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Cambridge Network hosted a very interesting talk last week by Clive Boddy, Professor of Leadership and Organisation Behaviour at Middlesex University. His topic was bullying in the workplace and, more specifically, the impact Corporate Psychopaths have on a business. 

Chainsaw

Corporate Psychopaths??? These are guys (yes, they are usually guys) whose drive & outward charm gets them fast tracked to the top of organisations where they bring chaos and ultimately destroy, rather than create, business value. Inevitably, references were made to Enron and the various players involved in the 2008 financial crash, the implication being that maybe these were not so much cases of corporate greed but rather of corporate psychopathy. And some useful pointers were provided for identifying these (anything but lovable) rogues as they make their way up the corporate ladder.

From the boardroom’s perspective – at least in the short term – the guy is a star performer challenging the status quo, shaking things up and generally rearranging the corporate furniture. However, the toll on hitherto loyal staff can be very high and a rapidly rising staff turnover is often the first outward sign that anything’s amiss. By then it’s too late; the real talent in the company has taken flight and the business is coming apart at the seams.

You can probably all think of a manager from your past (or, if you’re really unlucky, your present) who you would nominate for the title of corporate psycho. Could they have been stopped? Professor Boddy didn’t offer much cheer except that we might reduce the incidence of corporate psychopathy if we fast tracked more women to the top; they are less likely to run amok. And 360° appraisals also help. I tend to agree with both suggestions.

Being in the Interim Management business myself, I am only too aware that our best leads come from referrals – and these referrals are just as likely to be upwards (ie from people in the teams we have managed) as well as downwards from the people we have worked for; a sort of in built 360° appraisal and recommendation process. As far as I can see, there is no overlap between the Corporate Psychopath and the jobbing Interim Manager.

You can catch more of Prof Boddy on YouTube.

Update 26 March 2015:

Just finished watching House of Cards Season 3. Frank Underwood must be the ultimate Corporate Psychopath.

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