Is Your Boss a Psychopath? Yes!
I just read your July cover story ("Is Your Boss a Psychopath?"). What an eye-opening article. Thank you for affirming a belief I've held about a previous nightmarish experience with a boss-who-shall-not-be-named (a la Voldemort). I second-guessed my integrity, but only because the psychopath did not see his behavior as dysfunctional and attempted to have me believe that I was the one with the problem. I intuitively did the coping tips you offered and am relieved to have this article as vindication. Maybe corporate culture will adjust with the knowledge that these psychopaths aren't worth the damage they cause.
Deanne R. Montgomery
Buffalo, New York
It's about time someone was brave enough to come out and expose the dark underside of psychopaths in the workplace. I hope that your article will be the watercooler topic of the month, the year, and the decade. At a time when our leading corporations have unprecedented power to control markets, shape our culture, and define our quality of life, the more corporate values reflect the values of toxic bosses, the more we collectively lose. Until we are able to shape corporate life around human values, the context for work won't bring out the best in human behavior, nor will it produce the kind of creativity that corporations all recognize they need in order to innovate and grow. Bravo to Fast Company and author Alan Deutschman for becoming part of a growing movement of ideas that is beginning to turn the tide in the other direction.
Sorry, but your top-10 list of evil bosses couldn't hold a candle to the bosses I and my other female friends have had. Working in Texas (the good-ole-boy, right-to-work state), we have had a boss who made us women call him "God" for three weeks so we could understand "the control and authority he had over our lives." When the HR department of this Fortune 500 company was notified, the man running it told us that it was "just his management style." I've had a boss who called me at 2 a.m. just to make sure I wasn't on a date, so I'd have enough sleep for an important meeting the next day. When I see articles about how the work environment has changed, I recall working in Texas. I think you're kidding yourself to think that times have changed that much, at least not in good-ole-boy states.
I don't know how Alan Deutschman was able to track down and interview my ex-boss for "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" What? He didn't actually interview her? Then how could he be so dead on about her psychopathic personality? About her egotistical and self-serving interests? No, he interviewed her! I can smell her superficiality and grandiose sense of self worth a mile away! Well, if he didn't, the bottom line is that though my coworkers and I were too scared to report her off-the-wall tactics to HR, she finally met her match, someone who did report her. She was ultimately asked to leave the company.
New York, New York
Your July cover story focused on corporate leaders. But what about national leaders? It's not just people like Stalin who were psychopathic. I'm sure other national leaders would qualify as psychopaths. I bet the same thing too for the narcissistic types. So, how about profiling the president, prime minister, or other politicians and including how they rate on the voter cards?
Of the 10 bosses (men and women) I've had over the last 13 years, 5 of them scored 16 on your quiz. All 5 of them ended up getting fired along with any secondary henchmen hanging onto their coattails. I was the person in each instance to raise issues about their behavior. Which led, of course, to my seeking new employment to escape while I had any shred of sanity. The fact that these people could get themselves promoted over more qualified (and humane) candidates says a great deal about that organization's top decision-making leadership and their oversight — and none of it is good.
I've been victimized by petty tyrants and conscienceless people my entire working life (at least when I wasn't in the military), so I am glad to see this type of thing coming into the light. It's almost a religious experience to know that others recognize and are able to articulate what I've seen so often.
Greater Cleveland, Ohio
My former boss, a female psychopath, was similar to a granola bar (half nuts, the rest flaky). She had the nerve to send me an email entitled "Plan for Sucess" [sic] and copy our VP on it. After I realized that she didn't know what success meant or even how to spell it, I resigned (after six years). Life is too short to let someone who's unhappy with her life try to ruin mine.
