Top sociopathic managers don’t let empathy hold them back
The competition to become a top corporate manager has never been fiercer. While old school corporate management values such as efficiency and vision still have their place, studies in several countries have shown that sociopaths and psychopaths are now disproportionately represented in senior management, especially among CEOs.
This is no accident. In the Darwinian struggle of 21st century global capitalism, sociopaths and psychopaths are better equipped to fight their way to the top than their ethically minded peers, who may still be held back by residual feelings of empathy and compassion for their fellow humanity.
Looking at the current business revolutions brought about by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, sociopathic and psychopathic managers are better equipped psychologically to manage robotic employees than their empathetic counterparts, who may still be looking for “meaning” and “purpose” in their work, via “helping others” or other ill-starred pursuits. In the fight for ultimate efficiency, subsidizing the weak or showing mercy toward inefficient colleagues is more certainly a losing strategy than ever before.
Wise middle-managers looking to climb to the next level are learning to cultivate their inner psychopath and to mirror the sociopathic traits of their superiors. Future corporate leaders can learn much from the art of diplomacy, building temporary alliances until the right moment to backstab their mentor and perhaps take his or her job presents itself. As world-class sociopathic leader Henry Kissinger once advised (following Lord Palmerston): you should not have any permanent friendships or alliances; only permanent interests — namely your own self-advancement in the zero-sum game of corporate life.
The Society for the Study of Psychopathy states that psychopathic traits include:
- Lack of guilt/remorse
- Lack of empathy
- Lack of deep emotional attachments
- Superficial charm
- Reckless risk-taking
Sociopathy is often considered similar to psychopathy, though less extreme. There is already a vast literature on the subject of psychopathy and sociopathy with many heated academic disagreements on the definitions of these terms.
We generally use the terms psychopath and sociopath nearly interchangeably, though may use sociopathic when referring to the manager’s actual social behavior, and psychopathic when referring to the manager’s (empathy deficient) inner psychological state.
Habit #1 — Destroy Your Inner Empathy
Some of us have always been sure that we have the right stuff to become a successful, if sociopathic, manager, standing at the summit of the corporate ladder like a powerful god or colossus.
However, despite your self-identification as a top manager, you may still carry some residual empathy for other human beings within your “heart.” So you still have work to do!
While this may sound too much like psychological work, don’t worry, it’s worth it! To climb to the top of the corporate ladder, you must understand that empathy is for the weak; it is only mental baggage to be discarded quickly along with your so-called “humanity”. You owe it to yourself to make yourself as tough as possible as you arm for battle in the workplace.
Religion and Hollywood Movies as a Source for Sentimentality
Sentimentality and concern for others may feel morally right to you, due to their prevalence in religion as well as in Hollywood movies. As Northern Europe and much of the U.S. has now evolved into a “post-Christian” society, it’s probably the case that many of your early ethical teachings (depending on your age) were not even derived from religion at all. (We assume you are not still devoutly religious, unless it is just part of your “cover” as you climb to the top.)
Instead, many people’s values today are heavily influenced by Hollywood TV and movies. While these often glorify greed, as well as psychopathic, sociopathic, and even psychotic behavior, movies also — confusingly — appear to validate sentimentality and concern for others. (Think of how many movies have sappy endings.) But you should know that Hollywood psychopaths create sentimental movies directly for the billions of sheep out there. Do not let these movies lead you astray. You are not their target audience.
In fact, you may still draw inspiration from sentimentality, and learn to deceitfully act as if you have empathy and concern for others, even while secretly you are as cold blooded as a poisonous snake ready to strike the hand that feeds you or feeds anything else in your way.
In any case: kill your inner empathy, it will only lead you down a path of mediocrity.
Cultivate Your Inner Sociopath: Sociopathy is your killer advantage over the 95%+ who carry some sense of empathy for their fellow humans. While other employees may have been raised with moral or ethical ideas that inform their behavior, you are free to work in the name of enlightened self-interest. “Enlightened” here of course doesn’t mean that you will help other people, only that you will further your own ambitions using the most effective techniques available.
Habit #2 — Make Your Staff Fear You.
“A Prince should be feared rather than loved.” –Machiavelli
Make your employees fear you. Period.
