Psychopathic Leaders: Keeping Yourself Strong Before Them

Psychopathic leaders have three basic traits: interpersonal mastery, impulsiveness, and an adverse use of empathy.
Psychopathic Leaders: Keeping Yourself Strong Before Them
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Psychopathic leaders are, in other words, psychological exploiters. Thus, it’s important that you learn to keep yourself strong before them. When we talk about psychopathic leaders, we refer to, for example, those bosses who don’t hesitate to demand impossible and even unethical tasks from their workers. They enjoy being dominant; they’re arrogant, insensitive, and dishonest. The saddest thing about all of this is that, despite all those negative traits, they keep climbing to the top.

What’s up with that? Is modern society increasingly tolerant of this type of aggressive behavior? We’re sure of something here. At least one politician comes to your mind when talking about this subject. Also, we’ve all met or encountered a company manager who’s had psychopathic traits. This is more common than you’d think.

Well, something that’s important to take into account here is that these types of profiles have always existed. Therefore, we’re not talking about anything new. However, there’s a difference now. Throughout the years, mental health professionals have continued to study their psychological anatomy.

We must note that psychopathic leaders aren’t criminals. However, they do make use of antisocial, harmful, and dishonest tricks. For this reason, they could be ethically equal to any individual that’s been prosecuted by justice. How come we continue to live among them, then? Moreover, there’s nothing that would give an indication that these profiles are going to be any different.

Therefore, we recommend you learn to manage them and stay strong in their presence.

An untouched match in the middle of burnt ones.

Keeping yourself strong before psychopathic leaders

Dr. Karen Landay and colleagues at the Department of Psychology of the University of Alabama conducted an interesting study in 2018. Their investigation was called “Shall We Serve the Dark Lords? A Meta-Analytic Review of Psychopathy and Leadership”, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Something this team of experts revealed was that not every single boss has psychopathic traits. Furthermore, not all psychopaths are in power positions, nor do they all commit violent acts. This is something that’s important to consider. Now, this doesn’t keep a significant percentage of today’s corporate leaders from having a “dark” moral compass.

For starters, psychopathy isn’t a simple trait. In fact, it has a whole range of behaviors; and the ones that predominate depend on the individual. However, something that many authors agree on is that psychopathic leaders come together in three basic dimensions:

  • Interpersonal mastery or psychological audacity.
  • Uninhibited behavior or impulsiveness.
  • Adverse and instrumental empathy. It’s important to be careful because psychopaths are actually incapable of reading or sensing other people’s emotions. Not only do they not care about their emotions but they manipulate them and use them to their advantage.

As you can see, these characteristics explain why so many of them are successful. Now you see why they’re so bold in the world of business and so charming at certain times (when they decide to be). These people don’t care to harm others in order to get to the top. Knowing this, let’s see what mental mechanisms you must use before psychopathic leaders.

A photo representing psychopathic leaders (a boss) yelling at workers.

1. Don’t let their behavior intimidate you

Psychopathic leaders use other people’s emotions and weaknesses to take control. And when they do, they enjoy it until the very last moment. Now, as far as possible, you must avoid showing yourself vulnerable because that’s exactly what they love to see.

Sometimes, it can be difficult but it’s vital that you keep yourself energetic and protected with your own personal barriers. Don’t let yourself become intimidated because, as soon as they perceive you are, they gain more ground. Assertiveness is your best ally.

2. Keep your emotions in check

This type of psychological profile doesn’t usually have good control of their emotions. If you manage to excel in this, you’ll have an advantage over them. And a great one, for that matter.

This implies keeping your mind at ease. Don’t let anguish or anger get the best of you. If you lose balance, they’ll begin to further manipulate your emotions.

3. Don’t fall into their psychological traps

Psychopathic leaders are great storytellers. That being said, they won’t hesitate to explain aspects of their lives and experiences. They love to do this because, that way, they get to display a good charm and skillful closeness. This is the trick they like to use most because it’s a subtle but effective trap. By doing this, they get to gain people’s trust and dominate them.

4. Act as a mirror and get them to see their flaws

Whenever possible, you should set your mind to achieving two things. Firstly, keeping your personal boundaries in check. Secondly, getting psychopathic leaders to see their flaws and own up to them.

For this reason, whenever they address you, redirect the conversation towards their toxic traits. Let’s see an example. In today’s meeting, you seemed a little stressed, you even yelled at us. I think it’d be good if you meditated a little on the things you demanded from us. I think you know that it’s quite excessive and that we won’t be able to fulfill the tasks in such little time.

A boss talking to a scared female worker.

5. Communicating with psychopathic leaders

We’re clear that it isn’t always possible to keep your boss at a distance. You probably have to face them most days or even every day. This can be exhausting. In fact, you also run the risk of getting burnout syndrome.

For this reason, we advise you to turn to emails whenever you need to communicate with them. We know that this won’t be possible at all times, but whenever you get the chance, this is a great option to consider. In fact, there are studies that support the effectiveness of doing it this way, as communication becomes less aggressive and a better workflow is achieved.

In brief, as we pointed out at the beginning, nothing seems to indicate that these people are going to change. Executives, corporate bosses, and politicians with psychopathic traits will continue to appear year after year. Running away from them is the best answer but, as we well know, doing so isn’t always possible.

Therefore, you must learn to cohabit with these profiles, act instead of reacting impulsively, and train yourself in order not to let them get the best of your mental health.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.