BOOKCASE Psychopaths & Silence

Working with Monsters
By: John Clarke
Publisher: Random House Australia, 2005
Price: $26.95

I perked up when I saw John Clarke had written Working with Monsters; I imagined my old 1970s’ colleague having satirical tilt at the business world – possibly the CEOs who demand more money as they run their companies into the ground, which is certainly monstrous – in the same sort of way he dismembered organisations in television’s The Games.
Versatile as John (aka Fred Dagg) is, he is not psychologist who has made lengthy study of psychopaths in the workplace. It is disturbing to think such study is necessary and that Random House Australia thinks there’s market for book on the subject. But not half as disturbing as some of the information in this John Clarke’s book.
Think ‘psychopath’, and one imagines someone running amok with gun or knife and there have certainly been scattering of media reports in recent years – particularly from the United States – of disgruntled employees stalking corporate corridors with deadly effect. But, as John Clarke points out, corporate psychopaths use other weapons as well and these can be almost as damaging to colleagues and companies.
Clarke writes: “Psychopaths are people who lack conscience, they live in their own complex world where society’s rules are broken at will… Contrary to popular stereotypes, the majority of psychopaths are not homicidal maniacs or sexual deviants… They make up approximately one to three percent of the adult male population and 0.5 to one percent of the adult female population and can work as mechanics or lawyers, in factories or corporate boardrooms, for the government or in private industry.”
According to John Clarke there are four types of workplace psychopath: organisational (using number of strategies to manipulate their way into the upper levels of companies); corporate criminal (committing criminal acts to gain financially at the expense of others); violent criminal (hurting others to feel powerful and in control of themselves); and occupational (using an occupation to satisfy psychopathic needs).
He discusses each group and how the dangers they represent can be reduced.
Sobering reading which goes some way to explaining the headlines one sometimes reads about bizarre corporate behaviour. IFG

Breaking the Code of Silence
By: Dr Mitchell E Kusy & Dr Louellen N Essex
Publisher: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005
Price: $50

It’s difficult to drum up enthusiasm for book with jagged number in its heading, penned by pair of Americans. First instincts say we’ve heard it all before. Do not be fooled. While the technique may be all-American – slow crawl through bite-sized memorable lines and format to suit the brain capacity of five-year-old – the contents are worth the effort. Or should that be lack of effort?
Breaking the Code of Silence is fascinating read covering the hitherto untouched topic of recovery from leadership failure – top executives talking about their own failures. The book almost didn’t happen. At it’s recent ‘worldwide’ launch at Auckland University’s Graduate School of Business, co-author Dr Mitchell E Kusy said many execs considered the topic so contentious they slammed doors in researchers’ faces and abruptly terminated interviews when they cottoned on that they had to talk about their own mistakes. Never mind that the whole point of the book is to show how successful leaders can, and do, rebound from errors.
After two and half years of toil, Kusy, Essex and co have boiled the interviews down to seven critical mistakes: engagement gridlock; misaligned momentum; political misread; too much, too soon; miscued decision-making; stifled communication, and bungled hiring. Managers with the right instincts or knowledge can recover from all seven although two others – loss of trust and foolish mistakes – will sound the death knell for most careers.
Remedies are often combination of intense listening, open apology, rebuilding relationships, protecting staff from penalties, spelling out what will be different in the future, and giving away credit for good deeds in the future.
Matched with appropriate follow-up rebounds, critical failures can strengthen leader’s credibility. Kusy and Essex point out that in what is known as the ‘strategic prat-fall effect’, psychologists believe people actually identify with leaders who openly admit to their mistakes. “John F Kennedy’s popularity increased dramatically after the mistreatment of the Bay of Pigs offensive… Why? Because he assumed responsibility for this – demonstrating that he was capable of mistakes and, thus, he was perceived as much more ‘human’.”
Back at the launch, Kusy is engagingly honest about the book’s limitations. Yes, his final sample of interviewees is biased towards those who were ultimately successful. No, he doesn’t know if study of executives in other countries and cultures would have revealed different findings. And, no, he can’t explain why so many nations’ heroes (Jock McKenzie, Ned Kelly, Robin Hood) were rogues who never apologised. RLP

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