Could Your Boss Be a Corporate Psychopath?
Thriving in chaos, without remorse or emotional burden.
Posted March 30, 2022 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
“He's one of the most charismatic CEOs I've ever met. He's an inspiration to his employees, with his strategic vision and problem-solving capabilities. He's one who knows how to make hard decisions, even if they are not popular. And above all, he is a talented salesman for everyone, from employees to investors."
This description, which ostensibly fits the ideal CEO, is in fact a portrait of the so-called "corporate psychopath." This is because many of the traits of psychopaths are rewarded when they are manifested in organizations.
The rate of psychopathic men, research finds, is significantly higher than the rate of women. They are often highly intelligent, manipulative, and charming — a set of traits often characterized as the new type of psychopath. This is not the psychopath so well known to us from movies or TV series like Hannibal Lecter or Dexter, but people who have a type of personality disorder which includes some of the characteristics of those characters.
Corporate Psychopaths Thrive in Chaos
It's important to note that corporate psychopaths are not violent and operate within the law. Their way of gaining strength is to climb the organizational ladder while gaining recognition and status. They thrive in chaos, and because they know that most people have difficulties acting in chaos, they make sure to create chaos in the work environment.
Unlike psychotic individuals, the psychopath CEO does not lose touch with reality. On the contrary, he or she is gifted with an accurate perception of reality, but is characterized by a lack of empathy or concern for the consequences of their actions. The corporate psychopath does not learn from mistakes or punishments.
Situations that for most people would elicit an emotional response pass by them. These qualities allow them to make decisions that we sometimes inadvertently call "rational" — that is, decisions that do not take the emotional component into account. They have no problem firing people, verbally assaulting people in the middle of a discussion if they do not think like them, or generally behaving unfairly.
No Sense of Remorse, and a Lack of Emotional Burden
What often prevents non-psychopaths from succeeding in a competitive environment are feelings of remorse and guilt, which often lead them to make decisions driven by emotional considerations. Psychopaths have little sense of remorse, which lowers their emotional burden.
It seems that Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, presents a similar set of characteristics, as a pathological liar who will not be quiet until she achieves her goal, and will not stop to think about the consequences of her actions. Her desire to resemble Steve Jobs, and the intoxication of the power that she pursued and achieved, put her on par with other corporate psychopaths. These people crave power and dominant positions, but are what experts call "social chameleons." In other words, they are able to disguise their ruthlessness and anti-social behavior under the guise of personal charm. Indeed, Holmes managed to charm her investors, forcing her way to the top with the help of manipulations, and leaving behind a long line of disappointed people and empty wallets. All this without conscience, guilt, or sorrow.
According to a survey conducted two years ago by British psychologist Kevin Dutton, it was found that the most attractive role for psychopaths is the role of the CEO. In second place were lawyers, and in third place were TV and radio personalities.
Corporate Psychopaths Attract Investors
CEOs of startups with a psychotic personality structure are more likely to persuade investors to invest, compared to CEOs not endowed with these traits. Investors are attracted to the psychopathic personality structure because they believe these people are more likely to make rational and cold decisions, and so they are more likely to recoup their investment.
Psychopaths often know how to tell people what they want to hear, in order to mobilize them for their own benefit. They are aware of their abilities and use them to manipulate and make sure to rotate things so that they serve them. They are also characterized by grandiose self-worth, overestimating themselves and their abilities, and confident that they are elevated above all others. Many psychopaths specialize in business and economics, as these areas reward them for their coolness.
In a study conducted at the University of California and published in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin," managers of more than 100 hedge funds were asked questions like, "What is your view on opportunities in the current market?" and "What is your philosophy on risk management?" Researchers rated their answers and body language for signs of what is known as the "dark triad" of personality traits: narcissism (egoism and self-obsession), psychopathy (lack of empathy for the other), and Machiavellianism (willingness to deceive and deceive others). They found that executives who carry these traits are more likely to persuade others to invest in their companies because investors trust them to bring their companies to the right place.
The next time you are questioning your boss's personality, remember that you may not be imagining things.