Think your boss is crazy? Study says you’re right

Your boss may be narcissistic or a psychopath—literally. A look at the top 10 professions with the most psychopaths, and the red flags to look for.

A recent article on PsyBlog asserts that many horrible bosses have a bona fide narcissistic personality disorder.

Not all experts agree whether personality disorders are real mental illnesses, but regardless of whether you believe a personality disorder is a sickness or more of a character disturbance, I’m guessing you wouldn’t knowingly choose a narcissist for a boss, right?

Or would you?

According to another study, narcissists are quite likeable and charming in limited social settings and before you really get to know them—such as during a cocktail party or, um, a job interview. Surprisingly, what seems to attract people to narcissists the most is their sense of entitlement.

10 professions with the most psychopaths

Your boss doesn’t have to be a narcissist to be crazy. Oh, no. He or she could be a psychopath instead.

According to a study conducted by psychologist Kevin Dutton, these 10 professions harbor the most psychopaths:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (TV/radio)
  4. Salesman
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergy
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant

Some 4 percent of managers have this problem

You saw No. 1, right?

If you’re curious what makes a psychopath, Kevin Dutton has posted a brief, easy test on his website. Maybe you could trick your boss into taking it? Or is it better not to know? You decide.

A common statistic is that nearly 1 percent of the general U.S. population is psychopathic, but some have estimated that the percentage in certain sub-populations is much higher. For example, the number of psychopaths in prisons is estimated to be between 15 percent and 25 percent.

Dr. Paul Babiak, who along with Dr. Robert Hare (“grandfather” of the psychopath test) wrote Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, estimates that within management positions, the percent of psychopaths is more like 4 percent. Hmmm…

Red flags to watch for

Here’s the list of psychopath “red flags” from Babiak and Hare’s book. (Dang straight, I have my copy …)

  • Inability to form a team;
  • Inability to share;
  • Disparate treatment of staff;
  • Inability to tell the truth;
  • Inability to be modest;
  • Inability to accept blame;
  • Inability to act predictably;
  • Inability to react calmly;
  • Inability to act without aggression

In The Psychopath Test (I had a copy but lent it out), author Jon Ronson jokes that after researching the topic he was meeting psychopaths everywhere, able to spot them a mile off.

The truth, as he knows, is that it’s not that easy. Not even for trained medical professionals.

Still, that doesn’t change the point: You may not be crazy to suspect your boss is crazy.

That’s all I’m saying.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE, where a version of this article first appeared.

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