Different Personalities at Work: Psychopathy

Psychopathy, (sometimes used synonymously with sociopathy), is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, lack of empathy and remorse, and bold, uninhibited, egotistical traits.

The term is often employed in common usage along with the related but distinct “crazy”, “insane” and “mentally ill”, criminal psychology researcher Robert Hare stresses that a clear distinction is known among clinicians and researchers between psychopathic and psychotic individuals. Hare claims that psychopaths “are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders. Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.”

If you are convinced your CEO is a psychopath, you might probably be right. Let’s take for instance, Martin Shkreli, the Pharma CEO who raised the price of an AIDS drug by almost 5,000%. His actions are despicable, but he comes across as friendly and charming. The public impression of him did not fit his action. One of the conclusions is that Shkreli may be a psychopath. That conclusion might sound extreme, but it isn’t. It turns out CEOs are way more likely to be psychopaths than any other job title.

Studies say that 1 in 5 CEOs are psychopaths. An Australian study has found that about one in five corporate executives are psychopaths – roughly the same rate as among prisoners. The study of 261 senior professionals in the United States found that 21 per cent had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits. CEOs are four times more likely to be psychopaths than the average person, according to journalist Jon Ronson, who spent two years researching this, and published a book titled “The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry.”

We can think of a bunch of CEOs who have demonstrated psychopathic traits. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was famous for yelling at his employees, and he denied paternity of his daughter for years.

Donald Trump has built a brand – and presidential campaign – around his brash insults, hard-nosed reasoning, and egocentric behavior. Ronson argues that we shouldn’t be surprised that there are so many psychopathic CEOs. After all, capitalism rewards psychopathic traits: ruthless and driven attitudes that rule out kindness, remorse, and empathy.

But psychopaths also have other traits that help them succeed.

They’re chameleons who can be charming while reveling in manipulating others and ravaging the lives of anyone in their path, Ronson said in an interview. Psychopaths also tend to be cool under pressure and can be extremely intelligent with a single-minded drive to succeed. But it’s often their hubris and confidence that leads to their downfall. Ronson argues that a psychopath’s lack of empathy leaves a kind of hole in the psyche. That space gets filled with a pleasure of manipulating others — and a lack of remorse or guilt about it.