You have nothing to fear other than a lack of fear from your employees. If they do not fear you, then they may feel safe enough to criticize you around others. Even worse, they may act familiarly with you, as if they are your equals or peers. You need to stamp this out before it happens!
Create a climate of fear so that all your employees, and even employees in other departments know that they better not mess with you, or else! There might even be moments, during some mortal threat to your career advancement, that your reputation as a psychopath may help you, by making your colleagues fear you so much that they know not to even whisper bad things about you.
Acting in an unfair, arbitrary manner is further evidence of your power and helps you to create your climate of fear. It makes others feel even more oppressed, and thus more docile.
For example, you should fire some average employee (see “Exercise: How to Fire an Average Employee” below) — just to show that you can do it, that you have the power to do it.
Firing an innocent employee is a rite of initiation for a corporate manager, bearing an obvious similarity to criminal gang’s requirement that you kill someone prior to joining the gang.
Firing an incompetent performer would not strike fear in the hearts of other employees; good performers would still feel safe. That’s not what you want. Much as when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, they made it clear that even the innocent were considered guilty of crimes against the state. That way everyone was afraid. That’s the level of fear that you eventually aspire to create.
Don’t fire incompetent people just because they are incompetent. By not firing them, you will win their loyalty. Remember your goal is to build a cadre of loyal people under you. However, you have to seek a balance between competent (but potential treacherous employees) and incompetent loyalists, who are only there to give a thin veneer of legitimacy to your reign.
Remember to bully and browbeat your employees into submission. Stare them down and win every “eye contact contest” with them just to show that you are the stronger animal. Let them see the tempest of rage boiling behind your eyes. Reduce them to just another cowardly employee. Who knows? One day, if they are useful to your designs, you may be able to promote them into a “Spineless Yes Man (or Woman)” junior management position of their own. But only if they are loyal!
Habit #3 — Control the Narrative
Find a short, consistent message and repeat it endlessly. As Goebbels wrote: “If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.” Corporate communication strategists have learned this dictum well. Goebbels himself was a highly effective (and psychopathic) manager. You could learn much about communication theory from him.
You should also study the seminal work of Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew), especially Propaganda (1928). Bernays applied the state-of-the-art psychological ideas of his day to the American advertising industry.
It doesn’t even matter whether the corporate message that you are pushing makes sense. It only matters that you are pushing it, and that it sounds like cutting-edge management speak to the right players. Many will have a fear of missing out of not getting on board, as those who are not on board tend to get left behind.
Invent empty slogans that sound cutting edge. Repeat that your competitors are far more advanced in these (meaningless) concepts.
Habit #4 — Manage Your Manager (Look for Signs of Weakness)
Unfortunately, everyone has a boss. Even you. Whether you are middle management, senior management, or even the CEO, you have a boss of some type (if only the company shareholders). Therefore, it is important to flatter your superiors whenever possible.
Be agreeable, even when they say stupid things. Remember that even if they are growing old and senile, they also must have once had some of the “right stuff” that makes them a highly effective psychopathic manager.
So respect senior managers, but then also watch them closely to find signs of weakness. Some aging managers start to turn soft and may even feel guilty as they look back on a long, illustrious career of stomping on others. You can use their softness against them to squash them like an overripe banana and take their place.
Habit #5 — Take Credit for All Good Ideas.
Make it clear to everyone in your department that they are expected to produce new ideas for improving the company, and that any new ideas must be sent to you personally — not to the whole team, and certainly not to people from other departments, especially managers.
It’s important that none of your subordinates are seen to be creating good ideas; all good ideas come from you!
If the relatively dim-witted people in your department do have some good ideas, be sure to extract only the indispensable essence from it, before putting your own personal stamp on it.
Of course, you should informally get the preliminary approval of key decision-makers before writing up the idea and proposing it. Then propose the idea to management as your own.
However, when your idea has been praised by senior management, then you utter a few, transparently insincere words about “team effort.”
If the originator of the idea starts complaining that it was his/her idea, then follow the procedure outlined below to fire him/her.
Habit #6 — Be the Smartest Person in the Room (by Excluding Others)
As brilliant as you undoubtedly are, there may well be other intelligent or hard-working employees in your department. While you might be tempted to see this as contributing to your own strength, you must remember that other managers (including those whom you may have irritated or humiliated with your sociopathic behavior), may see the more talented members of your staff as your potential replacements.
