“My boss had my back alright; she put a knife into it every day!” ….Anonymous Survivor
Funny comment, but he wasn’t laughing and as an employee who had been psychologically bullied by his boss, warns others “quit before you lose your mind” and has some advice for employers.
When we think of a bully boss we think hard nosed, overt type depicted by the overbearing & condescending Miranda Priestly from The Devil wears Prada.
But Miranda types or the “the tyrants” as Bradbury describes aren’t the worst bosses, it’s “the corporate psychopaths”; the one with a disturbing, sinister side more aptly depicted by Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs.
Unlike the overt workplace bullies who visibly and indiscriminately exploit anyone in their splash zone for world dominance; these covert “Psychological, or serial bullies” discreetly deliver a slow and steady drip of ridicule and intimidation until their target is psychologically destroyed.
Even though much has been written (books, entire websites, studies, statistics) about the disturbing profile of the corporate psychopath and it’s estimated that they make up almost 4% of the corporate population compared to only 1% of the average population, they somehow still elude detection.
One of the most difficult things in life is to recognize a skillful and smart psychopath, Dr. Igor Galynkor, Psychiatrist, NY
They hide well within competitive business climates with their decisive, risk taking, take charge charisma. In fact, they camouflage themselves right into key leadership roles as movers, shakers, climbers & closers responsible for growing our businesses, leading our employees and even running our countries.
This is a distressing thought, considering that for complex reasons (messed up chromosomes or childhoods) there is another side to their profile that makes them dangerous to the mental health of those around them and to workplace cultures. This part of their personality is void of empathy and uses deceit, manipulation, intimidation tactics and cruel mind games for self serving purposes without mercy or remorse.
As shared by a survivor*** of what it was like to report into a corporate psychopath:
- In front of people she wanted to impress, she was dynamic, persuasive and brilliant but behind closed doors she was cold, cutting and cruel.
- She’d waste my time boasting of fabricated stories in daily morning monologues.
- Some days, she’d just became unhinged: verbally ripping me to shreds
- Nothing I did was ever good enough, blamed me for everything that went wrong; her criticism had more to do with her moods than the quality of my work.
- She’d sabotage me: held back information or gave it too late, put me on the spot and took peculiar delight in watching me squirm and fail.
- She’d ‘name drop’ so I knew she had befriended people in high places as an indirect warning not to ever betray or challenge her.
- Any criticism of her was met with an offensive attack and she would stop at nothing to win at corporate games, putting others down so she could get ahead but did it all covertly and out of malice.
75% of employees end up resigning and, yet, the perpetrator rarely gets caught much less “dealt with”. Main reasons for this center around their insidious & clever manipulation; they choose targets who are junior and new and who will naturally blame themselves for their weak performance. By the time targets realize what is happening, they no longer have the confidence to report the problem and choose to remain silent.
Second, even if reported, the psychopath has already proactively exploited their political alliances and preemptively outmaneuvered accusations.
Finally, survivors feel employers need to know 4 points about the negative impact these toxic leaders have on workplaces:
- The suffering is not contained to just the targets: just because you don’t see it or hear about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t widespread. It’s just nobody dares to admit it because they might be, then, tasked to deal with it. Employers need to be mindful that ALL team members who are interacting with the workplace psychopath is suffering; even those who engage indirectly; with guilt of becoming complicit.
- The rest of the team feels the same fear of political repercussions. If team members are interacting with the psychopath, they are snarled into the hidden mind games, political black mail, reputation smearing.
- The suffering doesn’t stop because the targets leave. Psychopaths have an addiction for domination over a target so their pattern is serial and they find another victim. The team continues to suffer.
- That the silence of those in executive roles and who are aware of what’s going on hurts more than the abuse.
Survivors say whistle blowing, alone, will not be effective in finding corporate psychopaths; they suggest looking for signs; these were their top 9:
- When employees give evasive answers to casual questions of how things are going.
- When there’s social awkwardness between a leader and his/her employees in social settings, especially when the leader is typically socially superior in other settings
- Exit Interviews that are vague or hold confessions that they had been abused.
- Surprise resignations/transfers/requests for boss changes
- Above average or peculiar absenteeism/turnover stats connected to one leader
- Inexplicable declines in performance, especially in new talent.
- Low scores in trust/integrity: surveys, 360 feedback, personality assessments
- Personality clashes
- Admin Assistants of suspected Psychopaths hold all of the answers
Apart from the fact that rescuing sufferers behind closed doors is the right thing to do, employers are well aware they need to ensure their workplaces are harassment/bully – free. With each Bill O’Reilly case and cases in our Canadian establishments ( CBC, RCMP ), the more our laws can better define the difference between the ‘difficult boss’ from the abusive type.
But do we need laws to do this for us? Is the Psychopath really this tough to find that we can’t separate our real leaders who inspire employees to new heights from the monsters who drive employees to want to jump from heights?
Based on what survivors are telling me, employers seem ‘conveniently confused’ labeling psychopaths as the highly ambitious people who are being tough on their people.
But, I know tough. Some of my bosses from my formative years displayed excessively “tough” behaviours; regularly spit profanities, slammed doors, threw tantrums far worse than Chef Ramsey and were far more manipulative, cut throat, break-all- the-rules types than Harvey Specter from Suits or even Frank Underwood from House of Cards (except the murdering part, to my knowledge anyway).
….yep, they were tough alright, but never did they purposely hurt me. Tough leadership doesn’t hurt. Their unsavory traits weren’t ever directed at me. In fact, they were tough FOR me, slayed dragons, won boardroom brawls on my behalf. They truly had my back.
It’s not about the behaviours, it’s about the intent behind the behaviours.
These corporate psychopaths and other bullies who hurt are slowly, quietly preying not just on our employees but our workplace values and replacing respect, trust and integrity with fear, guilt, deceit and denial.
We don’t need laws, more data, more definitions, more lists, or studies to find them. We just need courage.
Courage to ask our teams “who’s hurting employees? What should we know that we haven’t asked about?”, and then shine a spotlight on those “dark sides” lurking amid our top talent.
…..otherwise, like lambs, everyone will continue to follow each other suffering in silence.
****If you, or someone you know, reports to a Psychopath, download my FREE PDF: “Path for Reporting to a Psychopath” Written by Survivors for Survivors! (Sign in Below)