Wake Forest University professors offer survival tips

Newswise — Winston-Salem, N.C. – If you heard about a recent study claiming one in 25 executive leaders meet the criteria for a psychopathic personality and thought: “That sounds like MY boss,” you might be wondering what to do about it. Evelyn Williams, associate vice president of leadership development/professor of practice at Wake Forest University Schools of Business says knowing your boss’s work style could be the key to succeeding. Jamie Dickey Ungerleider, Ph.D, associate professor of Family & Community Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center says that might help you in the short term, but a longer term solution is to find a new boss.

“Leaders who are psychopaths are extremely charming, highly manipulative, see other people as objects and don’t feel guilty about using people to reach their own ends,” Dr. Ungerleider says. “Most people at work have good intentions, but a psychopathic boss does not.”

Ungerleider says that evaluations and reviews won’t usually reveal the problems a psychopathic boss has. “There’s usually a segment of the population who finds them utterly charming and don’t understand why others wouldn’t trust them.”

But if you can’t make a move away from such an employer, “Recognize that you still have a mutually dependent relationship,” Williams says. “Knowing your boss’s work style gives you a road map you can use to make adjustments and deliver the work that will please a difficult boss.”

Williams says you should ask yourself these questions to determine your best working road map:

● How does my boss like to communicate?● Does my boss focus on details or big picture thinking?● Which is more important to my boss: analysis and data or human relationships?● Does my boss use introverted or extroverted discussion patterns?● When it comes to decisions, does my boss like quick resolution or decision by committee?

“Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to take control of your working relationship and do a good job of managing up,” says Williams. “You won’t feel like the victim and will have control of how to manage the relationship since there are multiple ways to accomplish these tasks.”

But Dr. Ungerleider, says too much success at work could also been seen as a threat to a psychopathic boss. “These people use the skills and talents of people under them to shine for their own managers,” Dr. Ungerleider says. “If you shine a little too brightly while you’re helping them stand out, that becomes a threat. Most of them won’t hesitate to throw you under the bus.”

Both agree on seeking validation from your co-workers in and outside your department. Dr. Ungerleider says you need to know that others have the same concerns.

“Network outside your department and make sure you document what’s happening in yours. That doesn’t mean a vindictive accounting, but rather keeping track of decisions made or assignments given so that you and your boss can agree on your work both in terms of load and delivery,” Williams said. “We’re all fallible humans and need to manage our stress loads -- some people may appear like psychopaths simply because they are overwhelmed in their current roles.”

Dr. Ungerleider also says not every bad boss is a psychopath. “Sometimes people put a boss in that category because they’re being treated badly, but those are bad actions or bad decisions, not a personality disorder.”

About Wake Forest UniversityFounded in 1834, Wake Forest University is a top-25 university located in Winston-Salem, NC. Wake Forest combines the best tradition of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a national research university. For more information, contact the Wake Forest Office of Communications and External Relations at 336-758-5237.