No one is indispensable, not even you. From a certain perspective, you don’t even want to be indispensable. As Einstein said: “Don’t be indispensable. Then you can’t be promoted.”
You certainly don’t want to be outshined, do you? It’s important that you are always the smartest person in the room. If there are some smart (but doubtlessly weak underlings) be sure to exclude them from any meetings with your superiors.
Instead, prepare yourself for any meetings where the expertise of your subordinates may be a factor. Visit the “expert” some time before the meeting, ask for a superficial overview of the technicalities. Be sure to dilute that picture a little bit at the meeting itself.
Also for any meeting you organize be sure to exclude smart people from other departments that may be smarter than you.
So remember: to be the smartest person in the room, you may need to exclude the best and the brightest from all critical meetings.
Habit #7 — Work Your Employees to Death
Work your employees to death. Well, maybe not literally. Unless they pose some existential threat to your position. Then feel free!
Learn how to squeeze the very last drop of work out of everyone that you can, especially if it furthers your own ascent to the summit of the social hierarchy.
If you not assigning about five times more work than is humanly possible to do, then you can’t honestly call yourself an effective psychopathic manager.
Always push for speed rather than quality. Producing as many products as possible with the fastest time to market should always be your goal. “Quality” is the refuge of perfectionists, who will run all their projects over budget. Time to market is paramount.
Cultivate your love of robots and your rapport with robots. One day they will be your best employees. You will be the perfect manager for the robot army workforce.
Exercise: How to Fire an Average Employee
As mentioned in Habit #2 — Make Your Staff Fear You, it is wise to fire an average employee, if only to make an example of them and sharpen your skills.
- First you need to lay the ground work. Start by giving most of their work to another incompetent, but loyal employee whom you do not intend to fire. This will already destabilize your target employee, and undermine his/her confidence.
- Start giving the target employee ridiculous amounts of work in a field slightly outside their comfort zone, especially on a dead-end project that only you can describe to other managers. Treat it as a “light” workload. Badger the target repeatedly asking why it isn’t done yet.
- Give a negative employee performance review based on their failure to meet their targets. Send repeated warnings about their lack of performance and CC the HR department.
- If they defend their performance, simply stand your ground about their “light” workload, and then inform them that you are also putting their “negative attitude” on their evaluation and on their “permanent record.”
- Use HR to actually break the ice and communicate the termination of contract to your target. This is what HR exists for. Then the target employee will be softened up and broken for whatever ridiculous words you will deliver to the target. In some cases he or she will bounce back from your unfair treatment, or in other cases they will be crushed forever. Too bad!
Reaching the summit of the corporate ladder is not for the tender hearted. Some of your competitors may actually possess objectively superior skill sets. As a budding sociopath or psychopath, this may be difficult for you to recognize. In any case, as a brilliant strategist you need to cater to this possibility. Therefore, your psychopathic nature (mainly your lack of empathy) may be your strategic advantage over better qualified candidates. Seize the day!
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 To take a recent example of Hollywood sentimentality, it’s hard to not watch a movie as morally loaded as The Grinch (2018), and not want to draw the conclusion that you should love your fellow humanity in a sappy way. The Grinch is purely fodder for the gullible masses; mass consumption of such movies actually eases your path toward control over other people. In this 2018 version The Grinch himself is depicted as a clever mastermind, planning the robbery of more than 200 homes in one night with only a dog and a sled. This version even gives us some of the Grinch’s back-story: it’s because of his difficult childhood spent in an orphanage that the Grinch has evolved into the lonely, calculating creature that we know and loathe.
However, note the positives of the Grinch’s situation: the Grinch lives on a mountain-top in an enormous house filled with amazing gadgets that he creates himself. The Grinch’s fatal flaw is simply his unwillingness to pretend to like his fellow creatures. If he only learned to schmooze with them more, he could probably become their mayor and fleece the gullible Whos down in Whoville via shady municipal taxes or other corrupt schemes. While the Grinch is in some ways a role model; his impulse to deceive others by dressing himself up as Santa Claus in the dead of night is misplaced. He should play Santa Claus in the daytime, win the trust of Whos, and then fleece them for as much of their assets as possible, like any good corporate raider. If anything, the Grinch is not ruthless enough. For more on the Grinch, see my essay “The Grinch: Sociopath, Role Model, or Both?”