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

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