When most people hear the term ‘psychopath’ they usually think of someone who is hostile or violent, a person who is out to do them physical harm. This assumption is not exactly accurate; a psychopath, by definition is, Psychopaths are those one per cent of the population who have no conscience and who, therefore, demonstrate an egotistic and ruthless approach to living (Mathieu, Neumann, Babiak, & Hare, 2014). It is a lack of personal control that creates these violent tendencies that we associate with them.
But who are these ‘Corporate Psychopaths’? These are the people who you really feel that you want to know at first, but then you regret being acquainted with later on. They are the people who are ego-centric without concern for others, or how their actions affect others (in either a positive of negative manner), and who are the people who appear to be charming and ‘smooth-talkers’, then eventually turn into manipulative, hostile bullies.
The damage these individuals can do to a team or corporation is considerable, teams would be especially vulnerable to their effects. The havoc created by the corporate (or successful) psychopath is explained by social learning theory, that we as human beings learn vicariously by observing others, especially by watching influential role models who are credible to the observer (Bandura, 1971). When a fellow employees observes that another (or possibly others) is treating others with disrespect, hostility, and rudeness, this tells him or her that this is appropriate conduct for the situation, this toxic behavior will be magnified and proliferated throughout the organization (Boddy, 2013).
So, how do you as a corporate leader or HR Professional avoid the problems that these Bullies of the Business World can cause?
- Have an internal succession plan that is aware of its people’s abilities and motivations. When you have a group of people who work well together and who know their jobs, be aware of this and groom them into leadership roles, rather than risk letting a bully work his or her way into the corporate infrastructure (Lipman, 2013).
- Make hiring decisions based on tangible evidence. Be sure not to be taken in by appearances or mannerisms, corporate psychopaths will use charm and force of personality to find their way into a position of influence. Although it is important that a person in a leadership position possess these qualities to a degree, it is also important that any potential employee be able to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’ (Lipman, 2013).
- During the interview process try and take a look at the ethical and moral character of any candidate. It is important that members of a team or corporation ‘fit in together’ and have some level of agreement on ethics and corporate morality. Although this may be hard to catch, the corporate psychopath may give ‘glimmers’ of disagreement with the organizations views on how people and work should be treated (Lipman, 2013).
So, the big question on the table is, if your organization is ‘infected’ by these corporate bullies, and about 4% of corporate management positions have been (How to protect yourself from a ‘successful’ psychopath , 2013), what can you do about it?
- Engage in a good, productive relationship with your boss (or your boss’s boss). This is always a good idea no matter who is involved, but when you throw a bully into the mix, having a great relationship with the ‘higher ups’ will make recognizing the great things that you do that much easier for upper management.
- Don’t get sucked into playing their game. Take the more mature, higher ground and recognize the behavior for what it is, a person making themselves bigger than they really are.
- Document abusive or counterproductive behavior. This will allow you to back yourself up if something more dramatic occurs in the future, and it will allow you to recognize this behavior again if it occurs.
- Develop a close-knit, supportive team of people around you. Again, this is a good idea no matter who is involved as this practice will assist in maintaining the kind of creative energy and behavior that an innovative team requires.
We all know that dealing with different personalities can be difficult, and in the workplace this can be especially problematic when you don’t get it right. When ‘corporate psychopaths’ crop up and start sucking the creative and innovative energies out of an organization, this becomes an issue that should be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Through maintaining awareness of the conduct of people in our organizations, and creating a vision-oriented ethical standard that everyone can get on board with, this makes it easier to recognize aberrant behavior before it can get out of control.
Bandura, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory. General Learning Press.
Boddy, C. R. (2013). Corporate Psychopaths, Conflict, Employee Affective Well-Being and Countterproductive Work Behaviour. Journal of Business Ethics, 108.
Dictionary.com, LLC. (2014). Psychopath. Retrieved 10 16, 2014, from Dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/psychopath
How to protect yourself from a ‘successful’ psychopath . (2013, 7 13). Retrieved 10 19, 2014, from New.com.au: http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/is-there-a-psychopath-in-the-cubicle-next-door/story-e6frfm9r-1226688173318
Lipman, V. (2013, 4 25). The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy And Leadership. Retrieved 10 16, 2014, from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/04/25/the-disturbing-link-between-psychopathy-and-leadership/
Mathieu, C., Neumann, C., Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2014). A Dark Side of Leadership: Corporate psychopathy and its influence on employee well-being and job satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences.