toxic bosses

So your boss is a psycho?

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Do you get on well with him or her? If so you may have Machiavellian tendencies and lack empathy. So you won’t get upset about being treated badly.

People who score high in primary psychopathy lack empathy and are cool-headed and fearless. They don’t react to things that cause other people to feel stressful, fearful, or angry” according to Professor Charlice Hurst from Notre Dame University in Indiana.

She argues that businesses run by psychopaths end up as psychopath traps employing similar types as people with normal emotions can’t stand the toxic environment and leave.

She asked over 300 experienced employees about two fictional managers. One was adept at corporate speak but bullied people, showed a total lack of empathy, and took credit for others’ work. The other was inspirational, supportive, and considerate. Both were said to be equally valued and respected by the company.

Asked about working for the two managers and how angry it would make them working for him all said they would be happy working for the supportive one and most disliked the bully. But some people saw no difference and that depended on their own level of psychopathy.

Those with high levels weren’t upset by being abused at work and even said they felt more engaged at work. It could mean that a company led by psychopaths ends up with a highly engaged workforce of psychopaths.

Psychopaths thriving under abusive supervisors would be better positioned to get ahead” said Hurst. “Companies with a problem with endemic abuse might notice increased turnover among employees low in primary psychopathy and retention of those high in primary psychopathy”

I’ve always thought that toxic workplaces need both a psychopath at the top and a culture that encourages bullying and abuse.

It’s well known that psychopaths are attracted to positions of power. There is extensive literature on the dark side triad of psychopathy, machiavellianism, and narcissism.

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Good leaders don’t need to scream and shout

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monster_boss_at_conference_table_1600_wht_14572New research from Georgetown University and Grenoble Ecole de Management has found that the hard-nosed boss is a dinosaur and incivility has no place in the workplace.

The academics who carried out the research based on 20,000 employees published a paper titled Organisational Dynamics (reported in the Sunday Times).

The researchers found that people who are polite are twice as likely to be seen as good leaders compared with their rude counterparts.

Christine Porath, professor of management at Georgetown University, who has been researching incivility in the workplace for twenty years, said her interest in this area of research was partly because of her father’s experience in working for toxic bosses and partly her own. She had her dream job in a sports management company but “didn’t realise just how much effect rude bosses can have in terms of changing the culture of an organisation”.

She finds there is still scepticism among MBA students that they can still get ahead while being nice to people. They think they will be steamrollered or not seen as leader-like if they are not unpleasant.

There is research evidence that rudeness is perceived as power. Other research however shows that it doesn’t serve the bottom line well. So there are good reasons not to be rude or uncivil at work if you are the boss.

Porath’s results show that being nice to people pays off when people feel respected by their leader: 56% felt healthier, 89% were happier at work, 92% were more focused and 1.5times more energised. They were also more likely to stay with the organisation.

It sounds like common sense doesn’t it yet many organisations put up with, perhaps even encourage, toxic bosses while HR turns a blind eye.

With the trend towards team interviews you would think that it would be hard for such personality types to get a job. Yet we know that people with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies (dark side personality traits) can be charming until they no longer care any more or until people challenge them.

Porath thinks that only about 4% of managers actually get off on being rude because they enjoy it or can get away with it. The remainder put their incivility down to pressure of work. That figure probably falls within the estimate for the number of bosses with dark side personality traits (estimated at between 6 and 10% across developed countries).

It’s been suggested that this rudeness is prevalent at middle management level. That would fit in with the “overworked” hypothesis and also with the fact that as organisations de-layer there are fewer steps to management with fewer opportunities to develop the appropriate skills. So it’s more likely that these over-loaded middle managers don’t have the skills to cope effectively and this is reflected in the way they treat others.

At the end of the day it’s the top management and the CEO in particular who influence the culture of the organisation. I posted a while ago about Robert A Eckert’s philosophy at Mattel where he was Chairman and CEO in his time there. In his view people were important and saying thanks instead of shouting at people made good business sense.

Of course there are always exceptions. Steve Jobs springs to mind…..