Are a lot of the people you know – and answer to on the job – in leadership positions psychopaths? Are you a psychopath in a leadership position? Am I? Tough questions for us personally to answer, but not very tough to answer if we’ve worked with psychopaths.

I have worked with several in my career. Each one had a different personality and temperament, but they all shared the same destructive traits of psychopaths.

There seems to be a disproportionate number of psychopaths, compared to the general population, who end up in leadership positions. In “Sometimes the boss really is a psycho,” one researcher found that about 4% of the 203 executives he studied were psychopaths, while psychopaths make up only about 1% of the general population.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears PradaWhen I think of the epitome of a psychopathic person in a leadership position, I think of Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada.

Some of the characteristics of psychopaths in leadership positions include:

  • Skillful and continual manipulation – bullying, threatening, and intimidating subordinates and charming, flattering, and fawning over superiors – of everyone in the organization
  • Over-inflated ego and sense of self-importance
  • Pathological lying
  • Absence of a sense of right and wrong
  • Absence of remorse and regret
  • Absence of empathy and sympathy
  • Toxicity

liam neeson oskar schindler schindler's listWhen I think of the opposite of Miranda Priestly, sticking with the movies here, I think of Oskar Schindler, portrayed by Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List.

Some of the characteristics of real leaders are:

  • Trustworthiness in everything
  • Strong convictions about right and wrong
  • Willingness to do whatever it takes to do the right thing, regardless of personal or professional cost
  • Humility
  • Strong sense of empathy and sympathy
  • Fairness with everyone

Have you worked with a psychopath in a leadership position? How did it affect you and the organization? What characteristics can you add to the list of psychopath traits as something we all need to be aware of?

Have you worked with a real leader? How did it affect you and the organization? What characteristics did he or she have that you learned and can add to the list of characteristics of real leaders?

Your turn.

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