How To Survive a Sociopath Boss

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By Cheryl Conner,

On Friday, I attended the inaugural Social Enterprise Crowdfunding Conference at the Snowbird Resort near Salt Lake, the project of Forbes Contributor Devin Thorpe and Richard Swart, a crowdfunding expert I’ve collaborated with on various projects before.

The conference was a great success and will be recurring twice yearly. (Disclosure–my agency was one of the silver sponsors at the inaugural event and I was an event speaker.)  I’ll write more about the event later on. One of the great side benefits, though, was the ability to catch up in an informal environment with great entrepreneurial friends.

In particular, I had a great conversation with Brad Bertoch, the CEO and President of the Wayne Brown Institute, a non-profit organization that has been facilitating mentoring, training and angel and venture funding for early stage technology companies since 1983. Under his direction, WBI has raised more than $5B in private and public equity and created 100,000 jobs so far. Go, Brad.

Among the other things we talked about on Friday, we compared notes on an interesting side topic: How do people (and organizations) survive a sociopathic boss? The fact that we were laughing indicates it can be done—the stories we shared were in the past tense, the company in question had achieved a favorable exit, and all participants are now successfully involved in new ventures.

But just how prevalent are sociopathic bosses? What are the danger signs, and when you see them, what can an employee (or a partner or a business) do to survive?

If you haven’t read it yet, Dr. Martha Stout, of the Harvard Medical School, has written an interesting book, The Sociopath Next Door. In her book,  she declares that four percent of the world’s population are sociopaths. That’s one out of every 25 people, worldwide, who have no conscience, no sense of right or wrong, no empathy—but a dangerous ability to mimic emotion and empathy as a means of ingratiating themselves and manipulating others for their benefit or amusement. My great friend Kip Meacham, a regional entrepreneur, referred to one such individual as “the world’s only living heart donor”.  Again, thankfully, we were laughing about a situation we could gratefully observe in past tense.

Brad Bertoch is CEO and President of the Wayne Brown Institute, which funds and mentors entrepreneurs

So they’re all around us. Worse still, research suggests they’re more than typically present among bosses (though more often in larger organizations, as the dynamics of the startup community make it more difficult for their mode of operation to survive).

What are the six danger signs of a sociopath? According to science, the top six are as follows:

1)   Fails to acknowledge responsibility and deflects blame onto others.

2)   No real feelings or empathy.

3)   Manipulate and bully for their own purposes. Due to their lack of emotion, sociopaths tend to need extra stimulation, and the feeling of power that bullying gives them tends to provide them with an adrenaline rush.

4)   They have no remorse. After sabotaging and firing a person or putting another organization out of business they feel nothing, or in extreme situations may celebrate the “victory” and go out for drinks.

5)   They enjoy making people feel bad about themselves.

6)   They purposely sabotage co-workers and employees.

There are other signs as well. Here’s a list of signs from Wikipedia and another very comprehensive list of warning signs here. Science is currently debating whether sociopaths and psychopaths are in actuality the same thing. Furthermore, many bosses exhibit traits of narcissism—which is problematic in its own right—who are not full blown sociopaths.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/09/29/how-to-survive-a-sociopath-boss/

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