Beware the Psychopath

learn to spot a psychopath

10 years ago today a plane carrying one passenger crashed into a mountain in South Africa killing all on board. 50 years ago today a screen goddess had her last (36th) birthday. She would be dead by August.

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false] Both had bucket loads of fortune and talent, and at various times had the world at their feet. Both could not handle the enormity of their situation, and met with tragic ends. For all their wealth and fame, neither fulfilled their true potential, yet did more than most of us could dream of.

Marilyn Monroe – happy 86th birthday. “The candle burned out long before the legend ever did.” Hansie Cronje – what a sad end to a life thoroughly messed up. With the promise of the rainbow nation, anointed by Mandela, you were a tough competitor and fearless leader. Not hugely blessed with natural talent like a Botham or Richards, yet someone who worked hard, rose though the ranks, was incredibly fit (the ‘beep test’ King) and made the most of what they had, Steve Waugh-like.

Behind the facade though was a ruthless manipulator. A charming persona disguised someone with little moral compass yet with strong persuasion and power over others, used to ruthless effect. According to the facts of the case, as a tough captain, Cronje’s web sucked in players under his charge to fix matches. Once caught in the bookies’ net with easy money earned, greed took over until a chance phone call was tapped between him and an Indian bookie.

It later came out that Cronje was (according to his team Doctor) a classic “psychopath” – not in the blood-curdling axe-chopping sense of the Hollywood movie, but in the “charming, no remorse, no conscience” sense of real life. A massive manipulator of people, he was up to all sorts for years, on the take, and possibly only a tiny proportion of what he was up to came out. In a recent poll of all time favourite South Africans though, he still came out in 11th place (Francois Pienaar, the world cup winning rugby captain of impeccable standing came 50th). Psychopaths are highly persuasive, and if he’d lived he may have been afforded a complete rehabilitation. There are still people who believe it was all a stitch up, that he could not have done these things, and his death was a cover up. Even in death, they can have power over people.

While most people buckle in their wake or turn a blind eye (it’s easier to do so I guess), they breed a toxicity in workplaces that can crowd out innovation, truth, fun and success. Studies show that they are all about us, representing 3-6% of the population. Don’t think you can convert them from the dark side, their behaviours were set in stone by the time they were 7. If you see charm, manipulation and no remorse/conscience you may be dealing with a psychopath. Tread carefully, for either they win and you lose, or you both lose. They need to go. For if they don’t leave, your good people will leave when they realize the person is not being dealt with (or worse, is supported).

Cronje was built up, lauded and given powers way beyond a normal sports captain. The obsessive end result brought his world, and South African cricket, crashing down. Give me poor Marilyn any day, with her frailties and disorders and annoying latenesses. She would shine, and the camera loved her. Happy Birthday Norma Jean.

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About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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