The Office Volcano has a cousin, named:
The Office Psychopath
The Office Psychopath may or may not have a volcanic temperament, but he/she is nevertheless unpredictable.
The Office Psychopath is also manipulative, controlling, conniving, lying, deceiptful, and unscrupulous.
A dangerous combination for people who just want to get some honest work done.
The Office Psychopath has but one goal: Get Ahead, by whatever means necessary. Other people are but tools to be used to that end.
They can usually only be identified by the wake they leave behind: Long-time employees suddenly resigning, suffering heart attacks, or being signed off-work with stress-related illness.
Around 2000, I experienced an Office Psychopath from a reasonably safe distance. A new director of engineering was announced, who was to manage a significant re-organization of all engineering functions on the site.
I was still a relative newbie, so I did not expect to recognize his name. But I was surprised to find that almost no-one else in the office recognized it either.
It soon emerged that he was being parachuted in from Procurement to assume the role of Head of Engineering.
A Procurement guy coming in to reorganize Engineering?
I was too naive and inexperienced to hear the alarm bells that should have been ringing in my head.
A short time later, a “town hall” meeting was arranged for the entire engineering function on the site. Every member of every engineering department (this amounted to over a thousand people) was summoned to this meeting. Attendance was obligatory.
Completely commanding the stage, Mr Psychopath strutted Mussolini-style and scoffed at the unpreparedness of the engineering function for the future. He then proposed his “solution”, which involved a massive reorganization and a number of new initiaves that left most people scratching their heads.
Standing in a row behind him on the stage were most of the senior engineering managers. One or two of them spoke, declaring the managers’ collective assent to this “proposed solution”.
What I remember most vividly is the look in their eyes.
It was a look of scorn and disagreement, but it was also a look of fear. This guy had somehow cowed them all into going along with his proposal, and none of them had the guts to say, “This is all rubbish”.
It was a carefully orchestrated show of strength.
Mr Psychopath finished by appealing to us, the assembled mass of techies, to do our part in helping him achieve this plan and prepare the company for the future. Over the weeks that followed, there were a series of smaller “town hall” meetings (I participated), in which he laughed, cajoled and threatened his plan through.
I was lucky to have hardly any direct dealings with Mr Psychopath. But the news began to filter through. Have you heard what he did to X? So-and-so has left the company. So-and-so has gone off work due to stress.
Scarcely six months into the job, Mr Psychopath suddenly disappeared, without seeing his own plan through to completion. It would be left to others to finish the job, and repair the damage.
That is typical of the Office Psychopath. They appear to care. They appear to be concerned for the future of the company. They announce and start big new initiatives. But they finish little, and what they do accomplish often comes at great personal cost to those around them.
It is estimated that 1% of the general population can be described as Office Psychopaths. That means you probably cross paths with at least one a day (whether you know it or not), and stand a fair chance of dealing directly with at least one in your career.