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Howard's End: Organisational Psychopaths

If you are working in middle or upper management of government or business, one in twenty of you is likely to be an organisational psychopath and you are causing untold grief to your fellow Kiwi's and costing this country millions of dollars. Maree Howard writes.

I don't know Myra Wilson, but she's done all New Zealanders a real service in writing a well referenced viewpoint column in the April 2001 edition of Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand entitled; "Organisational Psychopaths And Our Health Culture”.

A footnote to her column says that she is a self-employed trainer based in Wellington, specialising in the professional development of nurses.

Although she concentrates on health system management in her article, I was stunned with the parallels which could be drawn with middle and upper management in most government and business sectors in New Zealand.

As you read this Howard's End, consider it in light of the current defence force fiasco.

Ms Wilson writes; "Our health system has been subjected to multiple restructurings in recent years. As a new corporate model was introduced, new leaders were appointed. It is suggested some were seriously flawed and of a psychopathic personality type.

Ms Wilson speaks of horizontal violence infecting the nursing culture and suggests the impact of constant change in our health care facilities has been more destructive than might at first have been thought.

"The destruction has been felt by individuals, as their careers have been significantly compromised or destroyed; by services with the depletion of skilled staff, and by patients, as access to core and tertiary health care has been limited."

She suggests we have seen some questionable appointments into positions of power and witnessed many poor decisions which collectively resulted in a dysfunctional health system.

Speaking of dysfunction, if you had been watching that excellent British-produced programme, "Why Doctors Make Mistakes" last Wednesday night, you would have seen a senior and very experienced theatre nurse interviewed who said she pointed to an error a doctor was about to make during an operation.

She was immediately told to butt-out by the enraged doctor because, "he was the doctor and knew what he was doing. How dare she question him?"

From then on, that nurse said nothing. Ultimately, continuing mistakes in that hospital cost it millions of dollars in compensation.

But the denigrated nurse have already left, dissatisfied with her career. What an absolute waste of the talent of a human being and a tragic loss to the health system!

Myra Wilson actually covers this point in her column when she quotes P Bagshaw writing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, "There is also abuse of power, with people who express opposing views being marginalised and subtly denigrated."

At this point, Ms Wilson's column really got interesting for me because she then quotes Ken Parry, Head of the Centre for Leadership Studies at Wellington's Victoria University.

Boy, I can really relate to this guy because he sums-up just about everything I have felt and experienced with some middle and upper management in both the government and business sector over recent years.

"Ken Parry has discussed recent research on organisational psychopaths which offers an explanation for some of the "fallout" we see today," Ms Wilson said.

"Parry indicates that "workplace psychopaths differ from clinical psychopaths in degree - though not in kind."

Others have referred to "The dark side of normal - a psychopathy-linked pattern called aberrant self-promotion." (European Journal of Personality)

Look at the following list and see how many middle and upper management people in your work place might fit the criteria of an organisational self-promoting workplace psychopath.

The personality attributes include;
* grandiosity
* pathological lying and deception
* superficial charm
* lack of empathy, guilt or remorse
* failure to accept personal responsibility
* shallow affect.

Added to this list is; exploititiveness
* manipulativeness
* defensiveness in response to criticism
* need for dominance - with the primary reason to further their own self-interest.

And don't forget, 1 in 20 are likely to fit this category. What's even more important, yet disgraceful because it's allowed to happen, is that these organisational psychopath-types "indoctrinate" young staff and deal with members of the public.

Following on from the European Journal of Personality, Ken Parry then identifies some of the personality traits of an organisational psychopath including;

* Shameless self-serving world view
* people users - they look after themselves by exploiting other people
* move toward people who have power and are of use to them, using cunning and ruthlessness
* although they often rise to leadership positions they are not good leaders
* dismissive of people who are of no use to them *
remorseless, guilt free, lack integrity. (Parry K. article New Zealand Listener 1999)

Ms Wilson then cites three American researchers who observe; "There are certain people who have good social skills who rise readily in organisations and who ultimately derail: but before they fail, they cost their organisation large sums of money by causing poor morale, excessive turnover and reduced productivity." (The dark side of charisma 1990)

"Bullying, intimidation, undermining and discrediting cause increased sick leave, increased resignations, decreased recruitment and productivity." (Wilson M.A.T. Kai Tiaki Nursing Journal.)

Myra Wilson's column is much longer and in more depth than mine. It makes compelling reading for all New Zealanders if we want to move forward towards a brighter future. Everybody should obtain a copy on that basis alone.

Personally, I am utterly sick and tired of having to deal with people in both government departments and business who are clearly dysfunctional and, from my experience, meet most of the criteria of an organisational psychopath.

We firstly need to publicly expose their behaviour and then we must weed them out. We can't afford not to, because they are costing us our future.

Can anybody tell me what happened to that proposed "Whistleblower" legislation?


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