St. Louis, Missouri
God bless you for addressing workplace bullying and the psychopathic boss. As a high-school teacher, I am privileged to help students reach their full potential through high standards, love, and encouragement. So I was astounded when the charter school I worked for replaced a compassionate, inspirational leader with a truly psychopathic boss. This workplace bully had achieved some success at student recruitment in his former position and trained under another psychopath. Within one school quarter, he had turned a fragile, hard-working staff into a fearful, insecure mob of rumormongers. Teachers had been brought to tears, jobs had been regularly threatened, staff had been pitted against one another, and the lies and criticisms were ceaseless. Students, too, had become alienated by his unapproachable, often condescending demeanor. The corporate office, true to form, turned a blind eye, blatantly refusing to admit that it had made a poor administrative choice, preferring the possibility of increased revenue to the long-term vision of a positive school environment. I got out with my self-esteem barely intact, but others languish out of fear of unemployment. Warning: Don't confuse cruel, unethical, and devious behavior with "tough management." Psychopaths are too expensive for even the most financially viable companies.
Where Are the Crazy Women?
I am appalled by your complete lack of reference to women in "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" With women-owned businesses generating more than $2.5 trillion annually, I'd say there's a good chance that there are a few females in charge somewhere. Your article not only uses the pronoun "he" in every instance (even with a lame nod at your supposed reason for doing so), but there isn't one single visual image — both print and online — that references women executives. In doing this, you have managed to alienate a huge percentage of your female readers by violating a key journalistic rule of inclusiveness. You also send the clear message that "only men can be bosses." It's enough to make one psychopathic.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Actually, Leona Helmsley was cited as a "boss from hell," proving that women can indeed hold their own with men in this regard. But we'd also like to point out that this was an article exposing an atrocious style of management, not one to be emulated, and one at which men have excelled for centuries. Surely this is not a club to which women should aspire. We suggest that you look at the many positive articles we run about women managers, including, but by no means limited to, the recent lengthy package on top women business builders (May). In fact, we are aware not only of the economic power of women-owned businesses you cite but also of the high proportion of women readers of Fast Company (a much higher proportion than for any other business magazine), and we believe that much of our coverage reflects that awareness. We're sorry you feel that "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" failed in this regard, but really, don't you think this was one article women would be happy to be largely left out of?
Fast Company, Are You Nuts?
Being a longtime reader of the works of psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, I found your article to be the same psychobabble bulls — t that's excreted by all the other quacks (psychologists and psychiatrists) that medicalize behavior. A so-called psychopath is someone who doesn't have any morals. That's not the same as lacking an eyeball or a hand. Actually, a psychopath is someone who has a set of moral values we abhor; he or she has no qualms about the method of getting to his or her goal. If that means people losing their jobs to an overseas vendor, that's the breaks. The Aaron Feuersteins [CEO of Malden Mills] are few and far between. The psychopathic screening tests that Hare suggested wouldn't have caught anyone. Here's what Szasz said about intelligence tests: hocus-pocus used by psychologists to prove that they are brilliant and their clients stupid.
Martin D. Kessler
I strongly disagree with your harsh portrayal of Henry Ford in your July 2005 issue. He was one of the greatest innovators of his time. As for his strong antiunion stance, given the United Auto Workers' stranglehold on the automotive industry today, I'd like to think Henry's heart was in the right place. Also, you mentioned an affair. Didn't the great Jack Welch dump his wife? So is he a psychopath, too?
Three Rings Full of Ideas
I let out a whoop when I saw your story on Cirque du Soleil ("Join the Circus," July). Two years ago, I cofounded the Dreambuilders Community. Our purpose is to help artists think more entrepreneurially and entrepreneurs think more artistically. Right away, we saw Cirque as the personification of this idea. We now do seminars in Las Vegas twice a year that include attending a Cirque performance so our participants can see how creativity and commerce can coexist beautifully. Thanks for spotlighting this delightful, unique company.
Barbara J. Winter
The story "Join the Circus" (July 2005) erroneously referred to a partnership between Cirque du Soleil and Carnival Cruise Lines. Cirque's partnership is with Celebrity Cruise Lines.
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A version of this article appeared in the August 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.