Is your boss a successful psychopath?

by L&D13 Sep 2016
The term “successful psychopath” refers to high-flyers with psychopathic traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentric, charming and superficial.

It emerged after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and resulted in a range of new studies, according to forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks

He added that emerging studies show one in 100 people in the general community and one in five people in the prison system are considered "psychopathic". However, these traits are common in the "upper echelons of the corporate world", with a rate of between 3% and 21%.

Indeed, companies should conduct psychological screening to help identify “successful psychopaths”.

That’s according to new research being presented at the Australian Psychology Society (APS) Congress, held in Melbourne, from 13 to 16 September.

Brooks said many businesses have their recruitment screening the wrong way around.

“Too often companies look at skills first and then secondly consider personality features,” he said.

“Really it needs to be firstly about the candidate’s character and then, if they pass the character test, consider whether they have the right skills.”

Brooks added that the research has major implications for the business sector because the successful psychopath might participate in unethical and illegal practices and have a “toxic impact on other employees”.

“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” Brooks said.

As part of his PhD, Brooks and research colleagues Dr Katarina Fritzon of Bond University and Dr Simon Croom of the University of San Diego, examined psychopathic traits in the business sector.

A study of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry demonstrated very high prevalence rates of psychopathy, with 21% of participants found to have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits - a figure comparable to prison populations.

The researchers have also created a corporate personality inventory tool, designed to assist businesses to assess for psychopathic personality disorder during the recruitment process.

“We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there’s an adequate assessment to hopefully identify this problem - to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly,” Brooks said.

Moreover, there are 10 jobs which are particularly prone to psychopaths, according to research by psychologist Kevin Dutton in his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. These include:
  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (TV and radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergyperson
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant
Nathan Brooks and Dr Katarina Fritzon will speak about the emergence of non-criminal psychopathy at the 2016 APS Congress.