“Psychopaths are often very charming and funny”

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There are bosses who take the achievements of his or her employees as their own. Bosses who scream when something is not working as they want. Bosses who are indecisive. Bosses who never praise. Bosses who are rarely there. Mean bosses. For workers these higher-ups are feared. Nevertheless, they are found in some of the best companies. In a survey about personnel by Randstad, 91 percent of employees think their employer can improve their personnel management skills.

But why is it like that? This question has been researched by the business coach Suzanne Grieger-Langer. As CEO of Grieger-Long Group, headquartered in Frankfurt am Main, she offers worldwide personnel consultancy and is a best-selling author and lecturer at several universities. She gives tips to entrepreneurs on how to identify good leaders and not to hire possibly bad ones.

Mrs. Grieger-Langer, why there are so many bad bosses?
The English have a fitting proverb: Cream rises to the top but so does scum. This is similar among executives. On the one hand there are high-performers and their convincing performances. They are mature, self-reflective and fully competent people and thus attractive for any company. But as to scum, however, there are two groups: the loser and the psychopath. Both are masters of cheating and deceiving. Approximately one percent of the world population is a psychopath – in top management they make up close to 14.5 percent.

Do you realize that if you’re standing in front of them?
It’s not so easy. The losers often seem mainstream. In them nothing is individual or edgy. On a resume, they do what everyone does. They only wear hip designer clothes. And they have done internships where everyone wishes to have worked. They go with the flow.

Is that automatically bad?
Not necessarily, but losers don’t have a great deal of own performance. They copy others, steal their ideas and exaggerate what they have done so far. For example, they often have done internships in well-known companies. This is what the high-performers do. But unlike the losers they don’t talk too much about it. Losers are often a “professional son or daughter”. They lack the drive to make something of their own on their own two feet. It is also interesting that the losers even believe themselves to be good. They not only deceive their superiors, but also themselves. And if something goes wrong, they are always blaming others.

How to recognize a psychopath?
This is even more difficult than in the case of losers. Because psychopaths are often very charming and funny. When you meet them, you usually bask in their attention. Here you often don’t realize that you are dealing with someone without humanity. They aren’t well-acquainted with empathy or compassion. They are tough, when it comes to defending their interests. They only work on their own agenda.

That sounds dangerous.
It is. The trouble for businesses is that psychopaths target the achievers. But they usually find a new job quickly. What remains are the psychopaths and the jerks. This weakens any business.

How would you describe the leadership style of Oliver Samwer?
I don’t know him so I cannot say anything about him.

And the style of Steve Jobs?
He was a narcissist. Such people are often needed in the company in order to be really successful. They fight to ensure that it goes forward. They have visions and see changes as a good thing. With low performers they usually have no patience. It was known that Steve Jobs yelled at his staff sometimes. He did so but only if they said that something was impossible.

How important is it that supervisors make their employees happy?

That is not the task of leaders. Their goal is always the product or service. Normally employees have fun when working with the right people.

What advice would you give founders when employing executives?

The main thing is that they should make the effort to check statements in resumes and interviews. If someone claims to have been to a particular university, you should call them and ask if this is really true. Moreover, one should never confuse clarity and consistency with hardness. Otherwise you will probably have a psychopath, without realizing it. One should also test whether someone fits into the team. You will actually notice this very quickly if you talk to the others and hear what they have to say about the person.

And what advice would you give candidates?
You should act at the interview as you are. All other ways of acting can be harmful in the long run. Who likes to work in a position that they can’t fulfill?

Thank you for the interview!

Picture: Suzanne Grieger-Langer