Monday, March 23, 2015

An Organizational Parasite?

In A.D. 751 An Lushan was the favorite of the Chinese Imperial Palace. The emperor's wife, Yang Guifei, adopted the shrewd and cunning general as her son. Four years later An rebelled against the emperor Xuanzong, who had ignored all the warnings and as a result found himself in the midst of a civil war. A decade later China had lost two-thirds of its population. The devastation was tremendous.

One power-hungry individual can be absolutely devastating to an organization, or a state. It would be nice if there were some signs that such a parasitic individual were in an organization. There are a number of different types of individuals that can devastate an organization. Clive Boddy talks about six symptoms of the presence of psychopaths in an organization (I do not know if An Lushan was actually a psychopath, he just came to mind as I read Boddy's discussion):
  1. The first effect of Corporate Psychopaths in organisations is a heightened level of conflict. Corporate Psychopaths are said to adopt divide-and-conquer strategies that include abusing their subordinates, manipulating their peers and charming their superiors. . . . Where Corporate Psychopaths are present, conflict at work is both much greater in incidence (i.e. conflict affects more people) and more frequent in occurrence (i.e. conflict also happens more often): arguments are more widespread and more frequent, yelling increases by a factor of ten, and rudeness and bullying increase dramatically.

  2. . . . This research found a second effect of the presence of Corporate Psychopaths related to corporate social responsibility: perceptions that an organisation does business in a socially responsible manner and in a way that shows commitment to employees plummets dramatically.

  3. . . . The third effect is that there are heavier than necessary organisational constraints in workplaces when Corporate Psychopaths are present. . . .

  4. The fourth effect of having Corporate Psychopaths in an organisation relates to leadership and managerial competence, as reflected in workload. Psychopaths are noted for their parasitic lifestyles, and in an organisation this can be expected to take the form of claiming others' work and ideas as their own, neglecting their managerial and leadership responsibilities, and blaming others for their own mistakes and omissions. . . .

  5. . . . The fifth effect of Corporate Psychopaths is significant negative impacts on multiple aspects of job satisfaction, including impacts of perceptions that employees get due recognition for a job well done and on employees liking the people they work with, reporting good communication within the organisation and reporting that their supervisor was fair to them. . . .

  6. . . . The sixth effect on employees who experience Corporate Psychopaths is that they withdraw from the organisational environment.
(Clive Boddy, Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destoyers [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011], 23-25.)
The way that ancient peoples wrote history is usually not conducive to seeing these sorts of effects recorded. But there is a further problem with applying this sort of thought to the ancient world.

In a critique of Boddy, Daniel Jones and Robert Hare (the latter of which knows an immense amount about psychopaths) argue that the characteristics that Boddy attributes to corporate psychopaths are true also of narcissists and Machiavellian individuals:
observers may perceive an individual as unprincipled, dishonorable, callous, manipulative, or ‘‘malevolent,’’ a perception that would apply to various dark personalities and not specifically to psychopathy. This presents a problem  
(Daniel N. Jones and Robert D. Hare, "The Mismeasure of Psychopathy: A Commentary on Boddy’s PM-MRV," Journal of Business Ethics [25 February 2015], 6.)
Jones and Hare note that although the three types of individuals share a group of traits in common, they differ in other traits and have slightly different results on organizations though they only briefly touched on them. So apparently those individuals that Boddy identifies with corporate psychopaths could be from any one of three categories only one of which actually consists of psychopaths. Boddy tries to make a case that the corporate afflictions arise naturally from a manager who displays the character traits that he identifies and this may well be the case no matter what the correct psychological diagnosis happens to be, though because Boddy's study is flawed that is not certain.

In one of his discussions, Boddy notes that in order to fix a problem, one must correctly identify it:
In terms of remedial action to reduce withdrawal behavior such as absenteeism, organisations are reported to seek superficial solutions to absenteeism - solutions which focus on the observed behavior or the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. This may involve punishing the employee who comes in late rather than trying to mitigate the abusive behaviour of a supervisor who is a Corporate Psychopath, for example. To maximise their effectiveness, organisations need to look at the root causes of employee withdrawal and address these rather than the symptoms.
(Boddy, Corporate Psychopaths, 126.)
Proper diagnosis is essential. So, Jones and Hare warn that:
Because assessments of psychopathy can have serious consequences in virtually any context—mental health, criminal justice, community, corporate, and so forth—the instrument used for the assessments must meet high psychometric standards. Just as important, those using such an instrument must be qualified to do so. . . . [This usually involves] advanced academic training in psychological testing and supervised experience in test administration and interpretation in the form of either a practicum or an internship. Many jurisdictions also require formal licensing by an appropriate board.  
(Jones and Hare, "The Mismeasure of Psychopathy," 2.)
Most historians lack the sort of training necessary to make a proper assessment even if the sources happened to record the relevant information. This example provides perhaps one more reason to follow David Fischer's warning that historical psychoanalysis is usually counterproductive:
These experiments have ended in failure more often than success. They have commonly consisted either of Freudian raids upon history, or historians' raids upon Freud. The results have ranged from the highly dubious to the downright preposterous.
(David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies [New York: Harper and Row, 1970], 188.)
Tellingly, Fischer cites, as one of his examples of dubious psycho-historians, Fawn Brodie.