Who’s Who in the Office

This week, The Times reported under the headline “American psycho on the path to power“, a study by the University of Oxford assessing the extent to which characters  were psychopaths.  Allocating a score of up to 28 in each of 8 characteristics, the Psychopathic Personality Inventory determined that Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump, is more psychopathic than Hitler, Napoleon and Nero.

I recall management training courses characterising certain people in the workplace, which I thought worth summarising here.  There have been many authoritative studies around work-personalities. This is not one of them, and it is intended to amuse.

The King/Queen

Often quiet, these are natural leaders, seen as wise and commanding respect without fear or force.  They rarely seek attention, but have some maverick qualities, and both intellectual and emotional intelligence. They may be backward in coming forward, but find themselves doing things which others cannot do and finding new ways to view the world. Rare people, they are often overlooked by less worthy Pretenders, who plot and use force to usurp power.

The Knight

Some say, once a knight is enough for anyone, but it’s not. Knights battle for success, heroically making rain with new business or leading the way with technical progress. Their importance cannot be overstated. Knights can be identified because their heroics need recognition. They have big egos, are open to flattery, but pretend to shun it. The title “Sir” would suit most, but few get that honour. In the workplace, promotion and reward are critical to them.  Some go so far as to become Pretenders – seeking to rule, even if they are not suited to that role.

The Knave

Everyone loves a Knave, or Joker, often a creative type, who can put the funny slant on everything. Laughing in the face of adversity, these people are not always as loveable as they would like. There is a dark side to the clown, too. The Knave often has good ideas, starts things running but is not good at detail or completion. They need to be liked, and appear to seek authority, but are sufficiently self-aware to know that they are not equipped for it. Instead they serve the critical role of understanding the human side of a business.

The Psychopath

Psychopaths are rarely the Nigel-No-Mates we see in Dirty Harry movies. Instead, they may be gregarious, ambitious, charismatic risk-takers, who are superficially popular. Yet nothing is ever their fault, and people quietly curse them fearfully under their breath, as they notice the Psychopath’s empathy is missing. Their funny anecdotes bolster their own importance and are disparaging of others. In fact, they prefer to shine among losers than quietly contribute to a winning team. Their contribution can be enormous, but any benefit to others is either collateral, or intentionally ingratiating. As leaders they can lead to illusory success. They are described perfectly in Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” (“Animals”, 1977).

The Soothsayer

These people constantly seek answers, worry about politics, and are commonly thought of, unfairly, as whingers. They are stand-offish and avoid participation, usually in an aloof manner, yet they listen well to others. Easily confused with gossips, they are inclined to stir up problems.  Soothsayers find out all the information management needs but rarely listens to. Their knowledge of the people and the politics of the office makes them good strategists and their predictions are often astute.

The Lawyer

Lawyers (even in a firm of lawyers) as characters (as against members of the profession), may also be Knights or Kings, but usually find themselves as second in command. They can make good leaders if they are visionary, but they are rarely ruthless, and apply calm logic, seeing issues that others miss. Lawyers tend not to be gregarious, are often quiet, and even invisible in a grouping until needed.  They are neither loved not despised, in fact they  are barely noticed.

The Mediator

Personalities often clash, but Mediators are never a part of that. Similar to Lawyers, they are liked by everyone, yet no-one sees them as a friend. In times of crisis they are saviours, yet they rarely receive thanks, and this can annoy them. You can spot a Mediator because everyone smiles when they see one, and then forgets about them instantly.  These people are charitable and self-sacrificing, skilled at manipulating, and unlike the Pyschopath, they work for the common good.


These are a few descriptions that might amuse. Take care applying them to people you know: most people fall into multiple categories.

Published by

Jonathan Franks

A man of limited intellect spurred on by a belief that if you say enough, some of it might be right. Also a specialist in self-deprecation.

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