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Warm Take: I Don't Care if Your Boss is a Psychopath. June 13, 2021

Christian Bale/American Psycho business card scene. "Impressive. Very nice."
May 7, 2021: This issue originally went out to supporters of the newsletter in June 2021; I'm slowly unpaywalling most older issues, and wanted to link to this piece in today's newsletter.

They’re smarter than we are. They move seamlessly through the world, possibly not subject to rules of space-time that bind ordinary mortals. They have endless resources.  They’re kind of sexy.  And they’re evil.

No, not vampires. Or the 1%. I’m talking about psychopaths.

Try a search on “my boss is a psychopath” and you’ll find…a lot.

Like this Harvard Business Review article, Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

Rather than tear this article to shreds — because it’s just not good — let’s talk about where it’s published. And I’ll come back to psychopaths.

Harvard Business Publishing is a media organization that produces a magazine, books, podcasts, online articles and more. They have three market segments, one of which is individual managers — you. Their online outlets are branded as HBR.

My hypothesis is that not every article is a peer-reviewed font of factual information. Several times I’ve subscribed to, and subsequently rage-quit, their Management Tip of the Day newsletter.

Their management tips are…not uniformly good. Some of them aren’t about management. And is this a tip? About managing?

Timebox your feelings. Set a timer for between 30-50 minutes (the time it typically takes for feelings like shame to dissipate) and allow yourself to fully experience and process your emotions.

No, it is not a tip. It’s fodder for conversation with your therapist, partner, mom, bff, pastor. Or, maybe, your executive coach, not incidentally the profession of Melody Wilding; this not-tip was extracted from her Stop Being so Hard on Yourself.

As the proprietor of a one-person business, I am always looking at other single-person businesses. How do they do it? What’s their business model? Might it work for me?

Dorie Clark offers a suite of services to mid-career professionals who want to make career shifts and brand their businesses. Like coaches. I’ve read two of her books. Dorie's work ethic, expertise and productivity look epic. If I wanted to 10X my one-person business, I would hope to have the option to hire Dorie as my coach.

Dorie offers an online course about pitching and writing for high profile publications. Like Harvard Business Review.

Her course description opens a little door to some of what we might find online at HBR. “Writing for High Profile Publications is for professionals who know that breaking into top tier publications will help their brand and their careers, and want to make this a priority,” Dorie says. She goes on to explain the reasons that writing for HBR and others can burnish a writer's reputation. She’s not wrong.

So, everything at HBR isn’t simply for you. It’s also for the canny author who seeks the platform of an elite institutional brand.

When you scan the author bios at HBR online, you’ll find a good number of executive coaches, people who own coaching businesses, and other people who look like, well, me. Huh.

Presumably, HBR employs people to vet pitches and edit presentation of statistical information, like this:

Estimates vary, but perhaps 3.9 percent of corporate professionals could be described as having psychopathic tendencies, a figure considerably higher than is found in the general population. From these observations we can deduce that many people working in organizations have a fair chance of having an experience with a pathological boss.

Feels sciencey! If something's not presented as a fact, does it need to be fact-checked?

I stumbled down the rabbit hole of psychopathy while writing about competence, the topic of the upcoming issue of On Management.

I've tried several times to read/listen to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?  (And How to Fix It). "Chapter 3, Why Bad Guys Win," is 48 minutes of an audiobook that clocks in at 4 hours and 55 minutes. It attempts to describe the psychopaths and narcissists who might be our bosses.

And I can’t get past this, it just stops me. The book is not making me competent to do anything that might need doing about a psychopath.

In addition to trying to read the book, I’ve read some of Chamorro-Premuzic’s articles, and listened to podcast interviews. His core message is that we have incompetent leaders because we’re bad at hiring. We’re bad at promoting people, too. We boost some people’s careers because of their confidence, charisma, and other personality traits that don’t correlate to competence. And spoiler alert, men are likelier to display these traits, and be rewarded for them, than women are.

A solid message.  Maybe it just wasn’t book length, though. It’s also not sexy. Like vampires. I mean, psychopaths.

I didn’t spend too much time investigating psychopathology. As a layperson, it was more like peeling an orange than an onion. Like me, most of us aren't competent to diagnose someone else.

Also, it’s not important.

As managers and workers here's what's important:  when we see someone bullying, lying, being cruel, or acting in ways that seem harmful, we should take action.  If our actions can't change the situation, we should consider whether we have the good fortune to move on.

And it's also important to read even the most authoritative resources with a critical eye.

There are still a few kinks to be worked out in migrating my newsletter to the new service. The paywalled archive is a problem right now. Yikes.

However, it looks like we've worked out any payment issues.  I’ve reached out to several people who were billed incorrectly.  If you didn’t hear from me, and you feel like something went wrong, please let me know.  I will make it right.

Thank you for inviting me to your inbox, and for supporting On Management.

And a bit off my usual routine, I wrote this Warm Take with Saturday morning’s coffee, and edited on Sunday. There still may be typos and incomplete thoughts. It is not professionally edited or fact-checked.  Much of it is my own opinion and analysis.  It is what it is!*

Stay cool, and may and your loved ones be safe, healthy and free.

Anne Libby

*until I go back, later, and edit it – which indeed, I have done.

Why do Americans create and consume so much entertainment about serial killers?