How to tell if your boss is a psychopath

How to tell if your boss is a psychopath

Learn how to deal with your boss before you go crazy.
Oct 11, 2011
By staff

Do you think you're working for a psychopath at the veterinary clinic? It's not as unlikely as you'd think. According to a recent study, one in 25 business leaders meet the criteria for a psychopathic personality. Leaders who are psychopaths are extremely charming, highly manipulative, see other people as objects, and don’t feel guilty about using people to reach their own ends. Most people at work have good intentions, but a psychopathic boss does not. If this sounds like your boss, better listen up.

Knowing your boss's work style could be the key to coping, says Evelyn Williams, associate vice president of leadership development and professor at Wake Forest University Schools of Business in Winston-Salem, N.C. A long-term solution would be to find a new boss, but if you can't quit your job, recognize that you still have a mutually dependent relationship. Knowing your boss's work style gives you a road map you can use to make adjustments and deliver the work that will please a difficult boss.

Here are five questions you should ask yourself before you decide to stay or go, according to Williams.

1. How does my boss like to communicate?

2. Does my boss focus on details or big-picture thinking?

3. Which is more important to my boss: analysis and data or human relationships?

4. Does my boss use introverted or extroverted discussion patterns?

5. When it comes to decisions, does my boss like quick resolution or decision by committee?

Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to take control of your working relationship and do a good job of managing up. “You won’t feel like the victim, and you'll have control of how to manage the relationship since there are multiple ways to accomplish these tasks,” Williams says.

But beware: Too much success at work could also be seen as a threat to a psychopathic boss. If you shine a little too brightly while you're helping your boss stand out, you could be seen as competition. Most psychopathic bosses won't hesitate to throw you under the bus.

That’s why you should seek validation from your co-workers in and outside your department. “Network outside your department and make sure you document what’s happening. That doesn’t mean a vindictive accounting, but rather keeping track of decisions made or assignments given so that you and your boss can agree on your work both in terms of load and delivery,” Williams says. “We’re all fallible humans and need to manage our stress loads—some people may appear like psychopaths simply because they are overwhelmed in their current roles.” Click here to learn how to manage stress so you don’t turn into your boss.