There are bad bosses. The type that gets promoted without any managerial, interpersonal, or organizational skills. There are even scary bosses. The type that is unnecessarily threatening, overly aggressive, or ignorant to the point of causing others harm. But then there are the dark, sinister, or ominous bosses. This type is in a category all by themselves.
This boss looks great from the outside. They are well-dressed, groomed, charming, and smooth. When they enter a room, they naturally command attention, all eyes watch them for the slightest indication of what is to happen next. The boss is the predator, everyone in the room is the prey waiting to see if there is going to be an attack. Yet, this boss shows no signs of what is to come. With grace, poise, and extreme confidence, the boss patiently waits until everyone is at ease before they attack. After it is over, the victim is demolished, the onlookers are fearful, and the boss is weirdly happier.
No matter what the profession, if a boss has this personality combination, they are terrifying. It is called The Dark Tetrad which is composed of four parts: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. Sadism is the addition to the Dark Triad which has narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. For either condition, this means a person possesses the characteristics of all of these personalities.
What is The Dark Tetrad? The Dark Tetrad shares two major characteristics: extreme selfishness and a lack of empathy for others. This combination affords the ability to cause harm and abuse others in a variety of ways without any regard for the feelings, safety, or morality of the victims. As bosses, they are focused on dominance and power often using aggression, manipulation, exploitation, and vindictiveness. All behavior is justified if it grants them what they want, including criminal acts. Laws do not stop this boss from doing whatever they want and neither do consequences. This boss will destroy whatever they have built if it means destroying others that they despise in the process. They are willing to do this because their arrogance is so potent that they believe they can rebuild anything including fortunes, power, and influence. To understand why a person is like this requires an understanding of the parts that compose it.
Narcissistic Component. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a DSM-5 diagnosis. Generally speaking, they are superior, grandiose, demanding, prideful, boastful, arrogant, and self-centered. They need and expect constant admiration, attention, and affection. They can be abusive when threatened or their needs aren’t being met. The disorder is both inherited and developed and/or reinforced in childhood. The weakness of the narcissist is their inability to handle embarrassment. Narcissists are known for their adult temper tantrums. However, when narcissism is part of the dark tetrad, this is no longer the case.
Machiavellianism Component. Prince Machiavelli wrote the Italian book The Prince in the 1500s. It outlines a political philosophy on how rulers are to govern their subjects. Machiavellianism is the adaptation of this philosophy into a personality and as such is a personality construct not a disorder. Therefore, it is not inherited; rather it is a learned behavioral pattern. Machiavellians are manipulative, exploitative of others, cynical, deceptive and believe it is better to be feared than loved. Unlike narcissists, they do not make exaggerated claims about their significance or accomplishments. Unlike psychopaths and sadists, they are too calculated to risk vengeful or cruel behavior unless there is a specific gain. When Machiavellianism is combined with narcissism, psychopathology, or sadism, there is no limit to their abusiveness or the evil creativity within which they act it out.
Psychopathy Component. Psychopaths are under the Anti-Social Personality Disorder umbrella listed in the DSM-5 along with sociopaths and sadists. A psychopath has the ability to create an entire persona in direct contrast to who they really are. They are very calculating, callous, without a conscience, pathological liars, remorse-free, and dangerous. Their personality is both inherited and developed through a traumatic and abusive childhood. Psychopaths, unlike Machiavellians and Narcissists, can instantly read the emotions of others and calculate how to use it to their advantage without any emotional response. They have no problem hurting others, but it is always for a purpose, unlike sadists. They patiently wait to attack their victim, often having planned the attack over many years.
Sadism Component. Sadists are a part of Anti-Social Personality Disorder now. In the past, they had a separate diagnosis under the old DSM formats. The name sadism comes from Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) a French philosopher and writer. His works combined philosophy with sexual fantasies and violent behavior. Sadists are individuals who crave cruelty and derive pleasure from being cruel to others. It is not clear whether this behavior is inherited, developed or learned. Not all sadism is sexual or involves killing, rather it is about inflicting pain on others that sadists find exciting or pleasurable. Unlike psychopaths, they are not as calculating about the abusive behavior, instead, it is all self-pleasuring. This in combination with the other components is why a boss will continue their abusive behavior because they get excited seeing fear or hurt in others.
Identifying The Dark Tetrad Boss. Jonason and Webster devised a quick scale called the Dirty Dozen which can help to spot a Triad boss. Here is a breakdown of what the boss looks like. They:
- Manipulate others to get their way. This is not simple manipulation or is it obvious, rather the manipulation is very hard to unmask until after the attack is complete. Since this personality tends to wait a long time, the shifting environment of a workplace makes this that much harder to see.
- Have no real remorse. While this boss might fake remorse for their own gain, their long-term behavior demonstrates a complete lack of true remorse. The arrogance, superiority, and God-like status of this personality make it impossible for any shame or regret.
- Want others to admire them. This best seen in serial killers who do the most heinous acts of violence they can imagine for the point of being recognized. In their twisted minds, they are admired for their behavior. A boss on this scale does obvious criminal acts believing that others admire them for what they are able to do and get away without any significant consequences.
- Are unconcerned with the morality of their actions. This is not just about breaking laws, it is also about shattering common decency, ethical values, moral codes, and/or religious beliefs. This boss will say they are decent, ethical, moral, and/or religious while simultaneously violating as many values as they can. Some are done in secret, others are blatant.
- Use deceit or lies to get their way. This boss has no problem telling two contradictory lies at the same time to see which one sticks. Worse yet, they will even say the opposing lies to the same people. When confronted, they often gaslight employees into believing that the employees are going crazy, not the boss.
- Are callous or insensitive. This is not just an insensitive remark, rather it is a cold-hearted boss who is incapable of showing empathy, sympathy, or compassion. No one is off-limits, including spouses and children of an employee.
- Use flattery to get their way. There are some forms of flattery that are pleasant, but this type of flattery is maliciously deceptive and designed to manipulate, subdue, and tranquilize a victim. The flattery is often followed by a brutal attack.
- Seek prestige or status. The ladder of success is paved with the bodies of the people they have destroyed to get what they want. Nothing stops this boss from achieving whatever prestige or status they desire and nothing is outside of bounds to get there.
- Tend to be cynical. This boss is known for their underhanded sarcasm, passive-aggressive remarks, and back-handed compliments. No one is good enough, except them.
- Exploit others toward their own end. This boss’s exploitation of others is legendary. Not only do they openly brag about it but they often have souvenirs of their conquest on display as a demonstration of their accomplishments.
- Expect special favors from others. The superiority of this boss is so pronounced that they expect in whatever environment that they enter, they will be given whatever they want. Even when others are unaware of the status of this boss, they are still expected to comply.
- Wants others to pay attention to them. Even the quietest type of this personality construct wants others to notice them, not in a positive altruistic way. Rather, they want to go down in history as being feared.
The bottom line is this: a boss with these characteristics can and will make work hellish. It is better to work in a lesser occupation than to put up with the abuse on a daily basis. For this boss, they will destroy even their own family if it means getting what they want. No one is off-limits.