Organizational Psychopaths

What are organisational psychopaths? What impact can they have on an organisation?

Psychopaths can be defined as people with personality disorders characterised by antisocial behaviour, bold behaviour, and lack of empathy. Psychopathy is a continuous element of personality which occurs in different combinations among a given population. The Triarchic model suggests that there are three characteristics of a psychopath: boldness, disinhibition and meanness. Boldness includes lack of fear, tolerance to pressure and danger, and social assertiveness. Disinhibition includes planning and foresight problems which occur due to poor impulse control. Meanness means lack of empathy close relationship with other people. Psychopaths tend to use cruel ways to gain power and exploit others. They also show defiance of authority destructive excitement. High disinhibition or boldness may be combined with an adverse environment to create meanness in a psychopath. Clinical psychology and psychiatry defines psychopathy as a condition in which an individual lacks conscience or empathy. A psychopath is also characterized by maniopulative behaviours and poor impulse. People with mild conditions of psychopathy may exhibit narcissism while people with severe psychopathy may lead to mass murders and wars. Hare (1994) estimates that there are about 2 million psychopaths in North America.

An organisational psychopath is someone who exhibits conditions of lack of empathy and conscience at the workplace. Organisational psychopaths are mainly people who are ruthless at the workplace but not necessarily violent (McMurran & Howard, 2009). Executives within organisations may be considered as successful psychopaths if they are superficially charming, manipulative, insincere, exploitative, and lacking empathy. These characteristics make psychopaths to flourish at the top of the corporate management ladder. The psychopaths also exhibit risk-taking habits that enable them to develop appropriate leadership qualities needed at the top managerial levels. On the other hand, unsuccessful psychopaths are physically aggressive and impulsive. The unsuccessful psychopaths are termed as criminals. The two groups of psychopaths come up with excuses for their actions and behaviours. One of the excuses given by organisational psychopaths for their actions is that they are doing what the shareholders demand. They also blame market forces for their behaviours.

Psychopaths share common characteristics. Babiak and Hare (2007) suggest that psychopaths appear to be normal and charming with good leadership and social skills. They are smooth and polished, and always twist conversations to become discussions of them. They also look down on others in order to build their own reputation. Tookey (2013) suggests that the charming and social skills of a psychopath are just exterior, but inside they are ruthless.

The main interest of psychopaths is to satisfy their own needs. Apart from ruthlessness and manipulation, Tookey (2013) adds two more characteristics of a psychopath: duplicity and persuasiveness. Organisational psychopaths get their way into organisational management because the managerial positions act as the sources of power, money and prestige that they need. Lack of empathy is the main characteristic of psychopaths, and organisations need to inculcate the culture of empathy in every organisational level and department of the organisation in order to deal with the problems associated with the effects caused by psychopaths. Psychopaths are also bullying, unpredictable, intolerant, unethical, easily bored, and undependable. Other characteristics of psychopaths include: opportunistic, liars, egocentrism, and guiltlessness.

There are various signs and symptoms of a psychopath including offending signs and mental illnesses. One of the offending signs of a psychopath is criminality. From an analysis of prisoners in North America, the rates of criminality among psychopaths were found to be extremely high. Psychopaths demonstrate institutional misbehavior and crime. However, psychopathy does not apply in situations of general crime theory. The second characteristic of organisational psychopaths is violence. Research indicates that there is a positive relationship between organisational psychopathy and violence at the workplace (Skeem, 2011). Violent psychopaths lack guilt, remorse or sensational feeling. This makes them to become violent. This violence is instrumental rather than reactive. The risk of violence is difficult to manage at the workplace. Psychopaths also show typical responses to features of distress including fear and sadness. Organisational psychopaths also disregard moral beliefs in judgment. They break conventional rules and commit moral transgressions.

Dr. Clarke of the University of Sydney suggests that psychopaths demonstrate various behavioural patterns and personality traits that distinguish them from other members of the organisations. Some of these signs by Dr. Clark are similar to the characteristics of psychopaths that have already been highlighted earlier. One of the characteristics is guiltlessness. A psychopath never feels remorseful despite how much he/she victimizes others. They are also charmers – sweet talking people into their traps through one-on-one engagements in order to avoid attracting attention from groups.

