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Is your boss a psychopath?

Psychopathic tendencies are seen as frequently as the common cold and chances are high that you’ve worked with at least one psychopath in your time. We have all had bosses who model themselves on Jordan Belfort from the Wolf on Wall Street, but maybe their traits are more sinister than you’d first believe.

Estimates vary, but approximately 1% of the general population has an antisocial personality disorder, which also can be known as psychopathy or being a sociopath. In the corporate world, this increases almost 4 fold with 3.9% of leaders and CEO’s displaying psychopathic tendencies.

Check out this list to see if you could be working for the office psychopath.


“Such dysfunctional leaders, who “derail” their workers from achieving personal fulfillment, may amount to as many as 4% of managers, a rate that exceeds the estimated 1% prevalence of psychopaths in the general population. As reported by Mathieu et al., their performance may not be all that good, but they nevertheless get promoted, participate in important company decisions, and gain influence.”  Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.



You like them and they are devastatingly charming

Moving into a new role with a boss that seems too good to be true, Clive Boddy in his TED Talk tells us how he was warned by a colleague that his future boss was not as terrific as he came across. Psychopaths are experts at making you feel like you’re the only one that matter to them, you will feel flattered by their opinion of you and get the warm and fuzzies being around them. Behind your back though, they could be using your relationship to further their own goals and spilling your secrets to others. The reason they do anything is for their own gain or enjoyment. As soon as your relationship doesn’t benefit them they will drop you quicker than they picked you up.



Hurting people doesn’t bother them

A psychopath’s brain is wired differently from everyday people. Their amygdala, (processes emotional reactions in the brain) is turned down meaning that they lack guilt, remorse and fear. They will display emotion however, but the reason for doing so is for their own benefit. They are expert actors and know exactly how to behave in each situation so that they come out on top. Getting people to feel sorry for them is an expert tactic they use; deceit and manipulation are central traits in their character. They can be totally ruthless, emotionless and get a great night sleep, leaving the rest of us to say “How the hell could they have done that?!”

 They simply do not care if they hurt people, no matter how bad the results are.



Breaks rules or sometimes the law

In pop culture psychopaths are often seen as the serial killers, and a lot of serial killers are in fact psychopaths. The reality however, is that psychopaths are smarter than to want to go on murderous rampages. Including violence in their repertoire of manipulation techniques will likely cause them to be caught and sent to jail. Corporate psychopaths are the ones who see a lucrative corporate career with unlimited power as the more desirable option. Not for moral reasons of course, just because not killing people will benefit them more.



They win, at any expense

Psychopaths are parasitic; they gain trust and then suck ideas from their victims. They will hide this process by making you feel like you’re getting something in return, but in reality you’re not. Kevin Dutton, is the author ofThe Wisdom of Psychopaths -- What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success,  says “Friendships” are often terminated without warning, and ties mercilessly severed once an individual ceases to “be of any use.” Add to this an arrogant, grandiose and egocentric interpersonal style and you have on your hands a ruthless ambition machine with no “off “switch.



Junior employees spot a problem but Managers and Execs can worship this person

You can clearly see your boss is bonkers but your boss’s boss? They think that they are the mutts nuts. What gives? A psychopathic boss will often take credit for projects they had nothing to do with and throw their own employees under the bus to make themselves look like a total rock star. It makes sense that senior management will be eating out of their hand.

“Lower-level employees are often on the receiving end of a boss’s psychopathic behavior and usually spot a problem much sooner than senior management.” Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries



Liar, liar

Ever caught your boss in a lie that was so ridiculous you think “Why would they lie about that?”

Psychopaths can suffer from boredom and will often lie just for the thrill of it. A lot of the time lies will make them look more credible, educated or likeable and help them get away at being rubbish at their job.



Control freak

Using control is a method to manipulate their staff and psychopaths will want to maintain situations so that they hold the power, sometimes only for their own entertainment.


 “Psychopaths are emotional chess players and a psychopathic boss sees his employees merely as pieces on an invisible psychological chessboard: disposable, dispensable, superfluous. Unnecessary rearrangements of workspace, the sudden imposition of unsocial working hours, and the promise of favours for dishing the dirt on colleagues are just a few psychopathic favourites.” Kevin Dutton



They take risks

There are certain qualities that top leaders and CEO’s have;  that is, they are not risk adverse. This trait in psychopaths makes them perfect candidate for top positions within companies where they can wreak havoc. “Psychopaths woo with their persuasive charm, charisma, intelligence, and risk-taking nature. On paper these qualities paint the profile of an ideal CEO”. Melody Wilding, LMSW



Are you nodding your head to a few of these traits when you think about your boss or co-workers? Then you could have someone with psychopathic tendencies on your hands.

The bad news: psychopaths can’t be rehabilitated; by going to “treatment” they just learn how to be better psychopaths and liars. The good news: you can leave, which is the only thing you can do to truly safeguard your mental wellbeing. 


Image credit: Figlio DeOrfeo