How Do You Recognise the Corporate Psychopath Before It Is Too Late?

Last Updated May 21, 2009 10:28 PM EDT

The subject of corporate psychopaths, or snakes-in-suits, is increasingly getting wide attention. I attended a one-day seminar last year attended by around 100 participants of whom at least 80% were seeking revenge as they had been shafted by a corporate psychopath at work or in marriage. I have already discussed some of their characteristics in my previous blog namely their charm and ability to deceive and their view that life is a game with winners and losers and they are winners.

Other characteristics are their manipulative and parasitic behaviour, lack of ethics, desire for power, and very active players in corporate politics. In particular they are very good at claiming credit for other people's ideas and blaming others for their own mistakes. The problem is that all these behaviours take time to recognise and often it is too late.

How do you recognise a corporate psychopath in five minutes? You use the TOPDOG system I outlined in earlier blogs and remembering that a corporate psychopath is defined as someone with a lot of Hustler component and little if any Normal.
Talk: Corporate psychopaths are charming but two things give them away. After asking what you do for a living and finding out where you work, they will soon drop names by asking if you know some important person and implicitly showing they associate with winners. Also corporate psychopaths are driven by the desire for material success so they will talk about recent gambling wins or successful trades on the stock market. In social gatherings they will first spend their initial conversation looking intently at you, but if they decide they should be spending time with someone more important, will start looking around the room trying to see if such a person exists. Their interests outside of work either include gambling interests such as horse racing, or expensive "winner" sports like sailing or skiing.

Organisation and Position: Corporate psychopaths are found everywhere and one major clue is frequent career changes. However they are happiest in sales and middlemen roles where they act between buyers and sellers and the result of their work is high commissions or bonuses. Many of them are agents. Indeed Ari Gold of Entourage is a wonderful portrayal of a corporate psychopath. Of course corporate psychopaths are very common in business. Enron was full of them. One side effect of the demise of investment banking industry will be many more psychopaths working in other business areas. What differentiates psychopaths from the successful business person is the lack of a sense of ethics. They both play golf; but the psychopath will cheat while the true golfer will call the penalty against himself.

In my next blog I will cover some other major clues.