HIRING

Are You a Psycho Boss?

A recent study shows that you are four times more likely to find a psychopath in the boardroom than on the street. So what?
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I recently noticed an article Bad Bosses: The Psycho-path to Success by Kevin Voigt got some viral attention because of its premise that many business leaders are "psychopaths." The article cited a study that reported these businesspeople have the same clinical diagnosis as the Ted Bundy's of the world, but aren't violent.  So what we've been talking about at the water cooler may actually be true!  But after ticking off characteristics like narcissism, lying, shifting blame, risk taking, and shallowness, have we done any good by sensationalizing the issue?

Let's be honest. We can all relate. We all know people in our businesses that can be described as "crazy" in one way or another. They exist everywhere. 

The real issue is getting to the root of a relationship with someone who may just be a bad boss or bad employee. There's also a greater opportunity here to get past a label (because, really, it doesn't matter and just puts another barrier up to finding a solution). Let's instead ask: Am I that psychopath? Or, do I work for one of these folks? What can I do?

Here is a set of tips for leaders and employees alike to quit calling people names and focus on getting through the root cause of difficult office relationships.

Leaders

Start an internal dialogue

No, those aren't voices in your head. Sit down and ask yourself about your employee relationships. How do your employees talk to you? Do you have any understanding of their personal situations? What's the look in their eye when they come into your office? Your employees are already telling you just how sane your interactions with them are. It's your job to notice better.

Sit down for a talk

If you can get to this point, you're already a step ahead of most people. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Now that you understand your own views, compare those views with a conversation between employee and superior. This is a mutual step. You may confirm or counter what your previous take on the relationship was and you'll be better set up for step three…

Take action

You're in a position to affect more change for the entire work environment than your employee is. Once you get a grasp on where the difficult relationship is getting its fuel, it's your job to turn off the valve. It might be by leaving, it might be revising your work style and attitude, but this will most definitely be humbling. Don't be afraid of it.

Employees

Ask yourself some questions

Have you already decided the answers before you've asked the questions? If you've decided your boss is crazy before communication has started, the battle is already lost. Check pre-disposition in exchange for an analysis of what actually constitutes the interaction between you and the boss. That's your ammunition for your conversation.  And realize that you have a choice about where you work.  Don't tell me you can't leave because of the unemployment rate. 

Talk it through together

This is really no different for employees than it is for leaders.  Like I said, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Now that you understand your own views, compare those views with a conversation between you and your boss. You may confirm or counter what your previous take on the situation was and you too will be set up for the action that could need to take place.  Most importantly, you'll be able to look yourself in the mirror and feel good that you did your part. 

Do something different

It's time for your moment of truth. You've done all you can to get things out in the open and understood. If you realize that the boss you thought was so crazy was really just working from a very different perspective than you, you could have opportunity to calibrate and collaborate on a new path going forward. If you're at an impasse, the best thing to do may be to make a beeline for the door. There's not a job out there that's worth losing your sanity for.

Calling people crazy or psychopaths for provocation's sake isn't something we should do in the business world. Because, in reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, one out of four adults will experience some kind of mental disorder in any given year (depression, anxiety included). There's a lot more to what's going on in the head of the person in the corner office or the cube next door than what a label can convey. By taking the time to figure those things out, you'll help build a culture and career that won't leave you desperate to do something else.

Last updated: Feb 14, 2012

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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