It’s all about me

Psychopaths in the workplace

It’s all about me. Really.

Ok, it can be about you, but only when it’s not about me.

But it’s always all about me.

Do you know this person? They exist in all walks of life but are most often found in a senior management position in medium to large sized organisations.

Welcome to the corporate narcissist or, as I like to call them, the ‘garden variety psychopath’. These people are very efficient survival machines doing untold damage to the business and staff. They rely on negative power to succeed at the cost of those around them. They can make your life a misery.

On my journey to CEO I have met many such individuals, who clearly demonstrated narcissistic qualities bordering on psychopathic. Their only concern for the company was how its performance reflected on them. Their status, car, memberships, bonus structure and office size came way before customer relationships, staff engagement and profits.

They’re easy to spot when you know what to look for. They entertain lots of positive illusions in relation to themselves; that is, they think they are better than they really are. Results don’t matter; they just want more; more money, privilege, recognition, respect – more everything.

They display a powerful self-serving bias; they unjustly take credit for successes and disown responsibility for failures. They’re not team players. When they blame others, it allows them to avoid responsibility for their personal failures.

Their over confidence and carefully crafted self perception can be alluring, and their tendency to view themselves more favourably than the objective evidence warrants gives them a level of confidence that ‘corporate’ wants. They can be charming and will get the job when confidence is confused with competence.

You may be impressed at first. That is, until they reveal their psychopathic tendencies. Their actions reveal an individual who is incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy. They are generally cunning and manipulative, and know the difference between right and wrong but dismiss it as applying to them.

In many respects, the corporate sphere fosters psychopathic behaviour. Narcissism and aggressive behaviour are considered a fair trade for the ability to thrive in an increasingly aggressive business world. No one gets killed, but there’s plenty of blood on the carpet.

So we ask the question: is economic pressure on modern day workplaces and corporate culture itself helping to create a world where psychopathic behaviour is flourishing and even being rewarded?

Business structures and procedures have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, since the turgid bureaucratic model optimised productivity. The new business model of mergers, acquisitions and takeovers not only trimmed corporate fat, it also created a demand for a new kind of player, not the steadfast ‘company man’ of the past but an entirely different model, the corporate predator.

Attracted by fast-paced, high-risk, high-growth environments, they thrive in such corporate instability. This creates the prevalence of histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive personalities heading to the top of many organisations. 

To corporate psychopaths, success is the best revenge. Nice guys, they reason, don’t get the corner office. The ends justify the means and live by the maxim of taking no prisoners. Loyalty means nothing and they happily sacrifice others, without regret or remorse, to further their own needs.

The psychopath recognises no flaw in his psyche, no need for change. He wreaks havoc in an organisation, which can destabilise the entire business.

Is the psychopath as the new breed of business person being produced by the evolutionary pressures of modern life? Is the business school’s focus on aggression, attack, ruthlessness and win at all costs selecting out the more placid leaders?

Business school training is designed t help managers get what they want. This is common fare for psychopaths, so they are able to reach very high positions in life. It is only over time that their associates become aware of the fact that their climb up the ladder of success is predicated on violating the rights of others.

The ones I’ve worked with have all failed spectacularly. They just couldn’t deliver. It was never their fault of course, there was always someone else to blame. They fed on the energy of others, destroying themselves in the process.

Bizarrely, most went on to bigger and better things, with a golden handshake to get them out quietly.  Contracts paid out and another company ready to pick them up and pay them even more. And so they go on wreaking havoc, leaving me shaking my head as to how they get away with it again and again.

So it isn’t all about me, or all about anyone. It’s good to be a team player, even the boss, and allow others to express themselves and grow.  It’s very good for business and ultimately very good for the individual.

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