Strong leader – or psychopath?

It is an unfortunate fact that many managers should not really be in their positions. There are many reasons why this should be the case, but one issue which seems neglected in leadership literature is the attraction that leadership positions have to people who have marginal personality disorders.

These people are sometimes very intelligent and outwardly may show no sign of the disorder, as they  are highly manipulative.

One of the problems is that the majority of personality disorders are not absolute and can generally be considered along a scale. Yes, those with severe disorder can be identified, however, the marginal individuals are harder to spot as they can be highly socialised, but their negative impact can be very significant in an organisation.

While such personality disorders as psychopathy, paranoia and obsession/compulsion all have strictly defined criteria, psychiatrists are still struggling to decide precisely what constitutes a socialised psychopath.

One of the more obvious characteristics of socialised psychopaths is that they give the impression of talking “at” you.  Prof Jeremy Coid describes it as like being regarded as a cardboard cut-out.  “Even in a sexual relationship with them, you are still just an object for their personal gratification,” he says.

The following questionnaire is based on research and experiences of socialised psychopaths.  For each trait, decide if it applies to the person you suspect may be a socialised psychopath, fully (2 points), partially (1 point) or not at all (0 points).

  1. Do they have problems sustaining stable relationships, personally and in business?
  2. Do they frequently manipulate others to achieve selfish goals, with no consideration of the effects on those manipulated?
  3. Are they cavalier about the truth, and capable of telling lies to your face?
  4. Do they have an air of self-importance, regardless of their true standing in society?
  5. Have they no apparent sense of remorse, shame or guilt?
  6. Is their charm superficial, and capable of being switched on to suit immediate ends?
  7. Are they easily bored and demand constant stimulation?
  8. Are their displays of human emotion unconvincing?
  9. Do they enjoy taking risks, and acting on reckless impulse?
  10. Are they quick to blame others for their mistakes?
  11. As teenagers, did they resent authority, play truant and/or steal?
  12. Do they have no qualms about sponging off others?
  13. Are they quick to lose their temper?
  14. Are they sexually promiscuous?
  15. Do they have a belligerent, bullying manner?
  16. Are they unrealistic about their long-term aims?
  17. Do they lack any ability to empathise with others?
  18. Would you regard them as essentially irresponsible?

A score of 25 or above suggests strong psychopathic tendencies.  This does not mean the person is a potential mass-murderer:  socialised psychopaths are not mad, nor do they have to resort to violence.

Even so, a close professional or emotional relationship with a socialised psychopath is likely to prove a damaging experience.

If you work in a large organisation, it is very likely that someone will come to mind after you have finished reading this!

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