This was the shocking headline on Mediaite (a reputable news and media blog) yesterday: "Psychological Study Finds That One In Four Bosses Are Secretly Psychopaths."
But readers should be skeptical. These stats are highly suspect. Everyone tells me the ratio is more like one in two bosses. (And what's with the weasel word "secretly"?)
This is yet another aspect of business where rock & roll has much to teach us. In most bands—especially the best and the brightest—there are no bosses (at least in the traditional sense), psycho or otherwise.
Bands tend to be autonomous, self-managed business teams. Leadership is situational and distributed. Different members take the lead for different functions.
Some take the lead for singing, some for songwriting, some for arranging, some for digital expertise, some for business managing. (I go into detail on this in my forthcoming book.) Inspiration, creativity, productivity, and profitability are just a few of the benefits.
But this lesson has not been learned in Officeland, where hierarchy and bureaucracy still reign, allowing for serious abuse. So, even allowing for a mathematical error in Mediaite's reporting (the study actually says that only 4% of bosses are psychopaths not 25%—oops!), we have a problem with bosses.
There are thousands of books and articles on bad managing, bad supervising, and bad bossing. My personal experience reporting to bosses is of course vast (based on a childhood paper route). But more importantly people tell me everyday their horror stories about workplace superiors. They assure me the problem has taken on pandemic proportions. Psychopaths are running rampant in our companies, they say, if not running our companies.
But there is one problem: most of the very same people complaining about their psycho bosses are also bosses, with their own direct reports. So we should expect—based on the 1:2 ratio that people report to me—that roughly half of these psycho victims are psycho bosses themselves (at least when they're running meetings or writing performance reviews).
Yet I've never heard anyone—among the thousand-plus managers I've had serious conversations with in the last 30 years—admit to me: "Yeah, I'm a psycho too with my own direct reports, incapable of personal understanding or any shred of human feeling towards them." In fact most of them think they're pretty effective, caring managers.
It's related to that age-old question every good consultant/counselor/mediator/diplomat has to come to grips with at some point: "How come it's always the other guy, gal, group, organization, political party, religion, or nation that's psycho (or evil, violent, cruel, selfish, dim-witted, etc.)?" The answer, my friend, is still blowing in the wind.
But let's end on a practical note: "How do you know if your boss is a psycho?" Based on numerous interviews I've done, there are many tell-tale signs. Here's my short list.
1. Your boss shows more facial animation talking to the aquarium fish than to you.
2. When your boss occasionally blows up, s/he likes to flop on the floor and chew on the carpet.
3. Your boss fires you by starting out with: "I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I won a Powerball prize…"
I hope you'll tell me yours.