You dont have to be crazy to be the boss, but it can
help at least some of the time.
As part of his Ph.D. research, a forensic psychologist in
Australia named Nathan Brooks examined 261 corporate
professionals in the supply-chain management industry. He
discovered that 21 percent of those professionals had
clinically significant levels of psychopathic
traits thats about equivalent to the
occurrences of psychopathic traits in the prison population.
Brooks says the term successful psychopath has
emerged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to describe
high-flying professionals with psychopathic traits such as
insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentricity,
charm, and superficiality.
Brooks, who conducted his research along with Katarina
Fritzon of Bond University and Simon Croom of the University of
San Diego, argues that such evidence of psychopathy in the
C-suite or among high-ranking professionals means recruiters
and businesses look too much at a persons resume and
achievements and not enough at their personality. Brooks argues
that psychological screening would weed out these corporate
But some investors and management experts have long argued
that being a bit of a psychopath or, in non-clinical
terms, a selfish jerk can be a benefit when it comes
both to personal professional success and building and running
a successful corporation. The type of selfish drive and
confidence needed to push a company forward lends itself to
people who can have the tenacity, lack of empathy, egotism, and
extreme self-belief that are also associated with sociopaths
or so the argument goes.
Wall Street and its investors, who prize management above
(almost) all else, apart from earnings, tend to reward the
psychopath in the corner office, often with good reason. The
classic example is Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder was
notorious for being difficult and prickly he denied the
paternity of his own daughter and then publicly questioned the
reliability of paternity tests but his drive and
ambition were regarded by investors and analysts as key to the
companys success. After Jobs was pushed out as CEO, Apple
flailed; it was only after his return that the company became
the electronics juggernaut it is today.
But Jobs, who died in 2011, also illustrates the problem of
the egotistical CEO. He was pushed out of his own company in
1985 because of his inability to play well with others. Silicon
Valley has tended to recognize that the type of personality
best suited to building a startup company might not be the best
person to run it which is why Jobs was not made CEO
during his first time around at Apple. Bringing in an older,
steadying hand as the company enters the final pre-IPO stages
of its growth is a standard venture capital move.
But it is sometimes hard for founders to step back. Take
Uber, which appears to be grappling with an extreme version of
the founder/CEO dilemma. Ubers CEO, Travis Kalanick, has
long had a reputation for being what might generously be termed
difficult. In 2014 he and one of his senior vice presidents got
into a spat with the media over the threat of female Uber
passengers being raped and how the firm might fight
back against journalist critics. But when it came to
breaking into the taxicab business, Kalanicks hard-charging style paid dividends. Now,
however, after a series of scandals that culminated in a video
of Kalanick berating a driver who questioned the companys
policy over pay, Kalanicks leadership is under question.
Kalanick has admitted he needs leadership help, and
the company is now looking for a chief operating officer.
Despite this setback, however, Uber is still adding investors.
In some cases the CEOs personality does not even have
to feature into the equation for a company to receive blowback
for what looks like corporate arrogance. United Continental
Holdings, which owns and operates United Airlines, is under
pressure from consumers after a passenger was forcibly removed
from an overbooked flight. After a disturbing video of the
incident went viral, CEO Oscar Munozs initial response
came across as cold and unfeeling, sparking instant outrage and
a drop in share prices. Munoz has since apologized.
Then there is the corporate executive currently occupying
the Oval Office. As a star of The Apprentice, Donald
Trump fronted a TV show that showed corporate success as a
series of dog-eat-dog contests and boardroom humiliations. Now
Trump is president of the United States and at least one
academic researcher has ranked him high on the psychopathic
scale. Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the department
of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, has
said that Trump scored higher than Adolf Hitler on a test
designed to show psychopathic tendencies.