Can you recognise an organisational psychopath?

“There’s an absolute lack of conscience, lack of remorse, and lack of guilt. They’re manipulative, superficially charming, and pathological liars. They like conning people and there’s a grandiose sense of self-importance.”

Dr John Clarke – expert on work psychopaths

For the past 6 months, the news media has been full of stories of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by men in powerful positions, whether its sexual abuse allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein or Australian TV presenter and producer Don Burke’s alleged sleazy and bullying behaviour, toxic workers are certainly topical.

Toxic employees can have a detrimental effect on an organisation. I wrote about this issue in a previous blog (Disruptive Employees) Furthermore, the failure to take action can be costly in terms of morale and profits. It also takes away the positive energy required for managing an organisation.

One form of toxic employee is the ‘organisational psychopath’ (Forbes Article)

The term psychopath conjures up images of evil murderers from a Hollywood movie such as Hannibal Lector in the Silence of the Lambs. However, they generally don’t murder people instead they destroy work colleagues and their subordinates as well as seriously damaging the organisations they work for.

Have you ever worked with or for an organisational psychopath?

How do you recognise one?

They are not normally the overbearing, rude and unreasonable boss. They far too clever for that and often remain undetected for years in organisations.

I can remember working for one many years ago. He was superficially charming, had excellent oral communication skills, was outwardly extremely confident and ‘managed up’ exceptionally well.

Within 3 months unbeknown to me, he was wanting to dismiss me. There were no conversations about performance and he certainly gave me no assistance in my role. I later found out that he had previously forced the departure of several other employees. What alerted me was him undermining and subtly criticising the staff under my control. He was known as the ‘the smiling assassin’ and was displaying the psychopathic characteristics of lack of conscience.

My wife came to work to pick me up one afternoon with our 6 month old baby. He was dismissive and rude. This should have rung alarm bells, as one of the characteristics of a psychopath is a lack of empathy.

He was described as a hero by the business owner, as under his division, the business had grown significantly in terms of profit and revenue using new technology. I found out later that another executive was instrumental in advising and assisting him in implementing the new technology and opened the doors with existing customers. This shows three other characteristics of psychopaths, claiming credit for others work, being manipulative by managing up and using excellent oral communication skills.

Like all good organisational psychopaths, he left the organisation before he was found out. Upon leaving, the final confirmation fell into place. I was to complete a project he had commenced and found out that much of what he had claimed had been completed had not. Yes, the final characteristic was being a pathological liar.

The experience of working for this organisational psychopath left me somewhat scarred, losing my confidence and feeling demoralised. However, I learnt how to recognise organisational pathological behaviour and made a pact with myself never to work with or for one again and help others to manage who had been affected by their behaviour.

The following link provides a good summary of how to deal with them ( Dealing with an Organisational Psychopath )

Read it and refer to it when needed…………………

Can you compare the game of cricket to business?

“If there is any game in the world that attracts the half- baked theorist more than cricket I have yet to hear of it”

Fred Trueman

The Cricket World Cup is currently underway in Australia and New Zealand (February-March 2015) so it is timely to compile a piece using cricket as a metaphor for business. Think of the game of cricket – there are 3 main parties involved the batting side, the fielding side (with bowlers) and the scorers (sorry this may upset the scorers – even some batsmen upset them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_r-l7S2U8s).

Can running a business be compared to the game of cricket?

Yes.

In business you have active participants – employees and customers. In cricket you have active participants that make things happen – the bowlers and fielders on one side, and the batsmen on the other.

In business you also have parties that are not active in running the business – for example chartered or compliance accountants and solicitors. In cricket you also have a party not active in the game of cricket. The scorers – who keep the score.

Do chartered accountants perform a similar role to scorers in cricket?

Scorers only record what is happening they never give advice on what to do for the future or participate in the game.

What do chartered accountants do?

They record what has happened in the past. They do not actively participate in the game of business. So if chartered (or compliance) accountants offer business advice, I would caution against accepting such advice if they do not have business experience.

This may seem a harsh statement about accountants – let me give you an example.

We are currently renovating our bathrooms – rather boring don’t you think? No, because of the story the builder told me about his accountant made me feel sorry for him. Just under 10 years ago, his son set up a retail business. They both went to their accountant for ‘professional advice’ on how they should set up the legal entities for the business. His accountant came up with a corporate or business structure ‘on the cheap’ saving them $1,000 and making them joint directors of the new company and the existing building company.

The sad story is that the retail business failed after initially being very successful. Due to the linkage between the two companies, the father became liable for the debts of the retail venture pushing him to the brink of bankruptcy – all to save $1,000 and nearly lost his hoouse. The advice from their accountant was certainly not professional or the correct advice. It highlights the risks of compliance accountants calling themselves business advisors (or legal advisors), especially as many have not actually run a business other than their accounting practice (see blog regarding the business skills of my former accountants https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2013/08/23/deja-vu-all-over-again/). This is very risky for unwitting business owners.

Receiving business advice from a compliance accountant as distinct from compliance type accounting advice could be a risky strategy.

Do you go to a dentist if you have a sore back or a cold?

Then you should not go to a compliance accountant for business advice, unless they have the necessary experience and qualifications. Our builder’s accountant not only failed to give professional advice because he did not forsee what can happen if a business fails. Perhaps he should have recommended our builder seek legal business advice?

Enjoy the Cricket World Cup and let’s hope the scorers keep score!

Remember in business (and also in your personal life) see advice from professionals in their field……………it is less likely to put your business (or your health at risk)!

Lessons for managers from Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”

Nelson Mandela

What can Nelson Mandela teach us about being a good manager?

