Do employers encourage corporate psychopaths?

May 09 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

In March, we reported that Australian psychotherapist Glyn Brokensha had come up with the term "power-pathic" to describe manipulating managers who are bent on attaining power for its own sake Ė and that one in 10 managers displayed similar behaviour.

Now thanks to sharp-eyed site visitor, we've come across a transcript of a programme that went out last week on ABC Australia's 'Catalyst' programme looking at this most disturbing of workplace phenomena.

The programme interviewed psychologist Dr John Clark, author of "Working with Monsters", who has expanded his repertoire from profiling criminals to profiling managers.

According to Dr Clark, the fundamental traits of the corporate psycho are an absolute lack of remorse or guilt for their behaviour, pathological lying, manipulative, callous, egotistical, very kind of self centred individual, glib and superficial charm.

When most of us see another persons distress, our emotional centre, the limbic system, is aroused. We feel a little of what others are feeling. But a 2001 US study revealed the psychopath has very little limbic system response to emotional information.

This lack of reaction to the distress of others is what allows them to manipulate and control other people because they're able to do that on a very rational logical level but at the same time they don't feel the emotion or empathy for the other person.

But what really jumped out as us was Dr Clark's assertion that employers aren't just failing to screen for psychopaths, they're unwittingly selecting them.

"You see this advertisement here. "An ability to do whatever it takes to meet a deadline". So that would appeal to a psychopath because they are prepared to do whatever it takes whatever the cost. If we look at this one - "The opportunities are endless you just need to know how to win it" - well they know how to win everything pretty much."

What's more, he said, a corporate psycho is essentially insurable:

"It's almost impossible to rehabilitate the psychopath. In fact, there are studies in the United States, which suggest that rehabilitation in fact makes them worse because it teaches them new social skills they can use to manipulate the people around them more effectively."

But far from getting their comeuppance, in these days of short-term goals and high staff turnover, psychopaths often rise to the top. If your boss displays these traits and your firm won't address the issue, the only answer is to move on, Clark said.

"Stay too long, and you risk a severe psychological breakdown."

ABC have also provided a Corporate Psychopath Test you can take if you suspect your boss has psychotic tendencies.

And if the boss isn't looking, you can also watch the 12-minute item in full by following these links: [windows media] or [real player].

Older Comments

Why is it that management utterly do not 'get it' when it comes to their nasty abusive managers below them. It is just as much a Management failure as it is the responsibility of the bully who abuses stafee. Management choose to utterly believe the nasty cruel bully. Management in Australia is at the lowest ebb as they allow these abusive bullies to cause terrifying psychological damage to good people in the workplace.

Carol Adelaide South Australia

My wife and I had a nasty experience recently. We both worked within the same international organisation at different levels. My wife had to supervise a workplace psychopath who is on the way up. (Basically he wanted her job). He complained that he was being victimized and the complaint was taken at face value by the HR department The fact that he was Afircan and she was Australian cemented the prejudice within HR that this was a valid complaint about racism. Actually he resented having a female boss and was being manipulative. We are leaving (probably the only real option) and he will no doubt carry on up the ladder.

Sandy McClintock Kenya

Corporate psychos can be very destructive to companies, as not only do they affect staff with experience but customers as well. These people are not team players, do not pay any attention to anyone but themselves other than mouthing platitudes when convenient. They try to get rid of staff that may have much more experience in order to make themselves look better, while treating customers with complete disdain, then covering it all up afterwards.

Stephen Sydney

I worked for a radio station in Melbourne and had to leave because of a bullying workplace psycho. Later learned he had pushed two other talented people out of their jobs before me. Management were completely unaware - and terrified of litigation. Would love to get more people at that station to sit the psycho test actually... I reckon there'd be quite a few of them!

Michelle 3ATroubleyou