Are more psychopaths becoming business leaders?

It is a strange thought but there is quite a bit of research emerging suggesting that the psychology of leaders is not just changing but displaying some concerning traits.

Before we analyse the lead question, it is worth noting that one of the underlying debates of business change is that culture and people are becoming increasingly secondary to business process and financial results; that there was a greater sense of fun, care and friendship among colleagues in the past than that which exists today.

Of course, the word “psychopath” does immediately make one think of a Hannibal Lecter style character and there is some black humour in the idea of Hannibal Lecter as a CEO but there is a more serious point  – is business today developing the wrong leaders?

The argument is that increased processes and systems encourages business behaviours that are increasingly results orientated and less focused on people and culture – often it is those that are psychologically single minded and possess charm who become leaders rather than those that possess a greater social and team conscience.

This is not a new trend but one that is arguably growing. In 2007, a study by Paul Babiak found that one in 25 Business leaders are psychopaths – this is 4x greater than the norm. He notes that:

“There was a time when successful and rich people were known by the amount of charity they did for the society.  But it seems that as the stock markets rule the world of business and what the CEOs do every day and every month, traits insincerity, lack of truthfulness and lack of remorse and shame become second nature.”

The survey suggests psychopaths are actually poor managerial performers but are adept at climbing the corporate ladder because they can cover up their weaknesses by subtly charming superiors and subordinates.

“The higher the psychopathy, the better they looked – lots of charisma and they talk a good line. But if you look at their actual performance and ratings as a team player and productively, it’s dismal. Looked good, performed badly.”

Is this a new trend? Probably not. It is likely that results driven, corporate environments have always attracted those that are self-orientated and the less compassionate.

The argument has always been that Hospitality attracts those that generally have a desire to please and serve.  Ask most senior Hotel GMs and leaders and one will see almost instantly the pride and care they have for their teams. It is a trait that does make Hospitality stand apart. No doubt that there will be a few psychopaths within the Industry but the suspicion is that there will be less than in others.

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