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January 03, 2006

Are Managers Sociopaths?


Company Hierarchy
Two decades ago, I was part of a 45 member sales team. Whenever there was excess budget, we sales guys, staff and management

(also known as "overhead")

were evaluated by outside consultants.

We all got the same tests.

We were grouped by results. All the cool kids, the normal employees, sat in the front. 57 of them. Laughing and joking and backslapping and happy.

In the back of the room were grouped -- three quiet odd-balls: a product manager, the CEO and Your Business Blogger.

At first I was pleased to have been grouped with the CEO. But the product manager was a dimwitted kumquat.

I learned later that the CEO was a mean dimwitted kumquat.


I'm writing about mean monsters as managers who fire people during the Christmas Holidays and Fred B. an Alert Reader Comments:

I was playing backgammon at the yacht club Thursday (not as grand as it sounds but, I like that it sounds grand). One of our group is a prison psychologist.

If you think you have had a bad day, his day will recalibrate your meter.

We ended up talking about psychological testing and some of the classes he had with other people who were in the prison system.

The class would take one of the various tests and then the instructor would show how to score and evaluate the test. He noted that some in his class got a little discomfitted

when it was explained why

some results meant sociopath.

They were managers.

Hugh at gapingvoid.com seems to have summed Fred's comments up nicely on this back of the business card diagram.


by Hugh MacLeod

Alert Reader Fred B. closes with:

[The prison shrink's] view was that a little sociopath in a manager wasn't that bad because it meant they could carry out logical decisions with some emotional detachment.

Big mistake in my view but, that's the world we live in.

A world run by high-functioning sociopaths.

And now we've got business cards to be proud of!


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Thank you (foot)notes:

Hugh at gapingvoid.com was featured as one of the influential "group of 33" business leaders in Seth Godin's Moo book. Visit Hugh's site and order your business cards. I bought the sociopath product. Type casting, as they would say in Hollywood.

Here's the one Charmaine thought I should get:

What do you think? Please comment. Sociopath or No People Skills?

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Posted by Jack Yoest at January 3, 2006 04:13 PM

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My company that I loved was going through a merger. It was going to be a growth experience we were told by the new company. I guess laying off 85% of my company was growth for them, but not us. They retained some of us in key positions acting like we were important to the success of the "new" business. Well December 19, 2004, and 6 1/2 months pregnant, I found out I was just being used as a pawn in their sick little game. Keep people on, act like you need them, suck their brains dry, and then lay them off before Christmas while pregnant. My ex-boss, is definately a monster.

Posted by: LauraB in CA at January 5, 2006 11:48 AM

The desentization of the populus at large has been in progress for many years through a number of sources, from education to the body politic and the media as examples.
Business today is politics. Therefore, the ability to do what is asked of you in management,in order to maintain the status quo and keep the money and power moving forward, you must be able to overlook the "human aspect " of any action you are called on to take and justify it by passifying youself that you are contributing to the greater good of the organization or party.....take your pick!

Posted by: Sue Tovey at January 5, 2006 11:55 AM

Jack, dozens of Psyc. studies have shown that the 'best' leaders also turn out to be the best liers.
They do share emotional detachment aspects with sociopaths, but are keenly aware of emotions in others; and the most successful have an instinct for manipulation. They also make great actors. For example Ronald Regan is said to have rarely ever been emotionally 'engaged' in a conversation.

Posted by: Stan at January 5, 2006 10:38 PM

Personally, if I had my druthers as to whether to be laid off two weeks before or after Christmas, I'd choose before.

Yeah, it makes for bad press "Mean Scrooges laying people off before Christmas" -- but it gives the employee information about the future state of their finances BEFORE the perhaps too-expensive toys are non-returnable, etc...

Of course, if the choice were to be laid off or not laid off, I'd choose not to be -- but I don't buy into the "common wisdom" about laying off before Christmas.

I think one reason that layoffs happen at the end of the year so often is that most companies (like families) have financial years that parallel the real year. So it is coming up on the holiday season when they evaluate the profitability of the company and determine whether they need to make cuts.

Posted by: My Boaz's Ruth at January 10, 2006 01:30 AM

MY Boaz's Ruth, You are right that the end of December coincides with the end of the quarter. But not necessarily the end of the year. Most companies have different fiscal and calendar years. Like the Feds.

And the problem is not in the firings themselves. The problem, I would submit, is that the managers would know about the need to cut headcount, but take no action until the end of the quarter -- which happens to be Christmas.

I think you are on to something. Perhaps it is not the lack of compassion, but the lack of planning.

So now we have managers who are both incompetents and sociopaths.


Thank you for your thoughts,


Posted by: Jack Yoest at January 10, 2006 07:33 AM

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