Psychopaths, Narcissists and now Machiavellian types, somewhere in an office near you, or maybe even running your business,according to Holly Andrews and Jan Francis-Smythe, writing in the May 2010 issue of Professional Manager.
In an earlier post on sociopaths and narcissists; “Leadership – do you have what it takes?“ I drew attention to some US research on Narcissistic types by Shnure about their impact in organisations. Now Andrews and Francis-Smythe, at the University of Worcester, see these personality types as even more of a potential threat in the current economic climate.
Describing these extreme personality types which make up the “dark side triad“: narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance – “It’s all about me“; psychopaths are also ego-centric and lack empathy; Machiavellian types also manipulate others for their own purpose, shows there is some overlap but all essentially exploit others in some way.
Narcissists can be charming and even psychopaths have superficial charm which gets them into positions of power. So the authors set out some suggestions to help organisations cope with these extreme personality types starting at the recruitment stage. They also point out that they are not making clinical diagnoses even though they are using some terms found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders.
The article includes a list of references but if you are interested in this topic I recommend “Why CEOs fail: the 11 behaviours that can derail your climb to the top and how to manage them” by Dotlich, Cairo et al. This is based on research and the work of Robert Hogan who developed a psychometric questionnaire to measure these “dark side” factors and should be essential reading for all HR managers and would-be company directors.
Adrian Furnham’s closing keynote address at the 2010 ABP conference focused on CEO derailment. Apart from toxic personalities he suggested that there also need to be a group of people happy to follow them and a supportive culture. An idea echoed by Ali Kennedy in the weekend newspapers who said that politicians were essentially “sociopaths with good intentions” working in a “psychologically corrosive atmosphere“.
From a coach’s perspective these can be difficult clients to say the least. Lacking in key areas of emotional intelligence they can be charming but don’t like to be challenged.
Helping them to be more self-aware and understand others is a start but their goal is likely to be even better at what they do (exploiting others) which poses an ethical dilemma. (It is a bit like providing social skills training to psychopaths: counter-productive if it means they just get better at fooling people).
So how successful are psychopaths at work? Researchers in America trying to find psychopaths who were successful in life asked their colleagues in the American Psychological Association who specialised in Psychology and Law if they recognised any amongst their clients or acquaintances.
Hare’s definition of psychopaths is;”‘social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life … completely lacking in conscience and feeling for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.’ (His assessment checklist is commonly used to determine if someone is a psychopath and is described in Jon Ronson’s book “The Psychopath Test”.
They received replies from over a hundred people and asked them to describe these “psychopaths” and complete a diagnostic tool for that person (creating a remote profile). They concluded that there was evidence to suggest there were such people as “successful psychopaths” (not sure if unsuccessful psychopaths were just those in prison or who hadn’t been caught yet).
The key difference between successful and standard psychopaths seemed to be in conscientiousness as the individuals described by the survey respondents were the same as prototypical psychopaths in all regards except they lacked the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence and instead scored highly on competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.
For more information go to “Hunting Successful Psychopaths“.
Post first published in 2010