During December, I was planning to write a blog about what businesses should do over the Festive Season in preparation for the new calendar year. However, with the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela provided an opportunity to reflect on what Mandela could teach us in our roles as business owners, managers and supervisors. Mandela was an international hero and was universally revered around the world as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality against great odds.

Despite over 25 years in gaol, Mandela came out of prison not seeking revenge. Instead he oversaw the relatively peaceful transfer of power in South Africa.

As Archbishop Tutu, stated:

“Could you imagine if he had come out of gaol a different man, very angry and baying for the blood of his former oppressors? We would not have made it to first base.”

Whilst I am tempted to list dozens of things Mandela could teach us as managers about leadership, it is always best to keep it simple – so here are my three top picks:

1. Integrity

Despite often being called a ‘living saint’ Mandela steadfastly refused to be recognised as such. In his books and speeches, Mandela went out of his way to point out the dangers of deifying him. He admitted to having many flaws, to having made many mistakes and to having had his integrity tested many times.

In 1985, Mandela was offered a conditional release from by President Botha if he renounced violence and obeyed the law (just racial laws). Mandela did not fall for this very transparent gesture. Whilst he desired freedom after decades in prison, he did not betray his principles, and his long struggle for democracy. Mandela replied as follows:

“What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned?  What freedom am I being offered if I must ask permission to live in an urban area?  Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

It was almost 5 more years before he was unconditionally released from prison. In the end, history showed that Mandela’s integrity overcame all obstacles when he  became the first democratically elected leader in South Africa. Integrity was combined with another important leadership trait……………

2. Perseverance

Despite the seemingly impossible task of obtaining democratic rule in South Africa, Mandela managed to achieve what seemed impossible

 “Perseverance always overcomes resistance”.

How many times in our business life has this occurred? I can remember feeling that a business in which I was a significant shareholder would never sell after 2 failed attempts over 2 years. There were times I was told to ‘give up’, however, when least expected, an overseas buyer which exceeded expectations.

Opportunities often come when least expected, however this takes time, energy, and focus and perseverance.

3. Vision

Mandela had an over-riding vision of a multi-racial South Africa with a strong focus on the future, not the past. He never lost sight of this vision and did not compromise his goals. Whilst suffering in prison he was offered numerous inducements to compromise his position and be released early. He declined.

His actions and words left no doubt as to his vision. Leaders with vision have passionate and dedicated followers.

I can remember asking a managing director what his vision was for the company and the reply was ‘for me to be here next year’. Can you imagine being inspired by such a person?

Integrity, perseverance and vision are all are leadership traits that Mandela can teach us as successful managers. The outpouring of emotions at his funeral from ordinary people (not the dignitaries) is testament to these qualities.

Are these traits important in your job too?

Technology

“Men have become the tools of their tools”
Henry David Thoreau

Today in business we are confronted with a mass of technological innovation that has become increasingly more sophisticated, expensive and difficult to keep up with; iPhones, iPads, tablets, GPS and so on. We often we become so intoxicated with new technology – its speed, power, gadgetry and the potential to solve our business problems that we neglect to solve problems in a simple and cost effective way.

Have you heard of the story about NASA in the 1960s when the space astronauts found pens would not work in space? NASA spent tens of thousands of dollars to develop a space pen while the Russian cosmonauts used a pencil! This is actually an ‘urban myth’, however it illustrates the need to try and solve problems in a simple, practical and cost effective way. In the first Gulf War, the fleeing Iraqi army set fire to hundreds of oil wells creating an environmental disaster. Red Adair the famous Texan oil fire expert was called in by the Kuwaiti government to ‘solve’ the problem. The solution was a complex technique of explosives to remove the oxygen from the flames thereby putting out the flames. It was complex, costly and dangerous and would take many years to complete the task. Instead, a team of Bulgarians were contracted. Their solution was simple, practical and cost effective. Using large bulldozers being driven by men in fire resistant suits they covered the burning oil well heads with sand in a fraction of the time and cost compared to the solution as advocated by Red Adair.

So next time you are confronted with a problem or the latest technology – stop and think. Can the problem be solved simply and cost effectively without technology that can often be unnecessarily complicated and expensive?

Problems

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Albert Einstein

Many of us in business are confronted with problems;  whether it is the business failing, parts of the business not performing or relationships at work deteriorating. I suspect that you have agonised about the reasons for the problem.  These reasons are likely to be complex and there are probably no simple solutions.

However, the first step is to admit there is problem.  I have seen many leaders in business refusing to admit that there they have a problem, even though it is obvious to everybody around them (and often to themselves although they refuse to confront it). This problem can be due to ego, ignorance, incompetence or an unwillingness to face reality. It is highly unlikely to go away and is probably only going to get worse and become more complicated as staff and customers begin questioning your judgement and leadership.

Admitting that you have a problem either to yourself, your family or your staff is essential. The second step is critical.  This is where you either become a success or continue to fail to resolve the problem. The failing business person tries to justify the failure – it’s the market, it’s the internet and so on.

As a manager or business owner it is only a problem or a failure if it continues. Like the Albert Einstein quote above which implies we must change something to get the desired result, the status quo is not an option. Do not identify an external reason for the problem as this is a ‘cop out’. You are disowning the problem – ‘it’s the economy’, ‘it’s the high exchange rate’, ‘it’s poor staff’.

The key to success is to take a few steps that will not allow you to justify the problem. The first step is to take action, even if it is just one small step. Using personal fitness as an example, the hardest step in improving your fitness is putting on your gym gear. By taking the first step you are on the way to solving the problem. Momentum has now commenced and this will help solve other problems, both now and in the future.

There is no shame in recognising a problem or failure, providing you do something about it. Learning from mistakes is only common sense. That’s what good leaders do !