Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WORKPLACE / JUN. 29, 2015
version 9, draft 9

The Sociopathic Boss – A Worker's Worst Nightmare

People say it all the time: "My boss is crazy!"

Fortunately, most of the time, that’s not really the case: it’s just a frustrated worker letting off a bit of steam about some real or imagined problem they’ve had with their boss. But what can you do if your boss really is crazy?

If you genuinely suspect that your boss might be a sociopath, the first move you should be making is getting ready to change jobs. Do not wait. If he or she decides to focus attention on you, your life will change in many unpleasant ways.

See also: What Your Gut Feeling Tells You About Your Boss

What is a sociopath?

To put it as simply as possible, a sociopath is somebody who has no concern at all for the wellbeing of other people. They care only about themselves.

They do not feel normal emotions of empathy and remorse. As a matter of fact, they don’t feel much at all, and that’s really the source of the problem.

Sociopaths find it difficult to derive long-term satisfaction from anything, and as a result get bored easily. This means they are always seeking stimulation, living life from one short thrill to the next.

This is one reason why sociopaths often develop substance addictions: normal life just doesn’t do it for them. If you think an ordinary run-of-the-mill sociopath is bad, just wait until you meet a sociopath who is hooked on cocaine!

What are the signs?

One of the problems of the modern world is that the majority of large corporations have developed a distinctive sociopathic persona.

Indeed, they are typically required by law to do so, as the most fundamental principle of all public companies is that they must protect the financial interests of their shareholders to the best of their ability.

Therefore, many sociopathic individuals, with their ambition, ego, and remorseless disregard for others, are perfectly symbiotic with corporate culture. This has allowed such individuals to rise to lofty heights within organizations and, as a result, sociopathic behavior is often seen as normal "boss" behavior.

Nonetheless, there are some clear signs. None of them taken individually is definitive, but any combination of three or more is a big red flag to signal that you should start preparing your evacuation before it’s too late.

Does that sound cowardly? Perhaps so. But I can assure you that when push comes to shove, you are the one that is going to get shoved, so it is better to walk!

Here is a list of key signs to look for:

  • The boss never acknowledges fault or accepts responsibility when things go wrong
  • He is fond of the pronouns "I" and "you", and hardly ever uses "we"
  • He is prone to irrational and sometimes violent outbursts
  • The boss often tells you negative things about other employees when it is not really your concern
  • He censures, disciplines or even abuses members of staff in public
  • He takes things from workers and does not return them until asked
  • He has a reputation for having numerous short-term affairs with employees
  • He never shows compassion or understanding for other people’s problems
  • The boss makes no attempt to inspire unity and thrives on divisiveness in the workplace
  • He asks you to do something not quite right but does not seem too troubled by it
  • He ignores any concerns raised about ethical considerations of an action

If you spot combinations of these warning signs, then the best thing to do is head for the hills. The problem is that sociopathy is so widespread in the upper levels of corporations that there is a good chance your next boss could be just as bad, or even worse.

Where can I safely observe an example?

There is an excellent Larry David movie called Clear History where the main protagonist exhibits clear signs of sociopathic tendencies. For example, he:

  • Believes that he knows better than anyone else, without exception
  • Never accepts blame for anything he does wrong
  • Doesn’t believe in sincere apologies and is unable to make one
  • Makes tactless, hurtful remarks about others, often in public
  • Talks about inappropriate things at inappropriate times
  • Only compliments shallow superficial things, and usually insincerely
  • Thrives on praise and openly solicits it
  • Indulges in casual sex affairs and only cares about how their dissolution affects him
  • Obsesses over things that trouble his ego
  • Plots elaborate revenge schemes
  • Rarely considers the consequences of his actions

Other good movies with sociopathic protagonists include The TempFalling DownTaxi Driver, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

What can be done?

There are only four options available to you:

  1. Stay and put up with it
  2. Suck up
  3. Challenge
  4. Leave

If you choose the first option, you could be in for a rough ride. At the very least, you will need to meticulously document everything that happens in the workplace, hopefully being able to record video or audio of anything inappropriate that your boss does, especially if it involves an order to do something wrong like shredding incriminating documents. That way, you will have some evidence to support your case when you inevitably get fired or arrested.

If you decide to suck up, you are only alleviating your own problem temporarily, your colleagues will resent you, and you are contributing to the problem. Eventually, karma will catch up with you because sociopaths don’t have loyalty, and they may even get a kick out of betraying you.

Mounting a challenge is a daring act. You need to remember that you are going up against a master manipulator who has no conscience. They are able to play the role of martyr and Grand Inquisitor in equal measure.

Therefore, you would need to be very sure of your ability before commencing, and be prepared for this manipulative opponent to turn your colleagues against you and make you seem like a persecutor. I salute your courage and integrity, but you are taking on a difficult task.

Finally, you are left with the option of leaving, which is the option most likely to allow you to keep your sanity and your dignity intact. Getting out early means you won’t have to go down with the ship. And who knows? Maybe your sociopathic boss will give you are good reference!

See also: How to Effectively Work for a Micromanaging Boss

Have you ever had to work for a sociopathic boss? How did you handle things? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!

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