Leadership For The Future


Is our CEO a psychopath?

psychopath . . .?  Psychologists describe a psychopath as someone who is incapable of empathising with others.  That’s a short answer and, on one level it makes sense that, people who are full of sympathy and deliberate over the fairness of each course of action would not be great when called to make decisions about who to fire and to whom to give a pay increase on a regular basis.

Even David McClelland, the psychologist and management guru, in his human motivation theory divided workers’ personalities into three categories: those who need power, those who need to achieve, and those who want to be liked.  McClelland devised his own test and found that those with a high need to achieve and a high need for affiliation—in other words, really great colleagues, contribute well to the organisation but don’t necessarily get to the top.  Conversely, those who thirst for power and don’t care about what people think of them end up being in charge.

Robert Hare, the Canadian forensic psychologist, has developed a comprehensive psychopath checklist in which he outlines some typical psychopathic traits; glib and charming manner, manipulative, grandiose sense of self-worth, callous and lack of empathy and failure to accept responsibility for their own actions.

The question is whether psychopathic traits in leaders can be a positive thing. Some psychologists would say “yes”, that there are certain attributes like coolness under pressure, which are good qualities.  Robert Hare would argue “no”, that in the absence of empathy you will always get malevolence.  Basically, high-scoring psychopaths can be brilliant bosses, but only ever in the short term.

Take the characters, Vito Corleone and his son, Michael, in the Godfather, both of whom are recognised as cruel and violent.  Well, a colleague came across an article drawing out lessons in leadership from the film.  I was quite surprised by the clear leadership shown by these anti-social characters.  You might like to have a read . . .  http://www.fastcompany.com/1826672/an-offer-you-cant-refuse-leadership-lessons-from-the-godfather?partner=gnews

On a more serious note Baliak and Hare have written a book called “Snakes in Suits:  When Psychopaths Go to Work”.  They have developed a test, B-Scan, which assesses the degree to which a person responds to challenges and organisational responsibility as expressed in his or her behaviours, attitudes, and judgments.   You might like to take a look at this as well.  http://www.b-scan.com/

So back to the psychopath test – do you dare try it out on your CEO?  Here’s one based on Hare’s checklist which you can try: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/96/open_boss-quiz.html

And if you discover your CEO is a psychopath?  Well, you know where to find me.