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Dangers of being led by psychopaths

WIKIPEDIA defines a psychopath as “traditionally a personality disorder characterised by persistent anti-social behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits. It is sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy.”

Memory Nguwi

Psychopaths are causing a lot of havoc in organisations due to their style of management. They often rise to leadership roles because they have a chameleon character that allows them to wiggles past interview and manoeuvres within the corporates career paths.

Signs of psychopathic personality

Robert Hare developed the Psychopath checklist mainly for clinical settings. Here are some of the characteristics of a psychopath as per his checklist:
l Glibness or superficial charm, egocentricity or grandiose sense of self-worth, proneness to boredom or low frustration tolerance, pathological lying and deception, conning or lack of sincerity, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of affect and emotional depth, callous or lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, short-tempered or poor behavioural controls, promiscuous sexual relations, lack of realistic long-term plans, impulsivity, irresponsible behaviour as a parent, frequent marital relationships and failure to accept responsibility for own actions.

Percentage of psychopaths

Wikipedia reports that Robert Hare found “that about 1% of the general population meets the clinical criteria for psychopathy. Hare further claims that the prevalence of psychopaths is higher in the business world than in the general population. Figures of around 3–4% have been cited for more senior positions in business.

A 2011 study of Australian white-collar managers found that 5,76% could be classed as psychopathic and another 10,42% dysfunctional with psychopathic characteristics”

Prevalence among politicians

A study published in the Social Science Research Network showed that 99,9% of all politicians in the United States are actual psychopaths. If that is true, that is a disaster. What could be the prevalence of this personality disorder among politicians from other countries?

Percentage of CEs

Research numbers point to a varying number. A study in the US shows that the prevalence of psychopaths among CEs could be as high as 20%. The prevalence in other executives besides the CE ranges from 8% to 12%. There is, however, no consensus on these stats, as more research is being done to establish stable estimates

Leadership characteristics

When psychopaths get into leadership roles, they can cause havoc. Such people do not care about other people. They rejoice when other people are suffering. The fact that they are not capable of empathy and guiltiness makes them worse. Do not expect a change from them, they will never see themselves as wrong. They are cunning and ruthless. They set people against each other, as long it serves their purpose. They crush everyone blocking what they want to do.

The tragedy, especially for the corporate world, is that their charismatic demeanour makes them favourites for leadership roles. They are often perceived as very clever because the majority of them are articulate. In job interviews, they get higher ratings because often they know how to sell themselves.

Research has shown that all psychopathic leaders also have narcissistic traits. They only think about themselves and how to advance their interests. They crave for attention and they will do everything to show off their power and other possessions. Their offices are decorated with personal memorabilia, to show off who they are.

When leading others they do not brook anyone challenging their authority. Should that happen they will make life difficult for that challenger. They accuse opponents of various misdemeanours in order to get rid of them. When they communicate they use more “I’s” than “We”.

It is important to note that psychopaths in the business world are drawn to organisations by the desire for power, prestige and money.

Psychopaths are a big threat to business, especially its long-term survival because they put their interest ahead of that of the organisation. They are more interested in building an internal empire within the business rather than looking at the long-term benefits to the business.
Profession with most psychopaths

CEs, lawyer, media (TV/radio), salesperson, surgeon, journalist, police officer, clergy.


Psychopathy is a personality disorder. As you may be aware, personality is a permanent disposition. It is largely hereditary and partly childhood experience. This makes it impossible to correct. The best way to avoid having psychopaths in your organisation is to screen them at entry.
Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone +263 24 2481 946-48/ 2290 0276, cell number +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit ipcconsultants.com.

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