Most of us remember hearing the story of Little Red Riding Hood when we were kids. This cautionary tale was not told exclusively for our entertainment, it’s also designed to warn children to be leery of strangers who may lure and prey upon them through disguise and false kindness. As we got older, we probably became familiar with the popular saying, ‘beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ which has been used frequently and ranges from biblical passages to the legendary Aesop’s Fables. The messaging throughout seems to be consistent and captures the sentiment that not all who appear harmless are, and that underneath the guise of a welcoming grin can sometimes await a dangerous bite.
Last week I started to explore the presence and impact of these deceitful people who act like wolves or professional predators in the places where we work (see Corporate Psychopaths – Wolves in the Workplace (Part 1) to read the full blog article). I examined how these proverbial wolves are actually ‘corporate psychopaths’, who often become successful and powerful in upper management/executive roles by using their skills in exploitation, manipulation and other abusive methods to get ahead. This week, in the second part of the blog, I want to list a few ways businesses and other organizations can prevent these types of predators from prowling their halls.
It is important that employers are aware that often these types of ‘wolves’ never stop hunting to get to the top. One potential telltale sign is someone who appears to be significantly more motivated and competitive than their other employees and is willing to cross lines and boundaries that ‘regular’ people won’t cross to get what they want.
To be fair, an overly ambitious employee is not always a corporate psychopath, but extreme ambition combined with how they go about attaining promotions, accolades, and influence is a good place to start.
As noted in Snakes and Suits by Dr. Paul Babiak and Dr. Robert D. Hare and in part one of this blog, due to their controlling and selfish nature, corporate psychopaths are instinctively drawn to positions of power and control, as well as occupations that provide wealth and high status.
Clearly, the best way to avoid the damage that these corporate psychopaths/wolves can cause is to avoid hiring them in the first place. Once you let one in, the harm and destruction can be almost immediate to staff and eventually a businesses’ reputation and bottom line.
So, to borrow from the animal narrative again, I recommend that employers think like a clever fox when potentially dealing with a corporate wolf … here are four ways to increase the odds of spotting one early.
Be clever like a fox when dealing with a corporate wolf:
1. Beware of the Halo Effect.
The halo effect is a type of cognitive/thinking bias where our general impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character. Essentially, your overall impression of a person (“He is so charming and charismatic!”) influences your evaluations of that person’s specific traits (“He is also smart!”).
2. Sometimes, these wolves can be as hard to spot as salt dissolved in water. This is because many of the qualities associated with corporate psychopaths are also on the ‘wish list’ of most employers which usually includes the following characteristics:
- Self-confident (or seen from a different perspective, they have a grandiose sense of self-worth)
- Strategic (or from another perspective, they are calculating …)
- Usually extroverted
3. Certain occupations and industries attract corporate psychopaths. If you think about some of the extremely popular crimes that have happened in workplaces and have been documented by the mainstream and social media, you’ll see that they line up with many of the fields and roles below where corporate psychopaths are overrepresented. So, when hiring for certain roles or in certain fields, it can be harder than it looks but here’s where the often end up:
- Civil servant
4. Most of us know the expression “if something/someone seems too good to be true” then it probably isn’t true, there’s probably more to it. Here are some red flags that when taken with other cues, may be a good sign to
dig a little deeper:
- Too much flattery of the interviewer(s)/company
- Extreme confidence bordering on arrogance during the hiring process
- Acting as if the hiring process is a formality and that they are entitled to the role/too assertive during the interview/hiring process
- The applicant’s past work history doesn’t quite make sense or inspire confidence (e.g., how long do they stay in jobs? How do they describe past colleagues/employers? Something seems ‘off’ regarding their references)
Given the high prevalence of workplace bullying, toxic workplace cultures, harassment/sexual harassment, and its negative impacts on productivity and mental health, this is an extremely important topic that warrants books, not just a blog or two. One closing thought is that when hiring people who will work in a leadership capacity and/or have significant influence, it’s worth taking the extra time and effort that it deserves to get it right. The consequences of letting a wolf run wild at work can be dire.
Have you ever wished you could get inside the head of a hiring manager? You can. Dr. Helen Ofosu is a Career Coach/Counsellor with a difference. She has worked for organizations to create hiring and screening tools. She’s created countless pre-screening tests, interviews, simulations, and role plays for organizations of all kinds.
Dr. Helen’s training in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology means she is a genuine expert in evaluating work-related behaviours. She uses those skills to help hiring managers tell the difference between people who say the right things during interviews and people who actually deliver on the job. In other words, Dr. Helen understands first-hand how job candidates are assessed.
More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.
I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.