Organisational psychopaths are also manipulative. This means that they twist the rules of the organisation to suit their own interests. They also take advantage of others, especially those who are weak and powerless. They are also considered to be parasitic – taking credit where they do not deserve and harvesting where they did not plant. Workplace psychopaths can also maneuver their way out of trouble (Hare, 2006). Furthermore, they are erratic. This means that they experience only the primary emotions which shift from time to time. They become sad, angry and happy in an irregular manner. For potential victims of psychopaths to avoid the traps of psychopaths, they need to identify these characteristics and signs of a psychopath.

There are also various causes of psychopathy. These causes are both genetic and non-genetic. Most of the causes are those that affect the functioning of the brain. The triarchic model suggests that psychopathy is caused by various genetic and adverse environmental factors. Skeem et al (2011) found out that genetics influence impulsive and fearless characteristics of psychopaths. The development of psychopaths is mainly influenced by genetic factors while the dominant traits of psychopaths are influenced by environmental factors. Studies also show that there is a connection between psychopathy and MAO-A gene. Low activity of the gene increases the risk of aggression and antisocial behaviour that is found in psychopaths. The 3R variant is associated with low MAO-A, and is found in varying proportions among various demographics.

Environmental factors such as parental conviction, being physically neglected, disrupted families and low income may also result in psychopathy. There are also other environmental factors that influence psychopathy including harsh treatment, low social class, and large family size. Head injury may also result in psychopathy. Damage to some parts of the brain e.g. the cortex may lead an individual to develop psychopathic behaviour and anti-social reasoning. According to the Australian Psychologist Dr. John Clarke, an organisational psychopath is someone who destroys other people at the workplace psychologically in order to satisfy their hunger for power.

Organisational Psychopaths are found mainly in the workplace. They occupy managerial positions, the media, sales and the civil service. Psychpathy may also be experienced in an occupation that demands responsibility and duty of care, including the police. Baiak and Hare (2007) have identified five steps that psychopaths follow when climbing up the ladder of leadership in an organisation. The first stage is the entry phase whereby the psychopath uses his/her charms to get their way into the organisation. They charm the selection team into hiring them in the organisation. The second phase is the assessment phase whereby the psychopath identifies a network of Patrons to defend and protect him. The psychopaths also identify Pawns and Organisational Police. The Pawns are those people within the organisation who can be easily manipulated to use their power in favour of the psychopaths. On the other hand, Organisational Police are the staff which controls the security, audit and human resources of the organisation.

Stage three of psychopathy is the manipulation stage whereby the psychopath manipulates the Pawns and the patrons by building influence network and relationships with them (Boddy, 2011). This enables them to move up the ladder easily. Stage four is confrontation stage in which the individuals who are considered to be no longer useful realize that they have been manipulated, and they become Patsy. At this stage, the psychopath divide the organisation into two factions; one made up of Pawns and Patrons who support the psychopath and Patsies and Police who distract the psychopaths. The Police and the Patsies are powerless while the Pawns and Patrons are influential. The last stage is the ascension stage in which the manipulation strategies of the psychopath pay off – the patron is betrayed, the Police is sidelined and the psychopath moves to the top of the management ladder.

Organisational psychopaths are very influential at the workplace and can be a big source of worry among managers in the workplace. If managers cannot see beyond the charm of psychopaths, they will end up experiencing big challenges. One of negative effects of organisational psychopaths is destruction of teamwork and collaboration at the workplace. In an organisation, the culture of connection and collaboration is always enhanced through the cooperation of employees. However, when a psychopath comes in, problems arise. From the explanation of the meaning of a Psychopath, it has been viewed that a psychopath is highly egocentric. This characteristic, psychopaths think that everything belongs to them, and the world all belongs to them. They are not team players; hence collaboration, teamwork and connection are problematic.

Due to the charming and manipulative character, psychopaths make themselves to appear collaborative, hence winning the trust and support of Pawns. They are also able to control Patsies. As a result, they become highly influential at the workplace and they can do everything in their own interests. Psychopaths say and do anything in order to get their way into the top leadership positions of the organisation. Whenever there are any stumbling blocks including individuals who are not easily manipulated, they get rid of them. This is leads to negative effects in the organisation. For instance, the stumbling blocks could prevent psychopaths from using company resources for their own interests and if the psychopaths get rid of them, the organisation loses the contributions of highly valuable human resources.

