Corporate Psychopathy: A question of degrees

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promise this isn’t an article about Patrick Bateman, the fictional character and protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho. 

The word psychopath brings with it incredibly negative connotations but in psychometric testing is it the red flag we may think it is?

About 1% of the population are deemed to be psychopaths. But CEO’s are four times more likely to be a psychopath than the average person, according to journalist Jon Ronson who spent two years researching the subject for his book The Psychopath Test.

Although behaviour at work has long been an area of interest, research into corporate psychopathy is still a relatively new field, and our perception of it has been largely negative.

How to spot corporate psychopathy

Research to date clearly indicates that psychopathic traits in senior managers and executives do not necessarily impede career progress though. 

In fact, high psychopathy scores often correlate with high executive potential, but with some notable trade-offs.

Characteristics observed in recent studies included good communication skills and strategic thinking, creativity and strong presentational skills. 

Execs with a higher psychopathy score in the studies also demonstrated innovation, and possessed the ability to influence and manipulate others.

Are they team players?

On the other side of the coin, indicators would also suggest that they may have poorer people management skills, lower empathy, and are often regarded as poor team players. 

They are also more likely to receive poor performance appraisals from their immediate supervisor, despite sometimes achieving better than average performance than their colleagues.

In short, higher psychopathy scores in senior execs may result in noted short-term positive results, however, ultimately the trade-offs within the framework of an organisations longer-term goals and culture, is arguably too high.

Who to hire?

So how do we retain those desirable creative, innovative, persuasive, strategic and communication skills without the potential negative traits?

Better vetting and robust selection procedures will undoubtedly allow hiring managers and HR to identify and quantify behavioural traits. 

Psychometric testing provides validating data, and identifies areas for further questioning at interview.

However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you screen out those who display certain psychopathic traits. 

You just need to know the trade-offs and risks. 

Be prepared to manage that individual, particularly those roles where those behavioural traits will be highly beneficial to your organisation.

Early research suggests that execs with higher psychopathic scores have shorter tenures. That to me would suggest a higher degree of suitability to fast-paced organisations or more volatile settings. For example, in organisations that are flat structured, and where individuals do not need to be managed closely?

What does this mean for future hiring?

It is, of course, too early to draw too many firm conclusions in this area. Studies to date have identified areas for further research.

Many of us will have observed (and even demonstrated?) psychopathic traits in one form or another, and to positive effect. 

After all, business often rewards psychopathic traits. 

To succeed, a degree of ruthlessness and drive are beneficial, often meaning empathy and kindness are less evident at work.

The best exec teams consist of people with different skills and experiences, and an ability to adapt different required behaviours for different situations. 

That includes some traits that would be considered psychopathic in nature.

Of course, by that very nature, a psychopath is very good at hiding their true personality. 

Certainly more research is needed to help better inform future hiring decisions. 

In the meantime, you need to make sure that you know the person you’re hiring at the very least, and therefore the person you’ll be managing. 

The advantages of psychometric testing

At Barron Williams, we usually advise that psychometric testing will be beneficial to the recruitment process, and we will advise our clients to use our preferred partner.

They help us to provide a better overall evaluation, and we work with experts in testing and analysis to ensure we establish the best overall of picture of candidates being considered at the later stages of the recruitment process. 

Our partners at Thomas International highly skilled, and trained to interpret the results, and we’ve worked with them for a number of years now.

Leaders in their field, Thomas help us to recruit the right people for our clients. 

The more structured and objective we can make the selection process, the more likely our clients will make the best long-term hiring decisions.

If you’re looking for your next role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation. If you’re looking for a senior executive for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

Barron Williams

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