Sunday, December 8, 2013

Have You Worked for a Corporate Psychopath?

Commentators on business ethics have noted that corporate scandals have assumed epidemic proportions and that once great companies have been brought down by the misdeeds of their leaders. These commentators raise the intriguing question of how resourceful organizations end up with impostors as leaders in the first place (Singh, 2008). One writer on leadership goes as far as to say that modern society is suffering from a plague of poor leadership in both the private and public sectors of the economy (Allio, 2007). An understanding of Corporate Psychopaths helps to answer the question of how resourceful organizations end up with impostors as leaders, (p.121)
If Corporate Psychopaths end up in corporate leadership positions, this would be expected to cause very poor levels of ethical decision making within corporations. Recently, psychologists have come to understand that a type of psychopath exists who is not prone to violent, criminal behaviour and who therefore operates relatively undetected and successfully in society (Levenson, 1993; Paul Babiak, 1995; Cooke et al., 2004b; Board and Fritzon, 2005). They have been called successful psychopaths because they successfully evade contact with legal authorities. (p.122)
Writers on business ethics have long been interested in the influence of ruthless leaders such as Machiavellian managers (Singhapakdi, 1993; Schepers, 2003; Buttery and Richter, 2005). It is evident that Corporate Psychopaths and Machiavellian managers share many common characteristics and some important differences such as psychopaths having no conscience (McHoskey et al., 1998; Paulhus and Williams, 2002; Jakobwitz and Egan, 2005). However, psychopathy is a much more developed and currently researched construct than Machiavellianism and indeed is one of the most commonly studied constructs in psychology. For these reasons, management researchers need to become more aware of it. (p.122).
In terms of leadership research, bad leaders are said to be callously disregarding of the needs and wishes of other employees, and are prepared to lie, bully and cheat and to disregard or cause harm to the welfare of others (Perkel, 2005). All these traits are commonly associated with psychopathy. This is one reason why research into Corporate Psychopaths is important; it is a part of understanding bad corporate leadership and where it comes from. (p.123).
In terms of successful psychopaths, including Corporate Psychopaths, researchers suggest that non-criminal psychopaths may have the same neuropsychological dysfunctions as criminal psychopaths do, resulting in a similar lack of empathy, for example. However, it has also been suggested that a superior executive function in these non-criminal psychopaths may serve as a protective factor, decreasing their risk of being involved in illicit behaviour (Mahmut et al., 2007). This superior executive functioning would be promoted by a good socio-economic family background, good education and high intelligence and so this idea is supported by research showing that high psychopathy traits are strongly associated with the opposite of these factors, i.e. factors such as low socioeconomic status and poor early parental supervision (Farrington, 2005). (p.123).
Corporations are reported to want to recruit employees who are energetic, charming and fast-moving. Psychopaths can appear to be like this and can present themselves in a good light because of their ability to tell interesting stories about themselves. Corporate Psychopaths are thus recruited into organizations because they make a distinctly positive impression when first met (Cleckley, 1988). They appear to be alert, friendly and easy to get along with and talk to. They look like they are of good ability, emotionally well-adjusted and reasonable, and these traits make them attractive to those in charge of hiring staff within organizations. Other researchers confirm that psychopaths can present themselves as likeable and personally attractive (Mahaffey and Marcus, 2006). Corporate Psychopaths make those who interact with them think that the feelings of friendship and loyalty they evoke in others are reciprocated. It does not occur to people that this may not be the case and this makes it easy for Corporate Psychopaths to be accepted.
The personal charm of Corporate Psychopaths means that they come across well at job promotion interviews and can inspire senior managers to have confidence in them. They can thus both enter and do well in organizations and corporations (Ray and Ray, 1982). Being accomplished liars (Kirkman, 2005) helps them in obtaining the jobs they want. Once inside an organization, Corporate Psychopaths can reportedly survive for a long time (Loizos, 2005) before being discovered during which time they can establish defences for themselves to protect their positions. (p.124).
Corporate Psychopaths then manipulate their way up the corporate ladder, using pawns and shedding patrons as these people become superseded and no longer needed. According to Hare, the formation of two factions then typically develops in the organization. One fraction being of the network of supporters, pawns and patrons of the Corporate Psychopath and the other fraction being made up of their detractors and those pawns who realize they have been used and abused or those who otherwise realize that the organization is in danger (Babiak and Hare, 2006b). A confrontation between the rival fractions results from this, during which the detractors are typically outmanoeuvred and ultimately removed. After this happens, the Corporate Psychopath ascends to power unopposed (Babiak and Hare, 2006, p.125).
It has been argued that Corporate Psychopaths are more motivated and better equipped to rise to high corporate positions than other managers are. They are motivated because they are more single minded in their craving for power, money and prestige that senior managerial positions bring. They are better equipped because they are ruthless, unemotional and without empathy (Chapman et al, 2003; Maibom, 2005), and are fully prepared to lie. They also have fewer other time commitments and constraints because of a lower number of emotional attachments to other people than normal people have (Maibom, 2005). These attributes may facilitate their entrenchments within an organization, after which their ability to gain more power through informal mechanisms and through increased popularity enables a consolidation of power and further rises up the hierarchy, (p.126).
So it's worth keep your eyes open for these types of leaders. 
Boddy, Clive R. P.; Ladyshewsky, Richard; Galvin, Peter. (2010) Leaders without ethics in global business: Corporate psychopaths. Journal of Public Affairs. Vol. 10 Issue 3, p121-138.

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