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Have you got the impression that a co-worker is just concerned about themselves, not the business or their peers to an extreme degree so that they have a serious negative impact on you and others?

If so, you may be working with a narcissist, Machiavellian, or psychopath—or with someone who exhibits behaviours that are indicative of those personality disorders,  often referred to as “The Dark Triad” according to the article  “Shady Strategic Behavior: Recognizing Strategic Behavior of Dark Triad Followers,” published in the publication, Academy of Management Perspectives.

“Their interests aren’t those of the organization. They only have their interests in mind,” according to Birgit Schyns of Neoma Business School. Barbara Wisse of the University of Groningen and Durham University Business School, Stacey Sanders of the University of Groningen, and Schyns collaborated on the article.

The authors stated that all three personality types—known as the Dark Triad—may be “directed by the wrong beliefs, lacking in morality and compassion for others, and using their position to promote their interests.” They argue:

  • Narcissists have an intense sense of entitlement and an ongoing desire for adulation.
  • Machiavellians are devious, dishonest, distrustful, and manipulative. They are egotistical and believe themselves to be superior to others. They are distinguished by their callousness, cynicism, and misanthropic ideas. They also strive for wealth, power, and status and employ devious influencing strategies. In contrast to narcissists, Machiavellians are content playing the part of the puppeteer and quietly tugging the strings. They do not need to be the centre of attention.
  • Psychopaths “are unafraid of breaking moral boundaries and are unlikely to heed the needs and wishes of others. They can carry out personal objectives covertly by causing disruption within the company and in the personal lives of their coworkers. They deliberately utilize humiliation and bullying in addition to enjoying harming others to divert attention from their covert selfish acts. Psychopaths are frequently thought of as the Dark Triad’s most evil members.”

The actions of organizational leaders have been the subject of numerous studies, but Schyns, Wisse, and Sanders concentrated on followers. According to the writers, followers’ actions can harm organizations in several ways.

“Some Dark Triad supporters could have a strong desire to get to leadership positions. Leadership roles often come with greater authority, which means there is also more potential for harm to be done. This makes it crucial to identify harmful behaviour before a potential promotion,” they noted.

“Narcissists aspire to positions of leadership because they believe they are deserving of them and because they want to be admired. Psychopaths seek positions of authority because they desire more freedom to act however they like. Machiavellians are unique. They will pick jobs that best fit their objectives and needs. Pulling the strings can be more significant to them. Machiavellians may be satisfied if they can influence leaders as followers,” according to Schyns.

However, followers might exhibit these traits more covertly than leaders.

 As a result, the potential shady strategic behaviour of followers may be less closely scrutinized, and organizations may miss out on opportunities to mitigate those damaging influences of Dark Triad followers, the authors wrote. “Leaders are viewed as the primary persons for developing and executing a strategy, and strategic behaviour of followers is less expected.” Narcissists, Machiavellians, and psychopaths “may behave much differently to their followers and their peers than they behave toward their leaders,” according to Schyns.

According to the authors, the following 15 behaviors can be used to spot Dark Triad supporters:

  1. Making exaggerated claims or claiming incorrect credit for contributions to the organization. (narcissism)
  2. Promoting oneself aggressively. (Machiavellianism, narcissism).
  3. Acting aggressively in response to unfavourable feedback and denouncing the feedback’s source. (narcissism).
  4. Treating valued company employees—”trophy colleagues”—differently from those who don’t bolster their egos. (narcissism) .
  5. Exhibiting a “choose your battles” mentality and a selfish viewpoint. (Machiavellianism).
  6. Making an effort to reduce or restrict the impact of others. (Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, Narcissism).
  7. Failing to impart or share knowledge with coworkers. (Machiavellianism).
  8. Using manipulation to achieve goals and objectives. (Psychopathy, Machiavellianism).
  9. Making plans without taking into account the effects on others. (Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, Narcissism) .
  10. Competing instead of collaborating cooperatively with others. (Psychopathy, Machiavellianism).
  11. Making fast, short-term decisions without taking into account the effects on others. (psychopathy).
  12. Making risky, audacious choices without regard for morals or regulations within the company. (Psychopathy, narcissism).
  13. Putting the status quo, regulations, and authorities in doubt. (psychopathy).
  14. Criticizing or bullying coworkers to divert attention from immediate duties to interpersonal relationships. (psychopathy).
  15. Getting coworkers into risky situations or enticing them into amorous connections with managers. (Psychopathy, Machiavellianism)

After identifying such job candidates or employees, what should be done?

“If at all possible, avoid hiring them. If you have them, take action, said Schyns.

According to Schyns, managers who observe any of these warning signs may want to speak with the offender about their actions and get second opinions from those they engage with within the company. Do not wait until the performance evaluation period; instead, ask for input from all possible angles.

It might only be the tip of the iceberg; more actions could be troublesome.

If coworkers notice any suspicious activity, they should “speak up.” Do not simply let things slide. Talk to the individual. And ask around to see if anyone else has experienced it. If that happened before, it might have just been a miscommunication. However, if it happens more than once and to other people, you will undoubtedly need to deal with it. You must speak with your employer. You must speak with HR. Make sure it doesn’t happen again, advised Schyns.

“Promoting these persons requires extreme caution. Because once these people have more authority, more responsibility, and their followers as well, you can have even more issues.

Employees who act in these ways might frequently benefit from training,” she said.

“Machiavellians will comply with discovering strategies for achieving their objectives, which is their primary goal. Narcissists find it more challenging since they struggle with receiving feedback. Therefore, you must present training as a way to improve upon their current level of performance. Psychopaths, in my opinion, are virtually impossible to train.

Dark Triad workers will make use of a lot of strategic power and latitude in organizations, according to research. However, if we restrict them—for example, with checks and balances and performance feedback—then they might not get the chance to demonstrate such traits. If we only keep them in check, they might not be quite as bad. They just don’t get a chance to show it, which doesn’t mean the trait disappears. Once you are aware that you have these individuals, you must take action, the authors argue.

You can read more about toxic workplaces and toxic leaders in my book, Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Ethical and Moral Leaders, and what can be done to minimize their destructive impacts and protect others and the organi