How are psychopaths, madness and business leadership inter-linked?

GothIt’s very interesting that traits considered positive qualities for business leadership, or any leadership for that matter, can be twisted and re-labelled up as traits by which to spot a psychopath.  Conversely, psychopathic traits can also be misconstrued to become characteristics of business leadership e.g. ‘grandiose sense of self-worth’ becomes believing in yourself’; ‘cunning and manipulative’ becomes persuasive.  I guess it all goes back to which force is stronger: the darker or the lighter one.  Do you turn to the dark side or the light side?  Towards what do you channel your energy and waking hours? 

Journalist Jon Ronson journeys through the madness industry to search out facts regarding psychopaths.  I am currently reading his book and am quite enthralled by it.

May the force be with you and may you choose your path well! 

How to spot a psychopath

Psychologies magazine | Upfront the knowledge
written by Jon Ronson, June 2011
author of
‘The Psychopath Test:
A Journey Through the Madness Industry

A Harvard psychologist, Martha Stout, once told me something so outlandish I might have written her off as crazy had she not been so eminent.  She said the character traits that propel some psychopaths to brutally murder and steal are the exact same traits that propel other psychopaths to become extremely successful chief executives.

Like most of us, I was raised to believe that our leaders are more rational than us.  But was she right?  Maybe madness is a more powerful engine than rationality.  Various academics echo Stout’s sentiment.  One said to me, ‘Psychopaths are different’.  He meant different from people – their total absence of empathy and remorse made them essentially less than human.

I began devouring all the literature on psychopaths I could.  I even went on a kind of psychopath-spotting course with the master, the Canadian psychologist Robert Hare.  Because, while you don’t need to be Poirot to spot someone with OCD or autism, psychopaths typically bury their madness beneath a veneer of normality.  But, Hare’s theory goes, they give away tiny clues, such as their sentence construction.  He’s come up with a 20-point checklist of psychopathic traits (you can see it at

Armed with my new psychopath-spotting abilities, I journeyed into the corridors of power.  I met powerful CEOs and political dictators.  I gave them the Psychopath Test.  And I think Hare and Stout are right.  One American CEO, Al Dunlap, descried many psychopathic traits as business positives.

‘Grandiose sense of self-worth?  You’ve got to believe in yourself,’ he said.  ‘Cunning/manipulative?  That’s leadership – manipulating people to do what you want.  Absence of deep emotions?  Who wants to be weighed down by some nonsense emotion?’

Being able to spot a psychopath can solve plenty of mysteries, I think.  Why is this person compulsively lying?  why is this person bullishly dominating the conversation?  Used prudently, it’s a valuable tool.

But I got drunk on my new powers and started spotting psychopaths everywhere – literary rivals, people giving me a hard time on Twitter.  the power almost turned me a little psychopathic myself.  There are terrible dangers in reducing someone to a diagnostic label, you see – it turns you into a cold, hard person.  You have been warned.


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