Modern leader, or mad manipulator? There could be a psychopath in a power position near you

This is at once a terrifying and an enlightening book. Its central premise is that we underestimate the extent to which people with psychopathic personalities have penetrated our organisations. Not all psychopaths are serial killers – psychopathy is a common personality disorder whose defining characteristics are the absence of empathy, conscience, guilt or loyalty.

Most of us probably believe we would spot this immediately. The book tells us we would not. It explains how and why we might be so readily manipulated. One reason is that many psychopathic characteristics can be confused with “modern” leadership. So impulsive risk taking can be mistaken for boldness, plausible story telling for charisma, egocentricity for determination, enjoyment of conflict for courage.

“The psychopath is at the top, acting the corporate saviour while abusing the organisation and plundering assets”

As the authors show, when colleagues do raise a red flag, the message is often ignored at the top, sometimes because the psychopath is at the top, acting the corporate saviour while abusing the organisation and colleagues and sometimes plundering assets.

The authors reckon psychopathy occurs in about 1 per cent of the population. So you are bound to know one and it is not hard to think of certain well-known politicians and bosses whose apparently mystifying lack of conscience is explained by the definition the authors offer.

All managers and HR people should read this book, with its welcome absence of jargon, clear diagnoses, and warnings. Once you know what to look for you are much better placed to get your defences in place.

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