Compliments of Topeka Library via Flickr

Compliments of Topeka Library via Flickr

Lapses in mental judgment (as we’ve seen in the rash of white collar crime cases) indicate a lackadaisical, devil may care attitude toward other people’s money. Narcissistic entitlement (and a corporate culture which looks the other way) or in the worst case scenario models bad behavior, permits expanding holes in the honeycomb of ethical reasoning. Small misdeeds (if ignored or condoned) can morph into episodes that appear later in headlines.

People classified as either  psychopaths or sociopaths reside at the fringes of responsible behavior; possessing the ability to exact profound harm on both the company and the individuals within it. They are high in terms of craftiness, but low on ethical reasoning. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum are termed “conscientious;” these individuals are careful, cautious, hardworking, thoughtful, and considerate of others, all seemingly valued qualities by business managers.

What happens if this prized personality trait goes haywire? When a person who should be coveted instead cowers in fear at the possibility of making a mistake? When rules instead of the real agenda become the primary focus? Overly conscientious persons are classified with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), overly concerned with rule checking, perfectionist attention to detail, and a persistent vigilant lookout for what they did wrong. One must then ask which company aspects contributed to their condition.

As in the case of white collar crime, can a firm actually construct those persons who reside on either end of the spectrum? Emphasis on punishment (and none on achievements), writing people up for minor infractions, passing the buck, looking for someone to blame, authoritarian management which is heavy handed and quick with the hickory stick could all be culprits in OCPD.

OCPDs have been conditioned to spend time managing their boss. The following question is front and center in their thought process: How can I avoid getting in trouble and/or receiving a verbal/written reprimand? I don’t imagine that cutting edge companies have cultures in which employees are paralyzed by fear. Innovation is preceded by mistakes, and mistakes are the fruit of creativity and the potential cutting edge. Fostering OCPD is a waste of human talent that could be more productively employed in other pursuits. In a company overrun by rules, culture can affect managers as well: “A supervisor can become a painful micro-manager.”

As a boss, think carefully before you commit a misstep. Is the behavior you’re modeling what you would appreciate being directed at you? The executive suite may whittle our understanding of the Golden Rule, but it most certainly doesn’t lessen the impact of inconsistency. If you’re a supervisor, consider the following:

  • Are your employees sitting on pins and needles anticipating the worst?
  • Are you unpredictable: do you say one thing, then do another?
  • Do people feel comfortable talking to you? Have you created open lines of communication and a welcoming atmosphere? Do you engage in “management by wandering around” by meeting people on their turf?
  • Do you feel the need to frequently check employees’ work? Do you trust them to do a task without checking in with you?

Loosening the reigns is a way to obtain freedom for both parties: employees who suffer from “peeping Tom” supervisors, and managers who feel a compulsive need to pop in. Relax: giving yourself and others a much needed break.


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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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