Pathological liars: they’re out there, and we keep giving them power

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readFeb 7, 2022

Have you ever been taken for a mug? Lied to, manipulated?

We hired someone into an important #management position, with financial responsibilities.

They aced all the #jobinterviews. Had great references, an engaging style. Perhaps a bit too ‘matey’, something off. But they were from a visible, minoritised group, and shared a lot about their upbringing and life, very different from ours. It felt potentially prejudicial to judge.

Things went OK, for a while. They took a lot on, took responsibility out of our hands as leaders and owners. Some people felt quite uncomfortable with them… but, again, that could be prejudice, right?

And they were going through some family things, and potentially a divorce — we thought of their poor, cute little kid!

One day, I came back to the office unexpectedly early, and decided to open the admin post while going upstairs, instead of just handing it over.

They had been drawing the maximum cash on the company charge card. Every. Single. Day.

The discovery was traumatic, stressful.

The police were helpful, at first.

They made the arrest.

The legal process, I’m sorry to say, was in some ways the most traumatic of all. Especially the bit where the police at the court held us in a small room so we couldn’t tell the judge that the Crown Prosecution Service was agreeing a plea deal based on completely fake ‘facts’ — and the barrister was late and not briefed.

But, of course, the worst of it was being betrayed.

Being taken for a mug.

*Being* a mug.

Lots more came out when we investigated.

Photoshopped receipts.

Manipulative messages to team members.

All the references were fake.

The family history, the life story and drama we’d sympathised over — no reason to believe any of it was true.

And it seemed that plans were potentially being made to take a lot more money.

It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? It feels almost shameful.

But of course this is a clickbait-y title, because I think *everyone* has had this experience.

I think we need to talk about it more.

When I did, when I overcame my shame and shared with my group of chief executives of #startups, when I spoke to #humanresources professionals — everyone had a story to share. One I’d never heard before.

The roommate who was a pathological liar.

The finance officer who had stolen millions.

The assistant who’d cooked the books.

I have to say, I wish I’d heard before!

There are some people like that out there and — especially in #entrepreneurship, I’m afraid — we all come across them occasionally.

They don’t announce themselves.

So financial controls (in particular), and other ethical controls need to be built not for ordinary, reasonable, moderately ethical folks — but with awareness of the existence of such people.

I don’t know why sociopaths and moral failings are coming to mind at the moment, but look out for these people. Plan for them. Don’t give them power.

Does this ring true? Or was my case unusual?

I’m sorry to say that my own profession (management consultancy — let’s leave public services aside for now!) has had a lot more than its fair share of sociopathic company behaviour:

An important piece here about how sociopaths destroy ‘scenes’

A real warning:

An excellent FT piece about how those who most belief that corruption is a personal issue — and they are above it — are most at risk of being corrupted.

I should say that in my article I was trying to avoid psychological labels — even though ‘pathological’, of course, is one — as that tends to take us down a path which is about the individual, fascinating as that may be — the point I want to make is that this is more common than we see — and that if we discuss it more (however painful), we as a society and as individuals and as institutions can defend against it better)