Through their manipulative and charming characters, psychopaths also isolate and destroy other staff at the workplace. This undermines the organisational culture and teamwork at the workplace; hence reducing the performance of the staff as well the overall performance of the organisation. Psychopaths destroy others mentally and psychologically at the workplace without considering the impact of their actions. They are neither remorseful nor guilty of their actions. They control and dominate other human beings without considering whether it hurts them or not. This lack of empathy is harmful to the organisation because it causes disagreements and undermines the efforts of other resourceful individuals at the workplace. Therefore, the overall performance of the organisation declines and the organisation may not achieve its objectives. In fact, psychopaths may completely destroy organisations by disrupting all work relationships at the workplace.

Psychopaths also cause devastating effects on their targets. For instance, they may destroy the confidence of people on their abilities. They also kill the trust of people on others. As a result, people cannot be able to work collaboratively using their abilities in order to benefit their organisation. There are various things that the victims of psychopaths experience. First, they experience shock. When someone at the workplace realizes the destructive actions of a psychopath, he/she wonders why the psychopath does the things she/he does to them. Secondly, people targeted by a psychopath feel angry. This inhibits performance at the workplace. When someone becomes angry he or she can make mistakes and cause incoherence and inconsistency in job performance. Targeted people at the workplace also feel shameful and embarrassed. Therefore, they may feel frustrated and depressed and fail to perform their duties normally. In extreme cases, such victims may also feel completely crazy, and end up withdrawing themselves from the society and experiencing relationship issues at the workplace.

Growing organisations are good breeding grounds for organisational psychopaths because they enhance freedom, flexibility and disorder needed by psychopaths to accomplish their desires. Growing organisations undergo change, making it easier for psychopaths to cause confusion at the workplace. In such organisations, psychopaths exhibit behavioural patterns that cause them to disrupt teams in the workplace (Babiak and Hare, 2007). Organisational psychopaths create conflicts within an organisation by dividing and conquering people at the workplace. This division of workers leads to sanctions; one supporting the psychopaths and others opposing. This causes conflicts that benefit the psychopaths but negates the performance of other employees at the workplace.

Another impact of organisational psychopaths is that they disrupt strategic planning process as they attempt to climb the ladder of leadership. When they are given the opportunity to participate in strategic planning and decision making, they manipulate managers to implement strategies that favour their own interests without considering the harm they cause to others within the organisation. This may lead to strategies that earn good profits but benefit few members of the organisation. This is unethical and promotes inequality and unfairness in the organisation.

Psychopaths also cause high rates of employee turnover at the workplace (Wilson, 2001). This happens because employees may feel uncomfortable, angry, depressed, and frustrated; hence decide to quite the organisation. Psychopaths always want to operate with employees who are easy to manipulate. So they frustrate those who oppose them to the extent that the targeted staff feels discontented and quit the organisation. Employees’ turnover impacts negatively on the performance of the organisation because the organisation loses its human resources, skills, knowledge and talents that were offered by the quitting employees to boost productivity in the organisation. This also means that resources will not be utilized adequately to meet organisational objectives.

In conclusion, organisational psychopaths can be described as individuals with low consciousness, lack of empathy, and antisocial behaviour in an organisation. They use others to fulfill their own interests in the organisation and find their way to the top of the organisational leadership. They are characterised by ruthlessness and manipulation. They are bullying, unpredictable, intolerant, unethical, easily bored, undependable, opportunistic, liars, egocentric, and guiltless. Psychopaths cause various impacts on the organisation. First, they cause disruptions in teams and lead to the destruction of teams, hence inhibiting teamwork. They also cause poor performance in organisations because they manipulate other staff to afford their own interests in terms of power and money. Another impact of organisational psychopaths is that they cause high employee turnover in the workplace. They do so by frustrating and distressing employees, who then choose to leave the organisation. In this regard, organisational psychopaths are dangerous members of an organisation who may cause a lot of problems, especially at the workplace.

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