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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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One out of 25 bosses ‘could be a psychopath’


Although one out of every 25 bosses is likely to be a psychopath, most people would not be able to tell, new research has revealed.

Psychopaths are characterised as lacking in deep emotions, empathy or remorse and are often abusive in their treatment of others.
But a recent study undertaken by New York psychologist Paul Babiak suggests that many business leaders disguise the condition by both hiding behind their high status and playing on a natural ability to charm and manipulate both senior and subordinate personnel.
Favourable environmental factors such as a happy childhood mean they are able to function adequately in the workplace rather than channel their energies into more destructive activities.
But it also means that they tend to mimic their colleagues and, therefore, fit in. As a result, despite being poor team players and demonstrating generally low productivity, the ability of the ‘successful psychopath’ to identify and outwardly display the qualities that corporate leaders most admire helps them to climb the career ladder swiftly.
It also means that it can become virtually impossible to tell whether someone is a psychopath or not.
During a Horizon documentary, which is due to be screened on BBC2 next Wednesday, Babiak said: “Psychopaths really aren’t the kind of person you think they are. In fact, you could be living with or married to one for 20 years or more and not know that person is a psychopath.”
In a work context, part of the problem in identifying such individuals is that “the very things we’re looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic. Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership”, he added.
But their lack of empathy also means that, while they can use words to manipulate and con, they also “interact with your without the baggage of feeling your pain”, Babiak said.

2 Responses

  1. The Devil You Know

    Just read a really excellent book on this subject ‘The Devil you Know – Looking out for the psycho in your life’ by psychologist Kerry Daynes & journalist Jessica Fellowes  It’s a great read – very accessible & probably resonates with anyone who’s had a psycho boss (or friend or partner etc.) Apparently statistically there are more psychopaths in the business population than in the criminal population!

  2. Measuring the business impact…

    This is precisely the kind of thing that we’re investigating in our new book that you may have read about elsewhere on HRZone

    "Psychopaths" certainly are more prone to manipulating others, partly because they lack the social skills to manage emotion and confrontation, partly because they find that manipulation works, so why change when there are no consequences.

    If any of this resonates with you, please do take a moment to complete our survey:

    We’ll be sharing the results back here on HRZone once we have enough responses. So far, some fascinating patterns are beginning to emerge.

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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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