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Psychopaths flourish in top management positions as bad times persist

April 2012

Psychopaths are flourishing at the top of the corporate ladder at a rate four times higher than the normal population new research shows – they’re rising because of bad economic times, and will prevent early solutions to the global financial crisis.
“The recent high profile resignation of Goldman Sachs trader, South African Greg Smith, who expressed disgust with management practices that were contemptuous of clients is an example of how traumatic such ‘bosses’ can be for their staff,” Liza van Wyk, CEO of national management training company AstroTech said in Johannesburg today.
Quoting new research from Britain’s Clive Boddy who developed the first diagnostic test for psychopathy in 1980, Van Wyk said: “Boddy believes that the 2007-2008 financial crisis has resulted in a proliferation of psychopathic personalities in the corner office. He says that as companies rely more on academic achievement scores and poach high-performing executives instead of encouraging long careers in their companies, more psychopaths are getting to the top. Additional new research from psychopathy expert, Robert Hare in Canada has found that about four percent of senior managers globally now display psychopathic tendencies, up from the one percent that is the norm among the general population.”
Van Wyk said, “we may have some of the worst legions of managers and political leaders ever, and that is why stewardship out of this economic crisis is lagging.  There are deficiencies in emotional intelligence, sound people management skills, and empathy or real team spirit – not just rah-rah sloganeering – in the workplace.”
She said, “The good news is that companies know it. They keep getting hit by fraud, poor earnings, sluggish growth and unhappy workforces. They know that they have to change and so we see considerable interest in courses like those in people management, emotional intelligence and other core- management skills programmes.” A November report from PriceWaterhouse Coopers shows a 13 percent increase in workplace crime since 2009, with an average cost per company of $5 million: 56 percent of companies say the offenders were employees.
And in the United Kingdom controversy is raging over the training of British managers according to the Financial Times. It said that almost half of British managers think their immediate superior is ineffective. It warned that a “culture of bad management” is damaging the UK economy. The Chartered Management Institute and Penna, a human resources company, said that of 4,500 managers surveyed, 43 percent described their line manager as ineffective.
The FT said that only a fifth of U.K. managers have a professional management qualification, a lower proportion than in Germany or France.  “We have significantly lower levels of management expertise in South Africa and it is little wonder that they underperform and have rebellious staff,” Van Wyk noted.
The response of many poorly trained managers, Van Wyk said, was to bully staff. “And a new study published in the U.S.A. echoes that of every study before it: employees with bully-bosses become physically ill. The survey found that around 14 percent of U.S. workers have an abusive boss, who humiliates or insults employees, and isolates them from co-workers.
Van Wyk said that psychopaths are successful in the workplace because they are driven, charming and without scruples. “They will lie, steal, and connive to get what they want.  They have no empathy or conscience.  They will set up someone else to be the fall guy as they blind bosses with charm. Trouble is on closer examination these people don’t really perform. They talk up a storm but never batten down the hatches. They are poor implementers. They get bored and move on.”
A recent CNN investigation said such bosses or employees: “Steal credit for accomplishments and transfer blame for mistakes. Psychopaths have shallow, short-term sexual relationships - often in the workplace - and are easily bored. They take risks without concern for the ramifications.” Van Wyk noted: “Many of the multi-billion rand losses of money by money market traders and corporate bosses have been performed by psychopaths. They don’t care. It’s a game.”
Paul Babiak, a New York industrial psychologist who wrote the global best-seller, Snakes in Suits on psychopaths in the workplace said psychopaths are drawn to powerful people and positions. "They play head games with people and make good money at it," said Babiak, "They're not stupid. They can decode what's expected of them and play the part."


LIZA VAN WYK, CEO ASTROTECH, Johannesburg landline: 011 582 3200
Mobile: 0824668975

Written by Charlene Smith