something of a match here.

***

Related posts

Is the “psychopath boss” theme overhyped? (2013)

Are some workplaces “bullying clusters”? (2012)

Is our psychologically ill economy fueled by psychologically ill business leaders? (2011)

4 responses

  1. I’m sure it’s higher then 1 in 5 in the retail/cosmetic
    business. The beauty business is truly ugly.

  2. Interesting article, agree with the 1 in 5 based on 30 plus years work experience. Deborah is probably correct about the beauty business I would say for all the beauty it is truly ugly.

  3. I would agree with this as well based on my experience in the corporate world. I worked in “silent desperation” for many years under a kiss up and kick down boss. He played the game very well much to his own credit but never earned the respect of his subordinates.

  4. Educating each other about how to avoid their abuse is so important.
    Sadly, corporations themselves are modeled after the psyche of the P and their values have been baked into our financial and political DNA. Please consider reviewing my book on the subject FREE this week, and thanks for your good work on this important subject.
    https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_rsis_2_0?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=tales+from+the+psychopaths+playground&sprefix=%2Cdigital-text%2C455&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Atales+from+the+psychopaths+playground

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