In June this year, American multinational business magazine Fortune ran a report citing its research that found that 12% of corporate leaders in the US are psychopaths. Now, a lot of us immediately jump to the Hannibal Lector or Ted Bundy school of psychopaths, but psychopathic behaviour is hugely complex. Common traits include having no empathy or moral compass, being egocentric, reckless and predatory. But running alongside these, many psychopaths are charming and charismatic. Which is why a lot go undetected and rise through the ranks. So psychopaths walk among us on a scarily regular basis!
The undetected psychopath
There are varying levels of psychopathic behaviour and much can go unnoticed or identified. This is especially true of high functioning psychopaths who are attuned to masking such traits with a veil of accomplishment, drive and determination.
When you think back to the Gordon Gekko / Jordan Belfort vibe of the 80s, this was the epitome of psychopathic male behaviour – and it was lauded. It was crass, chest-beating, scary, sexist and bullying. These psychopathic tendencies were being mistaken for being brave and intelligent leading from the front. Often it would leave their team on a knife-edge in their wake.
These men were successful, earnt themselves and their companies a lot of money but were hugely destructive to everyone and everything around them.
Woke and the psychopaths
However, in subsequent years, there has been a rise and demand of more humane and social responsibility from leaders and brands. This has resulted in the old-style barbaric behaviour being more likely to be noticed, called out and challenged. This, I have to say, is on varying levels for different business sectors. As I have spoken about before, some large organisations are still filled with these people due to institutionalised behaviour. But with the emergence of a new generation of ‘woke’ humans entering the workforce, there is hope of this declining.
The rise of the empathetic leader
The acceptance, demand and need for empathic leaders is growing at a considerable rate. During the past year, when our work life has been thrown into an unprecedented disarray, those with psychopathic traits have struggled and suffered. They have missed out on having the platform and audience that they often need and feast from. Being confined to online meetings, having to talk about feelings and unable to be cock-of-the-walk have led many to be seriously challenged. Thankfully this has left an open door for the emergence of the empathic leader.
Leaders that have shown empathy, authenticity and vulnerability have succeeded considerably in the past year. They have clearly shone a light on the archaic unreachable leader of the past. Employees need, and demand, more from their bosses and peers. Through this time, companies that have invested in the leaders with their team’s values at heart have reaped the rewards.
Times are changing
Organisations that are still courting psychopathic leaders who are side lined by their prowess and commercial acumen are becoming unstuck. Customers and staff are making their feelings known both with their wallets and their feet. This leads to the best people jumping ship to work for brands in line with their values and beliefs.
Showy leadership and inciting fear in your team is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It instils a culture that is lifelong damaging for those within it
But all being said, 12% of psychopaths are still at the helm of some of the world’s biggest corporations. 12% is a scary number when you consider the impacts here. The challenge comes with exposing these people, sharing the reality of working for and with them and for people to live in tune with their ethical compass more than ever. If you work in a small sector or a location buzzing with a distinct type of business, the recruitment jungle drums beat pretty quickly. Add in review platforms like Glassdoor and your reputation is very quickly at stake.
It’s not always about the men, sorry
I am aware I have talked a lot about male leaders here and the reason being is that most of the quoted 12% are male. That’s not to say that there are no female psychopaths out there – far from it. They are just a little more difficult to spot and don’t have the equivalent alpha male tendencies.
You might find more insidious behaviour and subtle bullying rather than more outward displays. Sadly though, they may be seen as driven, ruthlessly effective and lacking in emotion. This can heighten their position in sectors or industries that still praise these behaviours as positive leadership traits.