Is your boss a psychopath?

Every business needs a psychopath…

That’s the news directly in from the CIPD.  You can read their article here, but in essence, it argues that we all have degrees of psychopathy inherent in us, and that in moderation, these elements can be useful for particular jobs.

And that life would be a bit boring if we were all the same, and that diversity is a good thing.

That’s all true to an extent.

There are certainly roles where dialing up elements such as less empathy might be considered an advantage.  The article cites the example of the surgeon who lacks empathy. And this may be considered a good thing in terms of the surgeon managing his or her own stress levels, although there is a growing body of research that shows that empathy can make a huge difference in terms of patient health and recovery.

There are two elements though, that concern me with the article’s approach.. Firstly, if you are recruiting deliberately with these characteristics in mind, you had better have a good system for making sure that the employee receives great and appropriate development and feedback.

And secondly, I worry about the increasing number of leaders who are showing these characteristics. And the damage that they are doing to their organisataions.

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?  The characteristics of a corporate psychopath

In this Fast Company article on whether your boss is a psychopath, Robert Hare’s famous checklist was described, and then they go on to talk about Corporate Psychopaths…:

“…But how can we recognize psychopathic types? Hare has revised his Psychopathy Checklist (known as the PCL-R, or simply “the Hare”) to make it easier to identify so-called subcriminal or corporate psychopaths.

He has broken down the 20 personality characteristics into two subsets, or “factors.” Corporate psychopaths score high on Factor 1, the “selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others” category. It includes eight traits: glibness and superficial charm; grandiose sense of self-worth; pathological lying; conning and manipulativeness; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect (i.e., a coldness covered up by dramatic emotional displays that are actually playacting); callousness and lack of empathy; and the failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. Sound like anyone you know? (Corporate psychopaths score only low to moderate on Factor 2, which pinpoints “chronically unstable, antisocial, and socially deviant lifestyle,” the hallmarks of people who wind up in jail for rougher crimes than creative accounting.)..”

And then, somewhat worryingly,  “..We put several big-name CEOs through the checklist, and they scored as “moderately psychopathic”..”

The impact of culture on psychopaths

The article makes the point that:

“..Europe is far ahead of the United States in trying to deal with psychological abuse and manipulation at work. The “antibullying” movement in Europe has produced new laws in France and Sweden. Harvard’s Stout suggests that the relentlessly individualistic culture of the United States contributes a lot to our problems. She points out that psychopathy has a dramatically lower incidence in certain Asian cultures, where the heritage has emphasized community bonds rather than glorified self-interest. “If we continue to go this way in our Western culture,” she says, “evolutionarily speaking, it doesn’t end well.”..”

I wonder then, will the increased emphasis on anti bullying do anything for the Australian culture? Are we more aligned to American culture?  Can we learn from the Asian cultures?

Some questions I am pondering…

Is the CIPD right, that it’s all good, so long as it is well managed? Or is Hare right when he says if we screened CEOs the way we screen police officers or teachers, then we could avoid the heartache and scandal of the likes of Enron.

And is Hare right when he says that it is the culture of the corporations that attract these sort of individuals in the first place?

And finally, does it matter? What sort of people do we want running our organisations?  Does it matter that they display these sort of tendencies? What impact is this sort of leadership having on the performance and profitability of businesses?

And if it does matter; if this stuff is important. What then, are we doing to change it?

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