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Journal cover: Society and Business Review

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Online from: 2006

Subject Area: Business Ethics and Law

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Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why?

Document Information:
Title:Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why?
Author(s):Richard J. Pech, (Faculty of Law and Management, Graduate School of Management, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia), Bret W. Slade, (Faculty of Law and Management, Graduate School of Management, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia)
Citation:Richard J. Pech, Bret W. Slade, (2007) "Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why?", Society and Business Review, Vol. 2 Iss: 3, pp.254 - 269
Keywords:Employee behaviour, Managers, Organizational culture, Promotion
Article type:Conceptual paper
DOI:10.1108/17465680710825451 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Purpose – Organisations sometimes select and promote the wrong individuals for managerial positions. These individuals may be incompetent, they may be manipulators and bullies. They are not the best people for the job and yet not only are they selected for positions of authority and responsibility, they are sometimes promoted repeatedly until their kind populate the highest levels of the organisational hierarchy. The purpose of this paper is to address this phenomenon by attempting to explain why it occurs and why organisational members tolerate such destructive practices. It concludes by proposing a cultural strategy to protect the organisation and its stakeholders from the ambitious machinations of the organisational sociopath.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors develop an explanatory framework by attempting to combine elements of the theory of memetics with structuration theory. Memetic theory helps to analyse culture and communication of beliefs, ideas, and thoughts. Structuration theory can be used to identify motives and drives. A combination of these theoretical approaches can be used to identify the motives of organisational sociopaths. Such a tool is also useful for exploring the high level of organisation tolerance for sociopathic managers.

Findings – Organisational tolerance and acceptance for sociopathic managerial behaviour appears to be a consequence of cultural and structural complexity. While this has been known for some time, few authors have posited an adequate range of explanations and solutions to protect stakeholders and prevent the sociopath from exploiting organisational weaknesses. Reduction of cultural and structural complexity may provide a partial solution. Transparency, communication of strong ethical values, promotion based on performance, directed cooperation, and rewards that reinforce high performing and acceptable behaviour are all necessary to protect against individuals with sociopathic tendencies.

Originality/value – The authors provide a new cultural diagnostic tool by combining elements of memetic theory with elements of structuration theory. The subsequent framework can be used to protect organisations from becoming the unwitting victims of sociopaths seeking to realise and fulfil their needs and ambitions through a managerial career path.

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