Monday, 20 February 2012

Leadership Psychology or Psycopathy?

"...some companies quite innocently recruit individuals with psychopathic tendencies because some hiring managers may mistakenly attribute "leadership" labels to what are, in actuality, psychopathic behaviours. For example, taking charge, making decisions, and getting others to do what you want are classic features of leadership and management, yet they can also be well-packaged forms of coercion, domination, and manipulation. Failing to look closely beneath the outer trappings of stereotypical leadership to the inner working of the personality can sometimes lead to a regrettable hiring decision." (Babiak and Hare, 2007)

"The capacity of the 'successful psychopath' to identify and outwardly display the qualities corporate leaders admire helps them climb the career ladder quickly despite being poor managers.

"This makes it virtually impossible to tell the difference between a psychopath and a genuinely good boss..." (The Telegraph)

There is a growing body of research on the phenomenon of psychopathy that allows us to accept its existence beyond the realms of prison walls, axe murderers and serial killers. In fact, research suggests, big business may be the perfect environment (Financial News), with nearly four times as many psychopaths working there as compared to the general population.

If research is correct that 1% of the general population are psychopaths, that means 4% or as many as 1/25 of those in big business are.

The recently aired BBC Horizon documentary "Are you good or evil" explores psychopathy, and touches specifically on corporate psychopathy at the end of part 3 and the start of part 4 on the YouTube version below.

Click for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Naturally this concentration of psychopathy in big business is not without its problems as, according to research, having gained positions of authority or influence their performance is often "dismal". As Phil Hogan of the Observer summarised in his review of the documentary:

"...there are psychopaths in all walks of life who haven't killed anyone. Many of them, he said, were at the top of organisations – charming, manipulative thrill-seekers, acting and talking like leaders but not quite doing any work themselves. Don't we all know someone like that?"

But if these people are in fact so lacking in the leadership capabilities they appear to display why do they get hired in the first place? Isn't it obvious that they are different? Dr Paul Babiak explains in the documentary:

"Psychopaths really aren't the kind of person you think they are ... you could be living with or married to one for 20 years or more and not know that person is a psychopath.

"Part of the problem is that the very things we're looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic.

"Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership".

This tendency for corporations to hire these "bad apples", and the full destructive extent of their "dismal" performance, is the subject of an excellent book - "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work".

Written by both Dr Paul Babiak and Dr Robert Hare, creator of the widely recognised standard tools for diagnosing psychopathy, it blends business scenarios and science to create a comprehensive expose and survival guide for dealing with corporate psychopathy.

But why does it matter? Are they really as destructive as all that? From the book Babiak and Hare write:

"...psychopaths do work in modern organizations; they often are successful by most standard measures of career success; and their desctructive personality characteristics are invisible to most of the people with whom they interact. They are able to circumvent and sometimes hijack succession planning and performance management systems in order to give legitimacy to their behaviours. They take advantage of communication weaknesses, organizational systems and processes, interpersonal conflicts, and general stressors that plague all companies. They abuse coworkers and, by lowering morale and stirring up conflict, the company itself. Some may even steal and defraud." (Babiak and Hare, 2007)

If you want to avoid hiring a psychopath, if you think you may be working for a psychopath or if you think you may be working with a psychopath, you need this book.

Forewarned is fore-armed. Know the facts and avoid delusion - corporate psychopaths are the masters of creating it.

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