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Five ways to spot a psychopathic boss

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Imagine you are a CEO and you need to hire a vice president to turn around a failing business unit. You are down to the last two.

There is Jane, who is charming and ambitious and drives the team hard. No fools are suffered, the dead wood is hacked, and the parking lot is full from dawn to dusk. Jane talks results, she promises big, and she expects oodles of money.

Then there is Jim. He is modest; it’s all about the team, engagement and building for the future. He is measured in his commitments, and he stands up and takes accountability for his team. He only fires someone after working hard to help them succeed.

As CEO, you have read the articles about emotional intelligence and the importance of empathy. But the chairman calls to tell you the board is restless. You need to slash costs and destroy the competition. It’s no time to be nice. You book Thursday after work for cocktails with Jane!

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Congratulations, you have just hired a psychopath.

About one in 200 women and one in 50 men are psychopaths. They are drawn to the money, power and status of being a corporate executive where the prevalence rises as high as one in 10.

Psychopaths use manipulation and intimidation to control others and satisfy selfish needs. They can be intelligent and highly charismatic but display a chronic inability to feel guilt, remorse or anxiety over their actions.

Hiring Jane is a bad mistake. The best people will leave, morale will plummet and results spiral. Jane will have a ready line-up of scapegoats for every failure and lie to cover her mistakes.

You may well be working for such a boss today. See if these characteristics remind you of anybody you know:

  1. Superficially charming: The charm is cold manipulation and is used with great effect on superiors.
  2. Your best friend one minute and a bully the next: If they are displeased, they will enjoy public humiliation. However, the real fun will be reserved for behind closed doors.
  3. Truth has no value: They will casually lie and cheat to achieve their ends.
  4. Self-obsessed narcissist: It really is all about them and feeding their self-importance. Taking the credit due to others is all part of the game.
  5. No genuine remorse: They are wired not to feel anything about another person’s emotional or physical pain.

So what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? You can’t coach them to change. If you don’t want to get a new job, try these strategies:

And if you are a CEO, do yourself a favour. Hire Jim.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer based in Edmonton.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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