When Psychopaths Go to Work: Snakes in Suits - My take...

While reading the book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work" written by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare, I could think and thank my good fortune of working with some of the best bosses/leaders during my corporate stints.  But at the same time, images of some flashed in front of me who were psychopath characters, the book mentioned or described.  This book explores the dark side of corporate life by examining the behaviour of individuals who are commonly referred to as psychopaths.

Babiak and Hare describe how these individuals are often highly successful in the workplace, but their lack of conscience and emotional empathy can cause significant damage to the organizations they work for and the people they interact with. The authors discuss how psychopaths are skilled manipulators who can quickly rise to positions of power, often charming their way to the top and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. I shall try and put down some traits as mentioned in the said book and similarities I observed in some colleagues/bosses/leaders across well-established large Indian, Multinational companies as well as promoter-led companies.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work" is a book that delves into the presence of psychopaths in corporate roles all over the world. The authors describe how these individuals can be found in various industries and positions, from entry-level employees to top executives. This book provides examples of real-life cases of corporate psychopathy and offers insight into how to identify and deal with these individuals in the workplace. The authors also offer practical advice for employers and employees on how to protect themselves from the harmful effects of workplace psychopathy.

Overall, "Snakes in Suits" is a thought-provoking and eye-opening book that sheds light on an often-overlooked issue in corporate culture. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the darker side of corporate life and learning how to protect themselves from those who would do them harm. The book explains how psychopaths can be highly successful in the corporate world, as they possess many traits that are valued in business, such as confidence, assertiveness, and a willingness to take risks. However, these same traits can also make them dangerous to the organizations they work for and the people they interact with.

Babiak and Hare provide numerous examples of how psychopaths in corporate roles can cause significant damage, from financial fraud and embezzlement to workplace bullying and harassment. The authors explain how psychopaths are skilled manipulators who can easily deceive others, and how their lack of empathy and conscience can lead to reckless and destructive behaviours. I could relate this to some people I worked with – some had their insecurities to deal with and therefore played and practised "Politics at the workplace”. All this led to the destruction of Culture at the workplace and encouraged Camps /Groups wherein one or more individuals could cause havoc with the serenity and engagement among employees and make all insecure. 

In the book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work," the authors describe several key psychopathic traits that can be displayed by bosses. These traits include:

  1. Lack of empathy: Psychopathic bosses may display a lack of empathy for others, including their employees. They may be manipulative and use others to achieve their own goals, without regard for how their actions impact others.
  2. Self-Importance/Grandiosity: Psychopathic bosses may have an inflated sense of self-importance and may believe that they are above the rules and regulations that apply to others. They may demand special treatment or privileges and may feel entitled to success and admiration.
  3. Superficial charm: Psychopathic bosses may be charming and charismatic, using their charm to manipulate others and gain their trust. They may be skilled at making a good first impression but may lack genuine emotional connections with others.
  4. Lack of remorse or guilt: Psychopathic bosses may display a lack of remorse or guilt for their actions, even when their actions harm others. They may be willing to lie or cheat to achieve their goals, without feeling any sense of remorse or guilt.
  5. Impulsivity: Psychopathic bosses may act impulsively, making decisions without considering the consequences for themselves or others. They may take unnecessary risks or engage in unethical behaviours to achieve their goals.

My worst experience of “Snake in Suits” was that of an insecure HR boss, who did his best in making life as uncomfortable as possible. No empathy was shown, not followed the old and safe practised adage of Old/experiencedemployees at the new office/branch/property and new employees at old/established offices/branches/properties for better induction and seamless operation, bordered on bullying, used the position to bulldoze, exhibited a sense of self-importance and nursed a grudge against me since I happened to know the seniors / old timers in the company. I could relate to this person and another one, who incidentally happened to be from Group HR as well. There were one/two more from the Business side as well who were always conspiring to grow at the expense of others by showing some or all the traits mentioned for psychopaths in the book. I would love to name them all … maybe later in my book(!!!).

The book also offers guidance on identifying and dealing with psychopaths in the workplace. The authors provide practical advice for employers on how to screen for psychopathic traits during the hiring process, as well as how to develop policies and procedures to protect against workplace psychopathy. They also offer advice for employees on recognizing and protecting themselves from psychopathic colleagues or bosses. To screen for psychopathic traits during the hiring process, employers can consider the following:

  1. Conduct a thorough background check: This should include verifying the candidate's employment history, education, and references. A thorough background check can help identify any inconsistencies in the candidate's history that may indicate dishonesty or unethical behaviour.
  2. Use standardized personality tests: Tests such as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) can help identify individuals with psychopathic traits. It's important to note that such tests should only be administered by trained professionals, and the results should be used in conjunction with other screening methods.
  3. Observe behaviour during the interview: Look for signs of overconfidence, arrogance, and a lack of empathy or concern for others. Pay attention to how the candidate treats others during the interview process, including administrative staff and other interviewees.
  4. Conduct multiple interviews: Consider conducting multiple interviews with different interviewers to gain a more complete picture of the candidate's behaviour and interactions with others.

Further, To develop policies and procedures to protect against workplace psychopathy, employers can consider the following:

  1. Establish a code of conduct: Clearly outline ethical behaviour and expectations for employees, and ensure that all employees are aware of the code and understand what is expected of them.
  2. Provide training and education: Offer training and education programs that help employees identify and report unethical behaviour and teach them how to handle difficult situations.
  3. Create reporting mechanisms: Establish a reporting mechanism that allows employees to report suspected unethical behaviour or psychopathic behaviour by colleagues or supervisors. Ensure that all reports are taken seriously and that confidentiality is maintained.
  4. Implement performance reviews: Consider implementing performance reviews that assess not only job performance but also adherence to company policies and ethical behaviour.
  5. Foster a positive workplace culture: Create a workplace culture that promotes honesty, integrity, and respect for others. Encourage employees to speak up if they witness unethical behaviour and reward ethical behaviour when it is demonstrated.

By taking these steps, employers can help to identify and prevent the harmful effects of workplace psychopathy and create a healthier and more productive work environment for all employees.

It's important to note that not all bosses who display these traits are necessarily psychopaths and that there can be other factors that contribute to these behaviours. However, if you suspect that your boss may be displaying psychopathic traits, it's important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional or to speak with your HR department to address any concerns. But if the HR person / top management person is displaying these traits… then God Save you (!!) and leave as soon as possible.  

To sum up "Snakes in Suits" is an important and informative book that sheds light on the presence of psychopaths in corporate roles all over the world. It offers valuable insights into the behaviour of these individuals, as well as practical advice on how to identify and deal with them in the workplace. A good and Must read.


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