A new study has found that bosses with numerous “dark traits,” those linked to psychopathy and narcissism, are really bad for their employees.
“Those high in psychopathy and narcissism have a strong desire for power and often lack empathy,” said Abigail Phillips, lead author of the study. “This toxic combination can result in these individuals taking advantage of others, taking credit for their work, being overly critical, and generally behaving aggressively.”
People who work under such bosses have a higher instance of depression due to being bullied. Even those not directly bullied are still working within a toxic environment that can have the same effect on them, but those people are also more likely to use “undesirable” behaviors while at work. They’re more likely to engage in activity that is counterproductive or wasteful, and are also more likely to bully people in return.
Studies have shown that people often emulate the behaviors of bosses who get away with things, which can lead to a spiraling effect that leaks into other departments and other parts of their lives.
Working within a toxic environment is bad news for everyone, except for the people who create those environments. People with psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies desire power and lack the empathy to use that power responsibly. They are also becoming increasingly successful, with about 20 percent of top professionals having a lot of these traits, about the same percentage as found among prisoners. These high-performing but toxic individuals can be known as “successful psychopaths.”
The concept of the successful psychopath is controversial, but it’s been around for a while. In 1941, psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley coined the phrase to refer to a person who is “a hybrid creature, donning an engaging veil of normalcy that conceals an emotionally impoverished and profoundly disturbed core.” He defined the psychopath as one who is charming, but self-centered, dishonest and manipulative, who lead lives “devoid of deep interpersonal attachments.” Paradoxically, however, the successful psychopath is able to succeed interpersonally, at least in the short term.
In a 1946 article, Cleckley wrote that the successful psychopath will have “often outstripped 20 rival salesmen over a period of six months … or, in a first venture into politics, got himself elected…”