I haven’t actually worked for too many bosses, so maybe this isn’t true for everybody, just for me. Out of three bosses I have had two of them turned out to be crazy. They played mean tricks on their employees, especially women, and would make these strange rules out of the blue, like when I was a salesman and the owner of the place decided one day that we all needed to wear ugly red-striped shirts for about six months. He said it would make people buy more and make us stand out. One said nobody could put up pictures of their families or pets at their workstation because we worked for him, not our pets. I’m surprised he didn’t give us each a picture of him to put on our desks. These guys weren’t people you would like to invite to your home or have around your family. Is there something about being a boss that does something to your brain? Or do people with something wrong with their brains make it to positions of power? Am I going to have to put up with this the rest of my working life?
— Lucky to have a job, San Diego
This answer is going to explain so much. It’s based on research in business environments, but it sounds suspiciously like politics, too. You couldn’t have asked your question at a better time.
Back many eons ago, before yours truly was recognized by the world as the brain I am, I actually had a boss. Back before computers were ubiquitous in the workplace. People used things called typewriters; kids, ask your parents. So, for example, my insufferably arrogant bossy boss insisted that his letters go out without any corrections in them. Typo-free. No Wite-Out, no type corrector, no eraser, nothing. And perfectly centered on the page. I noticed that telling this to a secretary guaranteed she (all were shes back then) would be incapable of typing even the simplest memo. Hands shook, breathing went sharp and shallow, eyes filled with tears. Sometimes he’d watch, just for the fun of it, as each made try after try to get it right. Every day this went on. Every day. I assume no one kept track of how much expensive letterhead or time he was wasting, or the secretarial turnover.
We have to clarify here, a psychotic is not an ax murderer. Well, he might be, but it’s not that extreme we’re talking about. A psychotic, according to science, is someone who’s manipulative, has no empathy or remorse — no feelings for other people, is very egotistical, with a tendency to abuse others in one way or another. Not physically, much more subtly than that, but with the ability to schmooze his way out of scrapes. There are written tests that will pick out a psychopath with surprising accuracy, testing for glib and superficial charm, sexual promiscuity, and pathological lying, all proven to correlate with psychopathic behavior.
Recently, psychologists from the University of British Columbia and the University of North Texas set about studying the mind of the corporate up-and-comer, the guys and gals that CEOs saw as potential stars in their firmament. A battery of tests to 203 such subjects indicated that 1 in every 25 qualified as a psychopath, based on a standard psychological test for psychopathy. A scary 3.9 percent of them were at the top of the psycho pile, full-fledged; that compares to 0.02 percent of such loonies in the general population. Another 6 percent were walking a thin line between full psycho and merely kinda’ psycho. The general population yields only 1.2 percent. In general, the up-and-comers matched average Joes in the mid-range of the psycho curve, but the business guys were more extreme at the upper end of the curve.
The real mind-bender in this study is the fact that the nine most far-out psychos had risen highest in their companies. And the psych profs found that many in upper management already knew, or suspected, that these people were wacko.
How do the up-and-comers get away with this? Psychotics generally lack realistic goals, but upper management wants to interpret their strange ideas as being “visionary,” a highly regarded quality in an employee. Someone who has no empathy, remorse, or feelings for others generally appears to be good at making or carrying out “tough” business decisions and being “cool under fire.” They get high marks in communication (a.k.a. manipulation) and creative thinking (no reality check). And they’re seen as extremely charismatic. What’s worse, a review of these scary folks’ past job performances shows that they’ve been dinged by their bosses for their bad management style, for not being team players, and poor job performance in general. You or me? We’d be out on the street. We’re not psycho enough to manipulate our way around the boardroom brains. Why some psychopaths become killers and others become CEOs is unknown. A psychopath apparently has the drive to claw his/her way to the top, and once they get there they exploit the power. Truly depressing, the whole thing. But as I said, it explains a lot.