Quiz: Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

The standard clinical test for psychopathy, Robert Hare's PCL-R, evaluates 20 personality traits overall, but a subset of eight traits defines what he calls the "corporate psychopath" — the nonviolent person prone to the "selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others." Does your boss fit the profile? Here's our do-it-yourself quiz drawing on the test manual and Hare's book Without Conscience. (Disclaimer: If you're not a psychologist or psychiatrist, this will be a strictly amateur exercise.) We've used the pronoun "he," but research suggests psychologists have underestimated the psychopathic propensity of women.

For each question, score two points for "yes," one point for "somewhat" or "maybe," and zero points for "no."

[1] Is he glib and superficially charming?

Is he a likable personality and a terrific talker — entertaining, persuasive, but maybe a bit too smooth and slick? Can he pass himself off as a supposed expert in a business meeting even though he really doesn't know much about the topic? Is he a flatterer? Seductive, but insincere? Does he tell amusing but unlikely anecdotes celebrating his own past? Can he persuade his colleagues to support a certain position this week — and then argue with equal conviction and persuasiveness for the opposite position next week? If he's a CEO, can he appear on TV and somehow get away without answering the interviewer's direct questions or saying anything truly substantive?


[2] Does he have a grandiose sense of self-worth?

Does he brag? Is he arrogant? Superior? Domineering? Does he feel he's above the rules that apply to "little people"? Does he act as though everything revolves around him? Does he downplay his legal, financial, or personal problems, say they're just temporary, or blame them on others?


[3] Is he a pathological liar?

Has he reinvented his own past in a more positive light — for example, claiming that he rose from a tough, poor background even though he really grew up middle class? Does he lie habitually even though he can easily be found out? When he's exposed, does he still act unconcerned because he thinks he can weasel out of it? Does he enjoy lying? Is he proud of his knack for deceit? Is it hard to tell whether he knows he's a liar or whether he deceives himself and believes his own bull?


[4] Is he a con artist or master manipulator?

Does he use his skill at lying to cheat or manipulate other people in his quest for money, power, status, and sex? Does he "use" people brilliantly? Does he engage in dishonest schemes such as cooking the books?


[5] When he harms other people, does he feel a lack of remorse or guilt?

Is he concerned about himself rather than the wreckage he inflicts on others or society at large? Does he say he feels bad but act as though he really doesn't? Even if he has been convicted of a white-collar crime, such as securities fraud, does he not accept blame for what he did, even after getting out of prison? Does he blame others for the trouble he causes?


[6] Does he have a shallow affect?

Is he cold and detached, even when someone near him dies, suffers, or falls seriously ill — for example, does he visit the hospital or attend the funeral? Does he make brief, dramatic displays of emotion that are nothing more than putting on a theatrical mask and playacting for effect? Does he claim to be your friend but rarely or never ask about the details of your life or your emotional state? Is he one of those tough-guy executives who brag about how emotions are for whiners and losers?


[7] Is he callous and lacking in empathy?

Does he not give a damn about the feelings or well-being of other people? Is he profoundly selfish? Does he cruelly mock others? Is he emotionally or verbally abusive toward employees, "friends," and family members? Can he fire employees without concern for how they'll get by without the job? Can he profit from embezzlement or stock fraud without concern for the harm he's doing to shareholders or pensioners who need their savings to pay for their retirements?


[8] Does he fail to accept responsibility for his own actions?

Does he always cook up some excuse? Does he blame others for what he's done? If he's under investigation or on trial for a corporate crime, like deceitful accounting or stock fraud, does he refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even when the hard evidence is stacked against him?



If your boss scores:

1-4 | Be frustrated
5-7 | Be cautious
8-12 | Be afraid
13-16 | Be very afraid

Add New Comment


  • Mike Stroud

    A lot of self-pitying whining going on in these comments!! Take responsibility for yourself for christ's sake.

    Amusing article, but I'd like to reassure everyone that it's highly unlikely your boss is a psychopath.

    There is an excellent part-comedy/part-serious book called The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson - reading that will lend some perspective to this.

