The corporate psychopath...con artist or master manipulator?
I was surprised because I didn't expect to see the topic of psychopathy pop up in a hometown paper. I was even more surprised because I really didn't expect to see it pop up there in this fashion - not just generically, but as part of a headline offering specific guidance to help people consider whether someone in a position of power over them may have the condition. Ponerology had definitely hit the Detroit Free Press.

The article entitled "20 signs your boss might be a psychopath" [see below] is written by Michael L. Diamond and originally appeared in the Asbury Park Press, a local paper from the New Jersey city made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Asbury Park Press, like the Detroit Free Press, is a Gannett Company. So it appears that the story was taken from one local paper and then shared with other local papers owned by the same holding company. Thus, it garnered attention in various areas of the country, but did so by means of local outlets.

Diamond's story quotes Kean University psychology professor Richard Conti. In a previous post, I've asked "should kids learn about poenology in school? Well, although he doesn't use (and may not know) the actual term ponerology, Conti seems to believe that, at least at the college level, they should. According to Diamond, Conti is teaching his students about "psychopathic traits found in business and government leaders," a subject that could hardly be more central to the work of Andrew M. Lobaczewski, author of Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, the book most responsible for popularizing the term ponerology.

Diamond mentions the public's "complicated relationship" with leaders who are often widely admired as brilliant and strong on account of the very traits that, viewed in another light, might reveal them to be devious and dangerous.

A student of Conti's is quoted, describing one of the characteristics of psychopaths. I see that quote - the words of a young woman expressing to a journalist her knowledge about a conscience-reducing condition that she has been taught in her school occurs among those in positions of power - as a symbol of something we desperately need more of.

Diamond then lists 20 traits associated with psychopathy, encouraging the reader to rate their boss on each to determine a final score. In the Asbury Park Press' original version of the article, a sub-headline in big letters above the article copy implores the reader to "Take the test below to find out if your boss shows psychopathic tendencies." If the score is high enough, Diamond even urges them to "call security."
20 signs your boss might be a psychopath
by Micael L. Diamond

Your boss is hard-driving and ambitious. He or she stops at nothing to get the needed results. And the boss has been promoted again and again.

The problem is, your boss might be a psychopath.

"Someone who has high self-esteem and low empathy," Richard Conti, a psychology professor at Kean University, said to his class. "Is that a good combination? No. It's a lethal combination."

Conti's class this semester at Kean University's Ocean County campus is studying psychopathic traits found in business and government leaders. Glib and self-assured? Manipulative? Lack of remorse? Check, check and check.

It brings attention to America's complicated relationship with leadership skills. Executives who bring those qualities to the table have been praised, promoted, well compensated - and sometimes imprisoned. After all, one person's psychopath is another person's genius.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was famous both for creating what would become America's most valuable company and for browbeating colleagues. Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Co. but also published anti-Semitic articles.

Were they technically psychopaths? It's highly unlikely. Psychopaths make up just 1 percent of the population, Conti said.
But psychopathic traits often turn up in executives and political leaders, he said.

Workers have to decide whether those traits benefit the organization, or whether they are harmful.
"They have an influx of confidence that almost isn't real," said Ruby Rosenberg, 27, of Toms River, and a student in Conti's class.

Is your boss a psychopath? To figure it out, look at 20 traits and ascribe a ranking from 0 to 2, 2 marking someone who definitely shows that characteristic. If the total score is more than 30 be careful. If it's more than 35, call security.

1. Glib and superficial charm. They are smooth, engaging, charming and never get tongue-tied.

2. Grandiose self-worth. They have a grossly inflated view of their abilities and think they are superior.

3. Need for stimulation. They get bored easily, need to take risks and don't stay in the same job for long.

4. Pathological lying. They can be deceptive, underhanded and dishonest.

5. Conning and manipulative. They will exploit others with no regard to the suffering they inflict.

6. Lack of remorse. They are cold-hearted and even have disdain for their victims.

7. Shallow affect. They have a limited range of feelings and, despite their gregariousness, are cold.

8. Callousness. A lack of feelings toward people in general.

9. Parasitic lifestyle. They have a selfish financial dependence on others.

10. Poor behavioral controls. They express irritability, annoyance, impatience and verbal abuse. They have trouble controlling their anger.

11. Promiscuous sexual behavior. They have brief, superficial relationships and take great pride in discussing their sexual exploits.

12. Early behavior problems. They lied, cheated, stole or bullied before age 13.

13. Lack of realistic long-term goals. They lead an aimless life and lack direction.

14. Impulsiveness. They can behave recklessly and don't consider their consequences.

15. Irresponsibility. They don't fulfill their obligations, default on loans, skip bills and fail to honor contracts.

16. Failure to accept responsibility for their actions. It shows low conscientiousness.

17. Many short-term relationships. They have many inconsistent and unreliable commitments in life.

18. Juvenile delinquency. They got in trouble when they were teenagers with crimes that involved antagonism, aggression or manipulation.

19. Revocation of condition release. In trouble already, their probation was revoked because of technical violations like failing to appear.

20. Criminal versatility. They commit a diversity of crimes and take great pride in getting away with it.
Now, obviously, this is not a truly valid means of assessment. A layperson cannot definitively diagnose or rule out psychopathy in anyone using a tool or method like this. But that is beside the point.

The point is that Diamond has planted a seed in his readers' minds, just like the seed his primary article subject, Richard Conti, has planted in the minds of his students. He has provided some basic information about the kinds of characteristics exhibited by psychopaths, which is not only educational, but sure to generate curiosity. And he has nurtured that curiosity, encouraging its development into - and the application of this newfound knowledge toward - healthy questioning about the nature of authority figures.

Both Diamond and Conti are contributing to the emergence in the public of wise skepticism and an enlightened form of discriminating thinking regarding the possibility of reduced capacities for empathy and conscience among those in power. For this, they should both be commended.I think the fact that that particular angle on ponerology - the possibility of psychopathy among workplace leadership - has repeatedly been key is appropriate.

Conscience-reducing disorders affect us profoundly whenever they influence our systems. They may even affect us more profoundly when they influence high levels of power structures. But it is perhaps easiest for most people new to the subject to begin to recognize their impact and relevance on a level at which they are very personally and directly affected.

The level on which this occurs most personally and directly is probably actually the family level. However, for a variety of reasons, there is often tremendous resistance, especially initially, to acknowledging such disturbing dysfunction within the family.

The next most personal and direct level at which to become conscious commonly involves a setting in which people viscerally experience the exercise - and, in some cases, abuse - of power over them on a daily basis, namely, at work. And in a climate in which the "bad boss" is a widely-accepted archetype - as lamented in countless after-work venting sessions and portrayed in iconic films and comic strips - circumstances are conducive for the awareness that is sometimes avoided in the family setting to blossom when contemplating the relationship dynamics in one's work experience.

To be certain, it is important - and surely Diamond and Conti both appreciate it - that people ultimately recognize ponerologic influences in other areas, including family and government. That's why I've included among relevant resources that I've shared ones that assist them in doing that.

But by focusing on psychopathic contacts, including bosses, at work - much as Robert Hare and Paul Babiak do in their highly significant and pertinent book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work - Diamond opens the door for his readers to, over time, make the necessary connections to become even more sufficiently ponerology-conscious.