Thursday, August 25, 2005


In business, results count so I doubt that many successful businesses are headed by psychopaths. Psychopaths generally get found out pretty quickly so would not last long in a stable business. In politics, however, judgments of success or failure are much more arbitrary and I have no doubt that Bill Clinton and John Kerry would have been filtrered out of politics if they had had to pass a test for psychopathy. There are a few interesting excerpts from an article on the topic below:

Robert Hare is the creator of the Psychopathy Checklist. The 20-item personality evaluation has exerted enormous influence in its quarter-century history. It's the standard tool for making clinical diagnoses of psychopaths -- the 1% of the general population that isn't burdened by conscience. Psychopaths have a profound lack of empathy. They use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends. They seduce victims with a hypnotic charm that masks their true nature as pathological liars, master con artists, and heartless manipulators. Easily bored, they crave constant stimulation, so they seek thrills from real-life "games" they can win -- and take pleasure from their power over other people.

According to the Canadian Press and Toronto Sun reporters.. Hare began by talking about Mafia hit men and sex offenders, whose photos were projected on a large screen behind him. But then those images were replaced by pictures of top executives from WorldCom, which had just declared bankruptcy, and Enron, which imploded only months earlier. The securities frauds would eventually lead to long prison sentences for WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers and Enron CFO Andrew Fastow. "These are callous, cold-blooded individuals," Hare said. "They don't care that you have thoughts and feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse." He talked about the pain and suffering the corporate rogues had inflicted on thousands of people who had lost their jobs, or their life's savings. Some of those victims would succumb to heart attacks or commit suicide, he said. Then Hare came out with a startling proposal. He said that the recent corporate scandals could have been prevented if CEOs were screened for psychopathic behavior. "Why wouldn't we want to screen them?" he asked. "We screen police officers, teachers. Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?"

Is Hare right? Are corporations fundamentally psychopathic organizations that attract similarly disposed people? It's a compelling idea, especially given the recent evidence. Such scandals as Enron and WorldCom aren't just aberrations; they represent what can happen when some basic currents in our business culture turn malignant. We're worshipful of top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they're lifting profits and stock prices, we're willing to overlook that they can also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful, verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional, irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large.

Psychopaths succeed in conventional society in large measure because few of us grasp that they are fundamentally different from ourselves. We assume that they, too, care about other people's feelings. This makes it easier for them to "play" us. Although they lack empathy, they develop an actor's expertise in evoking ours. While they don't care about us, "they have an element of emotional intelligence, of being able to see our emotions very clearly and manipulate them," says Michael Maccoby, a psychotherapist who has consulted for major corporations.

Psychopaths are typically very likable. They make us believe that they reciprocate our loyalty and friendship. When we realize that they were conning us all along, we feel betrayed and foolish. "People see sociopathy in their personal lives, and they don't have a clue that it has a label or that others have encountered it," says Martha Stout, a psychologist at the Harvard Medical School and the author of the recent best-seller The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us (Broadway Books, 2005). "It makes them feel crazy or alone. It goes against our intuition that a small percentage of people can be so different from the rest of us -- and so evil. Good people don't want to believe it."

Intriguingly, Babiak believes that it's extremely unlikely for an entrepreneurial founder-CEO to be a corporate psychopath because the company is an extension of his own ego -- something he promotes rather than plunders. "The psychopath has no allegiance to the company at all, just to self," Babiak says. "A psychopath is playing a short-term parasitic game."

My own research papers on psychopathy can be found here and here. Why I think Clinton and Kerry are psychopaths is spelt out here or here.


No comments: