Think the Boss is Crazy? Study Says You May Very Well Be Right

A recent article on PsyBlog maintains 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 — like during a cocktail party or, um, a job interview. And surprisingly, what seems to attract people to narcissists the most is their sense of entitlement.

10 professions with the most psychopaths

But 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. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police Officer
  8. Clergy
  9. Chef
  10. Civil Servant

Some 4% of managers have this problem

You saw No. 1, right?

If you’re curious what makes a psychopath, Kevin Dutton has posted a quick and dirty test on his website. Maybe you could trick your boss into taking it? Or maybe it’s 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.

And 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..

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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.

But 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. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


2 Comments on “Think the Boss is Crazy? Study Says You May Very Well Be Right

  1. I really don’t think it helps the HR profession to publish articles about the boss being a crazy psychopath if we want to be taken more seriously by C-Suite executives. I find it interesting that the author is a CEO herself…

  2. Who said I wrote the article to help the HR profession (or to be taken more seriously by shadows in the C-Suite)? I thought the survey from Psyblog was interesting, and more to the point (if I really think about it), I wrote the post for the many employees who suffer under bosses from hell, wondering what they’ve done to deserve such treatment. (Answer: Nothing. Some people are simply troubled.)

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