  • Leslie S

    When you get a job as a butcher in a slaughter house, the first kill is difficult to accept. You do it and feel awful.  But... after a week or two, you become immune to taking lives of animals.

    The psychopath boss has become immune to feelings when on the job, and is probably caring when he is not at work.

    I wonder what the divorce rate is for these psychopathic (psychotic) people?

  • Jean Smith

    Be very cautious about sharing any personal or family information with this type of person.  I stopped discussing any private issues with anyone in the company years ago, but somehow people seem to know about my medical history, what goes on in my neighborhood and my family situations.  I have been blacklisted at medical and dental offices and haven't been able to get a decent haircut in quite some time.  I know it's a result of my work situation.  People have made comments, both specific and non-specific, within earshot of my cubicle that address my situation. To say anything would make me look unstable, because the offenders have the support of most employees (cronyism or fear of unemployment).  "When I ask someone to do something, they should just do it.  Next time they get a haircut they could end up bald."  (paraphrased, but very close)  Any friendships I had are gone, and I don't talk to my family anymore since they've indirectly befriended my family members.  My wishes for justice to anyone else who is putting up with this abnormal behavior.

  • Jean Smith

    I can identify with the comment about the "mobbing".  I watched the same thing happen to three other former coworkers that I know of, and now I am the target du jour.  The exact same situation: I haven't had a review in several years and they're trying to take work away from me.  Of course, no one has ever addressed any performance shortfalls with me, but it's obvious from the way that I'm treated that I must be the worst employee ever.  I believe my only shortfall is that I signed up for, and paid for, my own training since I was never given the training I was promised.  Now that I have a better idea of what my job entails, and I'm asking questions, the reigning individuals aren't happy.

  • taralynnbeatty

    mine gets a 15 and I too was (am) very afraid.  six years on my job that I loved and a whole lot of excellent work, but I got burned by not seeing the signs in time, the final 2 years or so... I didn't know about this, and once I found out what I was dealing with, part of me still didn't believe it would really happen. 

    I finally lost my job, my credibility, my professional network, friends, my physical health, and trying to recover from PTSD - sometimes I wonder if maybe she'll come to my house to shoot me next (or have her ex con husband do it). I really don't have much else to lose, and I am really not sure how to live like this, now no income to pay my bills. my husband who works there is working on fleeing the job too since supporters of me (the target) are likely the next target.  I technically still have "a job", but if you've seen "office space", the guy with red stapler comes to mind. After I supposedly accused my supervisor of harassment/bullying (all true what she did, but I never filed charges, just tried to solve the problem, then tried to get away as clean as possible) but the company revoked a promotion, saying it it was performance, ironic a sudden decline in opinion of me after rumour of my supposedly filing harassment charges hit the grapevine (i wasn't filing anything; she was just paranoid and I was just hoping to move on, in a new job, and operate reasonably well while trying to recover) - but I was sucked back into the clutches of the prior toxic division I narrowly escaped from. There, my sole supporter became a pathetic liar (bureau director who supported me prior and knew some shade of truth about my supervisor), and they all bonded into a cohesive mobbing, organizationally sanctioned now with HR treating me as if I'm a criminal, and invented a bogus job for me. Still nobody said what was wrong, just that there was no longer any work for me in the prior role (I can prove that is not true with no effort at all as we were perpetually understaffed and the position was critical to fill). They removed all my specific functions from an area that's actually quite tough to fill, where experience is specific and incredibly valuable, where I was specifically trained, qualified and proven successful, and had 12 yrs building a career toward this area of work. 

