My Boss Is Almost a Psychopath

Dear Anne:

I was reading a review of Almost a Psychopath by Ronald Schouten and James Silver about the applications of the authors’ findings to the corporate world.  I started to feel the hair rise on my neck – they were describing my boss!  He charms and manipulates his way into the hearts and minds of his employees, ruthlessly steps on and over them to achieve his goals, then completely lacks empathy for them if they complain, grandly extolling his accomplishments.  The terrible paradox is that our company is wildly successful because of his leadership.  The work is fascinating, the salaries are high, and the benefits extensive, but interactions with my boss frustrate me to the point of ruining every day.  How can I keep this great job but still work for an “almost psychopath”?

Dear Neck:

Work: It's Personal by Anne Giles ClellandThe very qualities that make deals happen in business can be dealbreakers in relationships.  A true psychopath is dysfunctional and automatically breaks rules, wreaking havoc in organizations and damaging its people.  In contrast, an “almost psychopath,” as the authors define one, is functional.  He or she can strategically calculate the costs and benefits of compliance with, or defiance of, rules.  The aim of the “almost psychopath” is to achieve power and its manifestations – status, influence, public success, or money – whatever is the motivator.  When power is the goal, what people can do is part of the equation, but not how they feel.  Business may flourish but relationships don’t when people are only valued partially.

When working for a successful boss who wants power, uses artificial warmth or any means necessary to get it, and lacks compassion for the people who assist him or her in achieving power, your skills, not you, are all that’s important to your boss.  You might wish things were different, but they’re not.  Can you accept that your boss does not, and will never, value his relationship with you – and might even be unable to have relationships at all?

If so, you can then step back and decide whether or not the behavior of your boss is a dealbreaker for you.  If you need your boss to value you and his relationship with you, the frustrations will mount.  Can you get your very normal, human need to be in mutually valuing relationships met through your business, personal and community networks?  If so, take your mind, not your heart, into dealings with your boss.  You protect yourself, are no longer frustrated by wanting the boss to provide something you know he cannot, and reap the benefits of working for a successful leader, albeit in a relationship-less state.


Need help with a personal problem at work? E-mail your question to Anne Giles Clelland at [email protected].

Please include the subject line "Workplace Advice." Anne regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Valley Business FRONT's Workplace Advice Column, written by Handshake 2.0's Anne Giles Clelland, appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT and in the collection Work: It's Personal. A version of this column first appeared in the September, 2012 issue.

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