Is Your Difficult Boss Almost a Psychopath?

Strategy And Tactics In BusinessWhat if your difficult boss or co-worker isn’t really a full-blown psychopath but almost a psychopath? I’ve been writing about psychopathic traits of leaders:

  • Grandiosity and exaggerated self-worth
  • Pathological lying and manipulation
  • Lack of empathy or remorse except superficially
  • Shallowness
  • Exploitation of others for financial gain

Like most psychological or personality disorders, psychopathy behaviors can be extreme as in serial killers and con artists. But the traits can also be what doctors call “subclinical,” that is, some people don’t meet the diagnostic criteria. I wrote about the four domains of psychopathy here.

In one study, high-potential leaders tested positive on the test for psychopaths at a rate of 3.5%. In the general population, there is only a 1-2% rate.

Other studies have indicated that some psychopathic traits areĀ  actively sought in candidates for leadership because they are able to easily make hard decisions, keep their emotions in check, and remain cool under fire. While they may be a difficult boss, they can be successful at driving profits, albeit at the expense of people.

The thing about diagnoses is that once you’ve named the problem, you still have to figure out what to do about it. You and I aren’t psychiatrists, and most of us aren’t trained to handle someone with a personality disorder. Someone who is almost a psychopath is hell to live with or work with.

The “almost” description makes it really hard to be sure you’re not just over reacting to someone you’ve grown to mistrust and dislike. But the problems are not going away and often you still have to cooperate and collaborate.

Here’s a book I ran across that could help us learn about how to handle a difficult boss or co-worker: Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy, by Ronald Schouten and James Silver.

Schouten is an MD and a lawyer, and Silver is a lawyer, and they have plenty of advice on what to do. It could be that with early intervention and treatment, someone with subclinical traits of a psychopath can be helped. Instead of letting an almost psychopath continue with bad behaviors, one would either help them or stop them.

Letting a difficult boss with psychopathic traits lead an organization results not only in unhappy employees, but in untold financial damages down the road.

Of course, this question is still not answered by health professionals: Can an almost psychopath really change? I believe in people being able to change. As a coach, I’ve seen many executives get better. I, myself, have made major changes in my habits and am a better person today.

I’ve seen addicts and alcoholics turn their lives around and become more effective and happier. I believe people can and will change, but often need help and support to do so. Psychopaths may be hard cases, but for sure, without interventions, they get worse.

What’s been your experience working or living with a difficult boss or an almost psychopath? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here.

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