It is not a trait that we normally associate with business leaders, but research indicates that psychopathic behavior among senior executives may be more common than we think.
Associate Professor Dr Katarina Fritzon from Bond University has conducted a study, which has confirmed that office psychopaths – made famous by fashion mogul Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada – do exist in the real world.
Fritzon’s research, a collaboration with Professor Simon Croom of the University of San Diego, studied the profession of logistic workers, across industries as diverse as retail, distribution, ticketing, shipping, freight and data entry.
Their findings indicated that 25 per cent of managers had higher levels of psychopathic traits, which is broadly defined as being incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy.
“What we’ve found is these particular people have higher levels of psychopathy than the general population, and are actually similar to people in prison,” Fritzon said.
“There must be something about that particular type of work that may be attracting people with this personality.”
Fritzon added that research into psychopaths and the workplace had been limited thus far, and that her test – which scored participants based on their answers to 156 questions – wasn’t all bad news for organisations.
“The characteristics we measured in terms of psychopathy include being fearless, being quite dominant over other people, being willing to take risks and make bold business decisions that might come at a cost of personal relationships,” she said.
“Some aspects of these personality disorders can have positive impact and function well in business context. [For example] being narcissistic, if you were a CEO, you might need to present yourself that way.”
Other traits of psychopathic leaders include being ruthless, manipulative, cold-hearted and self-involved.