My last post discussed how corporations treat their employees like business "resources". That led to mentions in the comments of whether some businesspeople were psychopaths. Which in turn led me to delve a bit further into that question. Among other articles, I ran across an item at the Forbes magazine website entitled, "Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs"
(Maybe it should have been subtitled, "You don't have to be crazy to be a CEO, but it helps" ?)
The article describes psychopaths as "dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted". It also notes that research on psychopathy finds that the percentage of corporate managers who are psychopaths is 4 times as great as for the population in general.
Jon Ronson, the author of "The Psychopath Test" is interviewed. He says,
"these people [ie. psychopaths] are different than human beings. They lack the things that make you human: empathy, remorse, loving kindness.Ronson says of a CEO known for downsizing,
There was his reputation that he was a man who seemed to enjoy firing people, not to mention the stories from his first marriage — telling his first wife he wanted to know what human flesh tastes like, not going to his parents’ funerals. Then you realize that because of this dysfunctional capitalistic society we live in those things were positives. He was hailed and given high-powered jobs, and the more ruthlessly his administration behaved, the more his share price shot up.and goes on to say,
I think my book offers really good evidence that the way that capitalism is structured really is a physical manifestation of the brain anomaly known as psychopathy. However, I woudn’t say every Fortune 500 chief is a psychopath. That would turn me into an ideologue and I abhor ideologues.In case this unflattering talk about capitalism makes you feel uncomfortable or skeptical, let me remind you this is an article in Forbes magazine (which has dubbed itself "The Capitalist Tool".) The writer/interviewer is a staff writer for the magazine - and the article is not an attempt to dispute the author's conclusions. The Psychopath Test is a respected work (see the positive intro in this Forbes article).
The interviewer asks, "So maybe there’s a sweet spot? A point on the spectrum somewhere short of full-blown psychopathy that’s most conducive to success in business." Ronson replies, "That’s possible. Obviously there are items on the [psychopath] checklist you don’t want to have if you’re a boss. ... But you do want lack of empathy, lack of remorse, glibness, superficial charm, manipulativeness."
So, Forbes wants to know just what the optimal variant of almost-psychopathy is??? And doesn't seem so worried about the ones who are fully psychopathic. The people who pick CEO's only care whether a candidate meets or approaches the description "dangerous predators who lack the behavioral controls and tender feelings the rest of us take for granted" if it can't be used to increase profits. Perhaps, there should be a psychiatric diagnosis for those who would use dangerous people to achieve selfish goals in a manner that shows disregard for others.
Ronson warns about jumping to conclusions that a person in power must have gotten there as a result of ruthless sociopathic actions. That's true, but we also have plenty of reason to believe ruthlessness has a long history in business. And we know scientists tell us a significant number of them are psychopaths, and presumably many more nearly meet the criteria. We have good cause to want to evaluate whether a person is a psychopath or near-psychopath before they become a top executive. It could be beneficial if we could check potential executives and legally prohibit those who met a standard of psychopathy from running a corporation.
Of course, psychopaths are exactly the kind of people you can't ask to take a test and have them give honest answers which would let you know whether a person was a psychopath. [Which makes me wonder whether the official estimates of how many executives are psychopaths might be low.] Nevertheless, this is an issue which must be addressed. Today, businesses are central elements of the economy. The economy is how we create and distribute our food, housing, heat, transportation, sources of information, entertainment, etc. Our standard of living and the foundations of modern civilization depend on the economy. The economic instability caused by ruthless business has to be dealt with. Businesses acting as organizational psychopaths or under the guidance of psychopathic CEO's leads our society in directions we may not choose to go otherwise. Disasters from climate change and other threats are at least in part a result of this.
(Actually, psychopathy appears to be a physical brain defect. A brain lobe doesn't respond to emotional cues. So, perhaps, candidates for executive positions could be given a medical test which was not subject to a psychopath's deceit and trickery.)
Below are links to other articles on the subject.
Daily Kos article: Yes, They Really are Corporate Psychopaths
Bloomberg news website article "Did Psychopaths Take Over Wall Street Asylum?"
Harvard Business Review article "Executive Psychopaths". (This link only gives a part of the article for free, the full article is sold.)
Businessweek article on Ronson's book The Psychopath Test
Psychology Today blog article on whether corporations - as organizations - behave like psychopaths