Some psychopaths, the Corporate Cons, are adept at using others in pursuit of fame, fortune, power, and control. They are deceitful, egotistical, superficial, manipulating, and prone to lying. They do not care about the consequences of their own behavior, rarely thinking about what the future might hold. They never take responsibility, despite promises to deliver on goals, objectives, and personal favors. When confronted, they will blame others for the problem at hand, not accepting responsibility for their actions. They are rude and callous to individuals who have nothing to offer… feeling superior and entitled. They never think about the harm they inflict on people or institutions, often coming across in interactions as totally devoid of human emotions, especially empathy. To apologize for something they did is foreign to them, as they do not experience remorse or guilt.
Yet, despite all this, the cons can be surprisingly successful in dealing with others, relying primarily on their excellent ability to charm and weave a believable story to influence others. They are adept at reading situations and people, and then modifying their approach to best influence those around them. They can turn on the charm when it suits them and turn it off when they want. Because of their chameleon-like ability to hide their dark side, they can quickly and easily build trusting relationships with others and then take advantage of them or betray them in some way. Manipulators seem to experience a game-like fascination in fooling people, getting into other people’s heads, and getting them to do things for them. This ability to wind psychological games with people seems to give them a sense of personal satisfaction.
While they may come across as ambitious – a trait they will play up-they actually have few long-range goals of any consequence, relying more on their innate ability to seize an opportunity that interests them at any given moment, and then weave it into the story they tell others. Should something else more exciting come along, they will move quickly toward the new opportunity, a tendency that can make look impulsive and irresponsible to observers. While they may blow, flying into a rage, and then calming down just as quickly (as if nothing has happened), they can also control their anger if it is in their best interest to do so-saving their vindictiveness for a later time.
Another group of psychopaths is much more aggressive: the Corporate Bullies. Corporate bullies are not as sophisticated, charming, or smooth as the conning type, as they rely on coercion, abuse, humiliation, harassment, aggression, and fear to get their way. They are callous to almost everyone, intentionally finding reasons to engage in conflict, to blame others for things that go wrong, attack others unfairly (in private and in public), and to be generally antagonistic. They routinely disregard, and feelings of others and frequently violate traditional norms of appropriate social behavior. If they don’t get their way, they become vindictive, maintaining a grudge for a considerable amount of time, and take every opportunity to ‘get even.’ They frequently select and relentlessly attack relatively powerless targets.
These bullies react aggressively in response to provocation or perceived insults or slights. It is unclear whether their acts of bullying give them pleasure or are just the most effective they have learned to get what they want from others. Similar to the cons; however, psychopathic bullies do not feel remorse, guilt, or empathy. They lack any insight into their own behavior, and seem unwilling or unable to moderate it, even when it is to their own advantage. Not being able to understand the harm they do to themselves (let alone their victims), psychopathic bullies are particularly dangerous.
Of course, not all bullies are psychopaths, though this may be of little concern to the victims. Bullies come in many psychological…shapes. In some cases, ‘garden-variety’ bullies have deep-seated psychological problems, including feelings of inferiority or inadequacy and difficulty in relating to others. Some simply have learned at an early age that their size, strength, or verbal talent was the only effective tool they had for social behavior. Some of these individuals may be context-specific bullies, behaving badly at work but more or less normally in other contexts. Nevertheless, the psychopathic bully is what he is: a callous, vindictive, controlling individual with little empathy or concern for the rights and feelings of the victim, no matter what the context.
In addition to these two specific types- the Con and the Bully-we have seen a handful of cases that are even worse. Corporate puppetmasters, as we labeled them, seem to combine the features of con and bully in a sophisticated way. They are adept at manipulating people-pulling the strings-from a distance, in order to get those under their control to abuse or bully those lower down in the organization. In essence, they use both strategies-conning and bullying-much like the historical figures such as Stalin and Hitler, individuals who surrounded themselves with obedient followers and through them controlled much of their countries’ populations. Any sign of disobedience (often accentuated by a paranoid temperament) led them to attack their direct supporters as well. To the puppetmaster, both the intermediary (the ‘puppet’) and the ultimate victim are expendable since he considers neither as a real, individual person. We believe that the Corporate Puppetmasters are examples of the much more dangerous classic psychopath.
Our research has shown that conning psychopaths would do well in business, politics, and other professions because of their ability to convince people they are honest and ethical and have talent, experience, and a flair for leadership. In management positions, bullying psychopaths keep rivals and subordinates at a distance allowing them to use their power to get what they want. Furthermore, members of top management, not close to the day-to-day action, may hear rumors of such bullying behaviors, but discount them as exaggerations due to envy and rivalry, or even accept the behavior as an indication of the person’s strong management style. To the degree that bullying psychopaths have bolstered their reputations as major contributors to the successful running of the business, they are immune to criticism or might receive a token ‘slap on the wrist’ occasionally. The puppetmasters are immune to organizational discipline because they themselves are in control of a greater number of employees, as well as systems, processes, and procedures designed to protect the organization and its members.
In our original research working with 203 high-potential executives…we found about 3.9 percent who fit the profile of the psychopath… While this may not seem like a large percentage, it is considerably higher than that found in the general population (1 percent), and perhaps more than most businesses would want to have on their payrolls, especially as those individuals were on the road to becoming leaders in their organizations. Of these individuals, we found that all had the traits of the coming, manipulative psychopath: superficial, grandiose, deceitful, impulsive irresponsible, not taking responsibility for their own actions, and lacking goals, remorse, and empathy. Of these individuals, two exhibited bullying, as well. From the cases we have reviewed from others in the field, as well as from readers, this level of incidence seems correct.
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