    With zero actual cause, other than I supposedly alleged "harassment", they placed me to start over in an unrelated area of work where there's redundant coverage and I have zero value compared to the throngs of experienced individuals already working there. there was a gigantic staging of cubicle rearrangement so that the people in that work area could be incredibly inconvenienced, and they were "warned" about me but promised that I would be isolated and not likely to bother them. Others were told my time there would be limited, so not to worry, since I'll be gone soon. So the whole setup is clearly to set me up for constructive dismissal. It was too hard to prove me as not competent in my area of expertise so I think they believe they can "prove" my incompetence by putting me where I have to learn the work from scratch; or if I actually take the bull by horns and do well enough, they'll just make me miserable, humiliated or something (i don't know what but that's why I'm scared; maybe they'll assault me next) They'll do whatever they need to so I leave my union covered position. At this point, the psychopath supervisor had successfully launched a mobbing, meaning game-over, no matter how good I was at my job, no matter how hard I try. It's a group-think now that I cannot stop. And the world is convinced by the manipulation and lies she's spun. The clever lies and character destruction are gently seeded over time, so recipients never feel they are to "bash" me, but even think she is reluctantly 'reaching out' out of no other choice. Once loose and growing via grapevine, she watches these seeds work via others (often good people) who unwittingly help to destroy me, meanwhile she keeps her hands clean smiling in the distance looking like a wonderful person. 

    Now I'm out on extended sick leave suffering PTSD and related physical ailments, chronic pain and so forth, and can't function anywhere near what I used to. What amazes me is nobody asks the logical question: "why did this happen that this employee who used to be a highly regarded excellent worker, but seems to have suddenly become the sh*t everyone wants to scrape off their shoe?"  "why is there no reprimand or bad evaluation, just history of accomplishments, then she started seeming a little stressed?.... what specifics has this employee done wrong?" Nobody asks, because the psychopath manipulates and keeps everything vague, innuendo and only presents problems behind my back informally, and never makes anything official. If it were official and out on the table, it could be argued or addressed by facts. I know the psychopath does this by nature, but what really baffles me is why do other good people not see through this when it would seem even slight questioning for fact or exercising common sense would shed light on truth. I think it's because being part of the "mobbing" gives people what they need and the group camaraderie is something this toxic workplace lacks by healthier means. I just wish I didn't have to be the sacrificial lamb with my career and health destroyed to feed their needs. 

    In conclusion, if you have a high scorer that you report to, this is accurate, and it's important to get out fast. 

  • Hlary K. Johnson

    My former boss scored out of the park!  Had no idea what the company was supposed to be doing, but he had friends on the Board who all came from the same company prior to this one.  Liar, thief, ruined the company; BUT...guess who's literally got all the millions now?  His small group who knew how to do the work to develop the assets he stole from the company - and now they're all multi-millionnnaires and never have to work a day in their lives.  But he and his two co-conspirators laughed at all the rest of us who really cared about the company as these 3 created incredible and illegal schemes to not only wipe out all the shareholders but try to destroy all those who were the backbone of the company and did all the work by first creating absurd and untrue facts to discredit us in case we ever talked and then eliminated us one by one while they played merry-go-round sex and ended up filthy rich.  Egos, sociopathic personalities and blood as cold as ice.  But although they are very wealthy monetarily, the rest of the world recognizes them for what they are.  Now all they have is each other in their pathetic lives.  I feel like I'm much better off than they and can laugh again because I can feel happiness again; their only laughter was over the "brilliance" of their horrors and the cries they caused from others and the lives they hoped they ruined.  Wouldln't want to be them.

  • Gary Martins

    This is an interesting article. My best suggestions is that we strive to make a difference and focus on professional development of our leadership skills. Furthermore, when put in this type of a situation, transform your organization and team in a moral and ethical way. I suggest reading Burns, his work is excellent. We all can help make companies psychologically safe, healthy, and fullfulling places to be.

  • poem essay poem essay

    I know one boss who is not adequate person. He aways shouts and shouts. He is stupid.He likes to read poem essay standing on his head.

  • Robin Son

    With all these math works, my boss certainly is a physcopath. But even after knowing this, what I could do regarding that? Just think of it. Robinson

  • steve venson

    I think most of the bosses will come as Psychopath. It is the work pressure and also the money invested in their business which makes them so.


  • John Chellaiya

    LOL. My boss score is coming as 10 when calculated. We all are afraid of him already in the office. Good analysis Guys.


  • met apin

    I know for sure my boss is not adequate person. He shouts, shouts, shouts. He is idiot. For example, he likes to play bonus slot games shouting different bad words.