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Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

Kristen Harcourt Jan 27, 2016 7:00:00 AM

My_boss_is_a_psychopath.jpgDo you sometimes wonder if your boss, or another executive at your company, is a sociopath? Do their actions in the office remind you of the suave serial killers from film and TV? It’s quite possible he or she really is a sociopath, but there’s also another potential explanation.

According to Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, 1 in 25 people are sociopaths. This would mean that there’s more than likely a sociopath at your workplace. During the research for his book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, British journalist Jon Ronson, discovered that about 4% of CEOs are psychopaths. That’s about four times the rate in the general population.

Both psychopaths and sociopaths lack empathy. However, according WebMD.com, a key difference between the two is that the psychopath has no conscience, while the sociopath has one, but it’s weak. They both may steal your money, but the sociopath may feel a bit guilty. A psychopath’s behavior also tends to be very controlled, while a sociopath may be more erratic.

It can be hard to tell the difference, though, and psychologists tend to treat them the same. According to an article in Forbes, you can spot the socio/psychopath in your office if they fit this checklist of behaviors:

  • charm or charisma
  • a constant need for stimulation
  • impulsiveness
  • sexual promiscuity
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulation
  • a parasitic lifestyle
  • a refusal to accept responsibility for their own actions.


The Sociopath Vs. Lack of Emotional Intelligence

That lack of empathy or conscience is key, though. If you could you say that the person you’ve suspected of being a sociopath doesn’t have a conscience, you may be right. They are out there. However, this doesn’t mean every boss or coworker of yours meeting the checklist is a sociopath.  What some people mistake to be sociopathic behavior is just someone who is lacking in emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence is defined as someone’s ability to recognize their own and other people’s emotions and use that information to guide behavior. You can see how an inability to read and respond to emotions could cause someone to present some of the same characteristics as a sociopath. And there is evidence to suggest that many people with low emotional intelligence do get promoted into leadership positions.

Another Forbes article discussed the results of a study of the emotional intelligence profiles of people at various levels in their organization. What they found was that emotional intelligence is highest at middle management and then drops off as people get higher up in the organization, with CEOs being the least emotionally intelligent.

While EQ may be low at the CEO level, another interesting discovery from the study was that highest-performers at each level were the ones with the highest EQs. So, while a focus on bottom-line metrics may be what drives a lot of promoting in companies, resulting in a lot of low EQ senior leaders, those with higher EQs are the ones most likely to succeed in leadership roles.

Increasing Emotional Intelligence

If you’re in a leadership role, or planning on ascending the ranks, there are steps you can take to build your emotional intelligence to help ensure your success (and avoid the sociopath moniker). Emotional intelligence, like most aspects of our personality, is developed from a young age and tends to be consistent throughout our lives. The good news is, with work, it can be increased.

Proper Coaching: The Harvard Business Review states that with a good coaching program with a focus on interpersonal skills, can increase emotional intelligence by 25 percent on average. If you’re coaching someone on emotional intelligence, or anything, be sure to take time to understand their temperament and utilize the Platinum Rule to increase your chances of success.

Self-Awareness: By practicing self-awareness you’ll become more aware of how your behavior affects those around you emotionally and professionally. Many of our clients use our McQuaig Self-Development Survey to help their employees understand their natural behavior, how it affects others, and develop a plan to leverage their strengths and develop weaknesses.

Do you have any sociopaths in your workplace?

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Leadership development, Employee retention

Kristen Harcourt

Written by Kristen Harcourt

Kristen Harcourt is a highly trusted, creative and collaborative advisor who is passionate about people. She really enjoys helping companies make the right people decisions to achieve long term productivity.