Do "Psychopaths" Really Make Better Leaders?

"Studies have indicated that . . . up to one in five of those filling company boardrooms and senior management positions are hiding psychopathic tendencies, using certain personality traits to charm and manipulate their way through the workplace." BBC

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Bert Perry's picture

There are two problems to be addressed here; first, are organizations really selecting for good leaders, and then if they are, psychologically speaking, somewhere significant on the scale of mental illness.

On the first, Scott Adams of "Dilbert" fame has made millions pillorying the tendency to promote "tall men with good hair and MBAs" to management, and even joked once that they hired a manager because he'd gone to "Yale", not realizing he was Scandinavian and mispronounced the "J".   I've noticed as well that a Ph.D. is a fast track to management, which is problematic because you get your terminal degree by isolating yourself from family and friends for years to write your thesis.  Great training for people people, eh? 

So I'd guess that at most organizations, there is a significant disconnect between leader selection and leadership.  I would guess as well that certain of the manipulative in the world do indeed take advantage of this to gain positions they ought not.

Another factor is that for many organizations, leadership often means wielding the "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap approach, and that's going to favor those without remorse as well.  Really, short term thinking does indeed favor those....whose mental state involves risk-taking without concern for long term consequences.  

In a word, Yes, I do think we're selecting for a group of individuals who don't value other people too often.  Whether or not this qualifies as psychopathy, I'll leave to the psychiatrists.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


They found me out.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Ed Vasicek's picture

It is not a big leap to look at ministry leaders who are of this nature.  My suspicion is that some of fundamentalism's past "hard driving" leaders might be of this category.  Anyone else suspect I might be right?

"The Midrash Detective"

Ron Bean's picture

I sat under one for 11 years. He was a master and well trained by an older mentor. His successor tries but does not have his skills.


"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Steve Newman's picture

we have one leading our country!


Ed Vasicek's picture

Steve Newman wrote:

we have one leading our country!


I would say that we have an arrogant, driving, quick-tempered leader who lashes out, but I would not agree that he is a psychopath, however.  A psychopath does not have genuine feelings for others and has a dwarfed conscience.


"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture's worth noting that ethics standards for psychiatrists and psychologists prohibit a remote diagnosis.  You've got to examine the individual in person.  So while I'd agree any number of our politicians, business leaders, and other leaders have some serious troubling signs, we ought not get in the business of encouraging mental health practicioners to violate professional ethics.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.