“He’s one of the most charismatic CEOs I’ve ever met. He’s an inspiration to his employees, with his strategic vision and problem-solving capabilities. He’s one who knows how to make hard decisions — even if they are not popular. And above all, he is a talented salesman for everyone, from employees to investors.”
This description, which ostensibly fits the ideal CEO, is in fact a portrait of the so-called “corporate psychopath.” This is because many of the traits of psychopaths are rewarded when they are manifested in organizations.
The rate of psychopathic men, by the way, is significantly higher than the rate of women. They are often highly intelligent, manipulative and charming — this set of traits is characterized as the new type of psychopath. This is not a psychopath who is well known to us from movies or TV series like Hannibal Lecter or Dexter, but people who have a type of personality disorder, which includes some of the characteristics of those characters.
Corporate Psychopaths Thrive in Chaos
It’s important to note that corporate psychopaths are not violent and operate within the law. Their way of gaining strength is to climb the organizational ladder — and gain recognition and status. They thrive in chaos, and because they know that most people have difficulties to act in chaos, they will make sure to create chaos in the work environment.
Unlike psychotic people, the psychopath CEO does not lose touch with reality. On the contrary, he is gifted with an accurate perception of reality, but is characterized by a lack of empathy or concern for the consequences of his actions. The corporate psychopath does not learn from mistakes or punishments.
Situations that for most people would elicit an emotional response, pass by them. These qualities allow them to make decisions that we sometimes inadvertently call “rationality” — that is, decisions that do not take into account the emotional component. They have no problem firing people, assaulting people in the middle of a discussion if they do not think like them, or behaving unfairly.
Related Article: How to Cultivate the Human Side of Leadership
No Sense of Remorse, Lack of Emotional Burden
What often prevents non-psychopaths from succeeding in a competitive environment are feelings of remorse and guilt, which often lead them to make decisions driven by emotional considerations. Psychopaths have no sense of remorse, which lowers their emotional burden.
It seems that Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Thernus, presents a similar set of characteristics. She is a pathological liar who will not be quiet until she achieves her goal, and will not stop to think about the consequences of her actions. The desire to resemble Steve Jobs and the intoxication of power that characterized her, put her on a par with the same corporate psychopaths. These people crave power and dominant positions, but they are what is called a “social chameleon.”
In other words, they are able to disguise their ruthlessness and anti-social behavior under the guise of personal charm. Indeed, Holmes managed to charm all investors, forcing her way to the top with the help of manipulations, leaving behind a long line of disappointed people and empty wallets. All this without conscience, guilt or sorrow.
According to a survey conducted two years ago in the UK by British psychologist Kevin Dutton, it was found that the most attractive role for psychopaths is the role of the CEO. In second place were lawyers, and in third place were TV and radio people.
Related Article: Bad Company Culture? Blame Senior Leadership
Corporate Psychopaths Attract Investors
CEOs of startups with a psychotic personality structure are more likely to persuade investors to invest in their company, compared to CEOs who are not endowed with these character traits. Investors are attracted to the psychopathic personality structure because they believe that these people are more likely to make rational and cold decisions, so they will recoup their investment.
Psychopaths often know how to tell people what they want to hear, in order to mobilize them for their own benefit. They are aware of their abilities and use them to manipulate, and make sure to rotate things so that they serve them. They are also characterized by grandiose self-worth, overestimating themselves and their abilities, and confident that they are elevated from all people. Many psychopaths specialize in business and economics, as these areas reward them for their coolness.
In a study conducted at the University of California and published in the “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,” managers of more than 100 hedge funds were asked questions like, “What is your view on opportunities in the current market?” and “What is your philosophy on risk management?”
Scientists rated their answers and body language for signs of what is known as the “dark triad” of personality traits: narcissism (egoism and self-obsession), psychopathy (lack of empathy for the other), and Machiavellianism (willingness to deceive and deceive others). They found that executives who own these traits are more likely to persuade others to invest in their company because investors trust them to bring the company to the right place.
Well, the next time you are questioning your boss, remember that you may not be hallucinating.
Liraz Margalit, PhD, is a digital psychologist, customer & user behavior specialist, and an international keynote speaker. She integrates cognitive psychology and behavioral economics perspectives to analyzes consumer behavior and deliver actionable insights for business stakeholders.