Psychopathy is perhaps one of the most misunderstood traits in the entire field of psychology. One of the three “dark triad” personality traits, it was first written about in the 1940s by Hervey Cleckley in his book, The Mask of Sanity. Psychopaths display a lack of empathy, a desire to manipulate or control others, a need to feel like they are in power, and the ability to charm others.
Since that first book, the psychopathic personality (also known as the sociopathic personality) has captured the imaginations of many, inspiring countless movies, books and other media. Given the depictions of psychopaths are serial killers, murderers and rapists it’s interesting that they routinely find themselves occupying CEO and other top leadership positions.
Research has demonstrated that people in positions of power, jobs like CEO, police officer and lawyer routinely have more psychopathic tendencies than those lower down the food chain or in other careers that are not as power-focused. What is it about the psychopathic personality that helps them ascend the ladder so easy? There are a number of ways that scoring high on psychopathic traits are beneficial in the corporate world.
Psychopaths don’t have to murder people to get a sense of power and control in their life. Instead, they can show themselves as strong and dominant leaders who are ambitious and aiming for the top spot of the ladder – this confidence translates into someone who their superiors want to promote because they already act the part.
The ability to be pleasant and charming on a dime is another extremely valuable quality that many psychopaths possess. Whether it’s negotiating a business deal or impressing a hiring manager psychopaths have learned what they need to do in order to get what they want in the simplest way possible.
Psychopaths are well known for being cold and unemotional, but what this means for the day-to-day of a business is that they don’t get anxious or stressed when chaos is brewing around them.
The same lack of anxiety that allows someone with a personality disorder to inflict pain on others without caring also allows the sociopathic personality to make the right move for their company regardless of the human cost. The old adage “sometimes you have to cut off a finger to save the hand” (or perhaps more poignantly, “sometimes you have to shoot a hostage”) are the motto of the corporate psychopath.
Sometimes called manipulation, those with a psychopathic personality recognize what those below them need to do in order to move them and their team forward and they take advantage of that information, expertly maneuvering and motivating their subordinates to do what it takes to hit their targets, make the deals and meet timelines. All of this ensures that the sociopathic personality is most effective when he has other under his or her control, because of his ability to stoke a high performing team.
Some bosses are too lax with their employees, allowing conduct like coming in late, leaving early, or not performing quality work to flourish in an organization. This becomes ultimately detrimental and is something easy for the calculated and precise psychopath to avoid.
Because psychopaths often lack empathy, the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel things from their perspective, those tough decisions that non-psychopaths may struggle with come much easier to a psychopath.
Imagine needing to fire a staff person, close a business unit or harshly evaluate a piece of work that your business is depending on. A psychopath will have an easier time making those decisions because they’re putting the business’s needs first – exactly what a leader needs to do.
If you’ve enjoyed this then be sure to check out the other two dark triad personalities:
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