21 percent of CEOs are psychopaths. Only 21 percent?

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

The data has confirmed all of our suspicions: one in five chief executives are psychopaths. At least, that’s what was found by a recent study of 261 senior corporate professionals in the United States.

What exactly is a psychopath? Webster’s Dictionary defines the condition as “a person who is mentally ill, who does not care about other people, and who is usually dangerous or violent and affected with antisocial personality disorder.” Yeah, that pretty much describes me on some days…and my entire client base most of the time!

“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” Nathan Brooks, a forensic psychologist and the lead researcher of the study said in this report from The Telegraph. “For psychopaths, it [corporate success] is a game and they don’t mind if they violate morals. It is about getting where they want in the company and having dominance over others.”

Brooks blames bad screening practices during the hiring process.

By the way – psychopathic behavior in the general population is about one in a 100. What’s a little disturbing in this study is that not only are 21 percent of corporate executives psychopathic, but so is the same percentage of prison inmates.

Also disturbing: this isn’t the first time researchers have noted psychopathic tendencies among senior executives. In research also reported by The Telegraph a few years ago, a psychologist warned of a growing number of “triadic persons” in the workplace who combine three types of dysfunctional personalities among white-collar workers: psychopath, Machiavellian, and narcissist. Such people, he warned “have a dangerous, yet effective mix of a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, deviousness and self-regard which can propel them to the top of the organizations.”

The good news?  I thought the number would have been higher.


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