3 Signs Your CEO Is Behaving Like A Psychopath
Few things bring teams together like complaining about the boss. No matter what your role is or how dedicated you are, at one point or another, you’ll find yourself complaining about the person in charge of your organization.
This isn’t a bad thing, of course. In fact, it’s a perfectly normal part of group dynamics.
The truth is that CEOs make mistakes and demonstrate personality quirks just like everyone else.
Equally true is the fact that it’s easy for employees to complain or poke holes when they’re not the ones responsible for making the ultimate decision.
In most cases, these two dynamics balance themselves out, and teams reach a sort of equilibrium.
Enter the psychopath
It’s possible, of course, for CEOs to earn the scorn of their employees. In fact, a recent Australian study of over 261 American CEOs found that approximately 20% demonstrate clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits.
In case you’re wondering, that’s the same rate that is found among the general prison population in the U.S.
As a professional who has met and worked with a lot of CEOs in my time (and been one myself), I can’t say I’m terribly surprised by these findings.
It’s difficult for people who have a well-developed conscious and loads of self-restraint to rise to the top of any organization.
In fact, a certain aptitude for Machiavellian maneuvering is almost a job requirement these days. The real question, of course, is whether a CEO is just “playing the game” or demonstrating real psychopathic tendencies.
I’ve found that there are three red flags that indicate that a leader might fall into the latter category.
They manipulate people instead of guiding them
Managing people in any capacity requires a certain degree of manipulation. As humans, we don’t like to be told what to do, whether at work or in our personal lives.
Good managers know how to apply the right kind of manipulation to help people arrive at conclusions on their own and overcome their fears and insecurities.
Psychopaths, on the other hand, manipulate for their personal gain. They’re not above pitting team members against each other or playing on people’s fears to get the results they desire.
These behaviors aren’t binary, but rather sit on a spectrum. What matters is where CEOs most often fall on that spectrum. If on balance, they tend to skew towards the more selfish or aggressive end of things, it’s a red flag.
They blame others instead of looking inward
I’ve often said that self-awareness is by far the most important trait anyone can hope to develop. The ability to look inward and confront one’s faults and failings is the key to empathy, which in turn is the key to making authentic connections.
Psychopath CEOs, however, lack this skill. Instead, they seek to assign blame to others, never themselves.
In fact, the act of blaming others for problems becomes so ingrained in these types of leaders that it becomes part of how they operate.
They’ll focus their ire on one team member at a time, pushing until that person is gone. Then, they simply move onto the next person and the next. It’s a vicious cycle that demoralizes entire organizations.
There’s a common name for this “enemy list” that is too crude to publish, but most people can venture a guess to what it is. Watch out for leaders who are always on the warpath; there’s a decent chance they’re demonstrating psychopathic tendencies.
They view people as cogs, rather than individuals
In a functional organization, leaders view employees as strategic resources that can be deployed to better an organization while also recognizing their value as individuals.
Psychopath CEOs, on the other hand, view people as interchangeable cogs that can be discarded at will.
Differentiating between the good leaders and the bad leaders in this situation is often more difficult than you might think.
After all, it’s the CEO’s job to make the tough decisions when people aren’t working out and to be a steadfast defender of shareholder value. Depending on your point of view, this can seem heartless.
However, good leaders find a way to balance their responsibility to the company with the human nature of their employees. That might mean waiting longer than they should to make a change, or agonizing over having to let someone go.
Psychopaths, on the other hand, view people as simply a means to an end. They demonstrate an inability to connect with people on a personal level and don’t think twice about hiring or firing.
Finding the wisdom to know the difference
It takes a certain degree of personal wisdom and the benefit of experience to spot a true psychopath CEO.
Leaders can and will make mistakes, finding themselves on the extreme end of the spectrum from time to time. In most cases, fortunately, these failings are few and far between.
However, if leaders demonstrate a consistent lack of self-awareness, shift blame towards others, and fail to recognize the humanity of their employees, there’s a good chance that they’re a psychopath.