Whilst it’s easy to believe that psychopaths are purely criminals and other such deviants, there is actually a lot of evidence to suggest that our workplaces are chock full of them. What’s more, it’s especially likely that they’ll be occupying the higher reaches of the org chart.
I wrote earlier this year about a study that aimed to better identify those amongst our colleagues that displayed psychopathic tendencies. As mentioned earlier, it revealed that the further up the ladder you climbed, the more likely you were to display psychopathic traits.
How do psychopaths become leaders?
The question is, do people have to develop psychopathic traits in order to climb the leadership ladder, or do natural psychopaths have all the traits required to reach the boardroom? For instance, is intelligence, usually required to obtain leadership status, something that’s associated with psychopathy?
A recent study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology set out to find out. It suggests that, in addition to scoring highly on traits such as ’fearless dominance’, psychos also tend to be masters at hiding their true personalities. This allows them to fake their way to the top of their respective organisation.
The researchers set out on their study as they were amazed by the sheer number of leaders who displayed unusually high levels of psychopathic character traits. Studies have revealed that a leader is around three times more likely to be a psychopath than an average member of the public.
“I thought that intelligence could be an explanation for this, and it could be a problem if there are increased numbers of psychopaths at a high level in business. The figure could be more than three per cent, because if people are aware they are psychopathic they can also lie – they are quite manipulative and lack empathy,” the authors say.
The charming psychopath
The problem is, far from the haunting image of psychopaths in films and other parts of the media, the research found that psychos in the workplace were often very charming indeed.
The study discovered that when a psycho leader reached the top, they often did so with a mixture of charm and intelligence. The downside, and what marks them out as psychos, is that they often lacked emotional skills in a big way.
What was particularly interesting was the incredible talent psychopathic leaders had for controlling the way they’re perceived. It emerged that when a psychopath had average or high intelligence, they were especially good at controlling and regulating their galvanic skin response.
What is a galvanic skin response I hear you ask? Well, that’s a standard test administered by researchers to gauge the emotional reaction to a stimulus. In this instance, researchers showed participants a number of pictures, whilst measuring their skin response. Psychopaths were ace at fooling the system.
The researchers suggest therefore, that highly intelligent psychopaths may be using this ability to fool their peers into thinking they’re just like them, when the reality is often anything but.
Just beware if they begin to express a liking for Huey Lewis and the News.
Image: Clothes On Film