Psychopathic Bosses and How to Avoid Them
by Tom Washington
As a career counselor I have heard numerous stories from my clients about the psychopaths they’ve worked for. As I work with clients, one of my goals is to help them avoid ever having to work for such destructive people.
Working for a good company and a good boss are essential for career growth and satisfaction. I seek to help clients sense whether the job, the employer, andthe prospective boss all combine to provide the right environment. There are great, good, mediocre, and bad bosses. If the job and organization are right, a mediocre boss might be acceptable. But bad bosses can be so toxic that careers and people are destroyed.
Amazon offers more than 40 books geared toward bad bosses with titles like When You Work for A Bully, Coping with Toxic Managers, Nasty Bosses, and How to Work for a Jerk. These books, teaching how to cope with bad managers, are important because once in such a situation it may not be easy to move to another department or find a new organization.
One thing is sure, there is no sure fire way to recognize toxic bosses. The first step, however, is to recognize the damage these people can wreak, and take every step possible to avoid them.
If you’ve worked for such a toxic boss, interacted with such a person, observed one from a distance, or have friends who shared the bitter details and results, you can help inoculate yourself. One of the best things you can do is read a Fast Company article entitled, “Is Your Boss A Psychopath?” The follow-up to the title is: Odds are you’ve run across one of these characters in your career. They’re glib, charming, manipulative, deceitful, ruthless—and very, very destructive.
The full text is available at: www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss.html
The article is truly mind opening. You owe it to yourself and to your career to read it. An online query of “bad bosses” can be helpful, but this article is the best.
These psychopaths go beyond being inept managers or the boss who can never be pleased. Management consultants have provided adequate evidence that these managers, who often seem to get results, are in fact causing great damage to the organization by losing the best employees or by damaging productivity through high levels of stress and frustration. Many have mastered the art of getting short term results, getting promoted, and repeating the process. At a certain point they often realize they’ve been “discovered” and they move on to other organizations.
But, it is also shocking how often these people continue to be “valued” by organizations even after the damage they cause is well recognized. Because of their skill in manipulation and deceit, they can often fool HR and top management to believe that the complaining employees are either liars or slackers. Eventually lawsuits occur. The true cost to an organization in defending itself is not just the large award the individual or individuals might receive from a jury, but also the legal costs, the bad publicity, and the time executives must devote to working with their attorneys.
The Fast Company article lists some of the best known psychopaths, including John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Leona Helmsley, and horrors, the man I worshipped growing up, Walt Disney.
How can you avoid them? First, remind yourself how deadly bad bosses are. Take a few minutes to list the qualities of your best bosses and then the qualities of the worst. Relive some of your experiences—the best and the worst. Remind yourself why you can never tolerate working for a bad boss again. If you don’t have such experiences, talk to friends and colleagues. At least one of them will have had a bad boss experience and will share it with you. Perhaps turn it into a game with a group of friends, with each telling their worst experience. Then the group can vote on the worst boss.
Don’t stop there, also list the qualities of the best and worst organizations you’ve worked for.
Using LinkedIn and talking with all your friends, determine whether anyone in these circles knows the prospective boss, knows the person by reputation, or can use their contacts to find someone who knows the individual. While helpful, these efforts are not guaranteed to provide adequate information. A Google search of the person might yield something as well. Discovering organizations the person previously worked for could yield useful information by talking to someone who still works there. The things I’m suggesting are time consuming, yet the failure to discover everything possible can carry a steep price.
Take the steps to learn everything possible about a prospective boss. You may save a career—Yours.
This article has emphasized the danger of working for a psychopath. There are many other types of bad bosses whose “badness” does not rise to the level of psychopath. Take the precautions to ensure you never go to work for a psychopath, but as you’ve recalled the characteristics of your mediocre and bad bosses, determine to avoid these mediocre and bad bosses as well.