Leader or psychopath?

I’ve just read a fascinating and scary book: “Snakes in Suits. When Psychopaths go to work”, by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare (both are PhDs).

The fascinating bit is the comparison the good doctors make between psychopaths and leaders. The scary bit is how close the characteristics we applaud in successful leaders are to the traits of psychologically disturbed people.
As a result, hiring managers may judge behaviours such as taking charge, decisiveness, getting others to do what you want (also known as delegation) as ‘good leadership’ when, in fact, they may be indicators of psychopathy. Turned on their head, these leadership traits could equally be seen as coercion, domination and manipulation – key psychopathic behaviours.

What is even more alarming, as described by Babiak and Hare, is that psychopaths are extremely deceptive and hard to spot, until it’s too late. In an interview scenario, they will likely leverage their charm, charisma and psychopathic talents of manipulation to get past even the toughest of interviewers.

What has further enabled the hiring of such individuals is that they appear on the surface confident, strong and unfazed by pressure. To interviewers who are looking for professionals who make an immediate impressive personal impact and can ‘command respect’ with their demeanour. …the lurking psychopath is your perfect candidate!
In addition, psychopaths thrive in environments undergoing significant organisational change, where there is already an element of chaos and uncertainty. This is the optimal type of environment for such individuals to wreak havoc – including financial harm to the organisation, as well as substantial emotional abuse (if not career wreckage) to colleagues.

If you’re not yet freaking out about the GREAT candidate you just interviewed who displayed some of the ‘leadership’ traits noted above, I’d be most surprised. Babiak and Hare have certainly startled me enough to think twice about some recent interviews. Frankly, it seems that even the most skilled hiring panel and battery of tests are insufficient to ward off individuals with psychopathic tendencies.

So, the next time you wonder whether your boss is psycho….you could be right!

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat