Professionalism/Corporate Psychopaths

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What is a Corporate Psychopath?[edit | edit source]

According to a study by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, founders of VitalSmarts, 96% of employees experience bullying in the workplace. This behavior most often takes the form of sabotage, threats to reputation, intimidation, and belittling. [1] Workplace bullying is clearly detrimental to corporate culture, but there is a type of individual known as a corporate psychopath that takes traditional bullying to a new level. Society tends to think of psychopaths as the violent criminals behind bars, but some psychopaths find more success in the business environment where their personality traits may at first appear to be constructive. The most defining characteristic of a psychopath is the complete absence of empathy; they are willing to do whatever it takes to promote their own agenda. While all psychopaths thrive off of domination and power over others [2], corporate psychopaths are better able to control their behavior, and therefore manifest themselves through manipulation and other psychological methods rather than through criminal violence. [3] Author of the book Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers Clive Boddy contends that while only 1% of the general population is considered a psychopath, in corporations up to 3.5% of senior management exhibits psychopathy. He further claims that at least 26% of corporate bullying occurs at the hand of psychopaths, and when corporate psychopaths are present in a company the rate of bullying spikes from 54.7% to 93.3%. [4]

Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Corporate psychopaths may vary in appearance but share common personality traits. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), psychopaths are characterized by lack of empathy or conscience, manipulative behavior and poor impulse control.[5] Corporate psychopaths typically humiliate others publicly, ridicule coworkers, lie compulsively, and take credit for others' accomplishments, just to name a few. They are also often superficially charming, egotistical, and emotionally disconnected. [6]

These psychopathic managers can be thought of as members of the 'dark triad'. The characteristics that make up the 'dark triad' include psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. Machiavellianism describes people with a selfish and ruthless approach to managing based on Machiavelli's The Prince.[7] Machiavellians subscribe to the notion that they will better be able to serve others by first serving themselves. Corporate psychopaths are also likely to be arrogant and self-centered, with little regard to the effect their actions have on others. Many could say that psychopathy and narcissism are the equivalent, but there are some distinguishing differences. According to clinical psychologists, pure narcissists experience emotions and feelings, and therefore have a conscience which psychopaths lack by definition.[8] All three characteristics of the 'dark triad' have significant overlap, but each serve a purpose in identifying these corporate climbers.

Attributes possessed by corporate psychopaths are not all-encompassingly negative. To rise to positions of power, they must have qualities that attract hiring managers and company leaders. Corporate psychopaths are known to have overwhelming charisma and a charming facade. Combining these traits with their ability to make calm decisions under pressure makes these individuals initially appear as good candidates for management positions. While some argue that psychopathy can be a positive in the corporate world, others including researcher Robert Hare, disagree, claiming that without empathy psychopaths are inherently malevolent and cannot sustain success for extended periods of time. [9]

A Psychopath's Rise to Power[edit | edit source]

Promotion in corporate America often depends largely on the approval of your direct supervisor. The one-on-one relationship between supervisor and supervise strongly favors the strengths of a corporate psychopath. After charming their supervisors, corporate psychopaths assess the value of each person they work with. By manipulating the supervisors perception with "psychopathic fiction", corporate psychopaths ensure their good reputation while spreading lies about their coworkers.[10] When the opportunity presents itself, a corporate psychopath will ascend by virtue of character assassination. Utilizing calm decisiveness, corporate psychopaths appear to be highly capable leaders under pressure. By controlling perception of their abilities, corporate psychopaths are able to manipulate themselves into leadership roles. [3]

Consequences of Corporate Psychopathy[edit | edit source]

Although corporate psychopaths tend to excel, their effects on the company are largely detrimental. When under the leadership of a corporate psychopath, polls indicate that employees feel their company does business in a socially undesirable way, is environmentally unfriendly and fails to benefit the local community[3]. These tendencies align with a corporate psychopath's lack of empathy, and can lead to decreased work ethic in employees.

Detriment to Company[edit | edit source]

Workplace bullying, a tactic commonly employed by corporate psychopaths, has been linked to anxiety, clinical depression, pervasive sadness and insomnia[11]. Corporate psychopaths rely heavily on dragging others down in order to get ahead. Although this behavior benefits the bully, it does not help the company. "Kiss Up, Kick Down" describes a strategy used by bully subordinates.[12] Tactics include the following: keeping workers under constant state of stress, blaming subordinates for mistakes made by supervisors, and withholding crucial information to set the subordinate up for failure.[13] These methods of managing make employees less interested in the overall success of the firm. The effects of corporate psychopaths stretch farther than a single company. According to Clive Boddy, leading expert in the research of corporate psychopathy, corporate psychopath's played a large role in the global financial crisis. [14] Driven by their "single minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment," corporate psychopaths lead their companies only in a direction that benefits themselves. Boddy hypothesizes that the prevalence of psychopath's in the financial sector contributed to the global financial decline.

Avoiding Corporate Psychopaths[edit | edit source]

The line between a brilliant business person and corporate psychopathy is often a blurry one. In order to protect their best interests, companies must stop corporate psychopaths from advancing to positions of leadership. Having multiple people interview candidates, promoting from within, and addressing candidates moral and ethical qualities are all helpful in avoiding the promotion of a corporate psychopath. Focusing on real results can stop psychopaths from deceiving interviewers. [15] Conducting multiple interviewers will allow companies cross check answers (psychopaths often give answers they feel the specific interviewer wants to hear rather than answering truthfully). A corporate structure capable of mitigating bullying is necessary to stop the rise of corporate psychopaths to upper-management positions. Although formal grievance procedures exist in many companies, they are only utilized 6% of the time. [1] Creating a more positive culture and encouraging open communications between different levels of management will lead to a more productive workplace free of bullying. Incoming Millennials are far less receptive of bullying, perhaps due to anti-bullying campaigns in schools that have trained the next generation of leaders to be more vocal when confronted by workplace bullying.[16]

Psychopaths and Professionalism[edit | edit source]

With no empathy and a complete disregard for the well-being of others, corporate psychopaths operate solely for their own benefit, and without a code of ethics. While a psychopath may exhibit some qualities of an excellent corporate leader, a person who has no arete, or "moral virtue" cannot be considered a professional. Psychopaths readily take power from those who are vulnerable, and abuse any power granted to them instead of using it to improve the welfare of the public. Al Dunlap illustrates the tendency for a corporate psychopath to never reach satisfaction with his conquests, always wanting to acquire more power, money, or influence. According to Aristotle's teachings of Nicomachean Ethics, these individuals are constantly pursuing only secondary goals such as profiting from a business deal, instead of achieving the ultimate goal of true human flourishing, or eudaimonia. Without moral character corporate psychopaths cannot attain the ultimate goal. By ruthlessly pursuing lesser goods such as power and control over other, greater goods, they are are detrimental to corporate culture and success. [17]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b VitalSmarts study in Shavin, N. (2014, June 25). What Workplace Bullying Looks Like in 2014- and How to Intervene. Retrieved May 1, 2015 from
  2. Clarke, J. (2002, February 1). Working with Monsters: How to Identify and Protect Yourself from the Workplace Psychopath.
  3. a b c Boddy, C. (2010). Corporate Psychopaths And Organizational Type. Journal of Public Affairs, 10(4).
  4. Boddy, C. (2011, May 15). Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers.
  5. Faggioni, M & White M. (2009). Organizational Psycopaths-Who Are They and How to Protect Your Organization from Them.
  6. Hare, R. D. (1999, January 8). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.
  7. Boddy, C. (2010). The Influence of Corporate Psychopaths on Corporate Social Responsibility and Organizational Commitment to Employees.
  8. Stout, M. (2005). The Sociopath Next Door. Broadway Books.
  9. Jon, R. (2011, June 14). Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs. Retrieved April 28, 2015, from
  10. Baibak, P; Hare, RD. (2007). Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work
  11. Gaetano, M. (2010). Bullying: A View from the Corporate World
  12. McKeown, M. (2005). Kissing Up, Kicking Down
  13. Workplace Bullying Institute (2013, April 19). Top 25 workplace bullying tactics. Retrieved April 29, 2015, from
  14. Boddy, C. (2011). The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis
  15. Lipman, V. (2013, April 25). The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy and Leadership Retrieved April 25, 2015, from
  16. Tulshyan, R. (2013, September 13). Millenials Have the Power to Banish Workplace Bullying Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.forbes.cmo
  17. Aristotle. Translation by Ross, W. D. (1908). Nicomachean Ethics.

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