Climbing the corporate ladder: desired leadership skills and successful psychopaths

Publication Date02 Jul 2019
AuthorDallas Hill,Hannah Scott
SubjectFinancial risk/company failure,Financial crime
Climbing the corporate ladder:
desired leadership skills and
successful psychopaths
Dallas Hill
University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Canada, and
Hannah Scott
Faculty of Social Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology,
Oshawa, Canada
Purpose Many of the characteristicsembodied by successful psychopaths, such as supercialcharm, cool
decisiveness and a grandioseself-worth, are often treated synonymously with corporateleadership qualities.
Consequently, it is possiblethat successful psychopaths are actively being selected for corporate positionsas
they exemplify the perfect candidate.The purpose of the current study was to determine whether or not the
recruitment for positionsof higher social status are inadvertently seeking out individuals withpsychopathic
tendenciesto run their companies using similar characteristicsin their job advertisements.
Design/methodology/approach The current studywill provide a deeper understanding of successful
psychopaths whilst exploringthe role of the Westernizedcorporation in recruiting successful psychopaths
into their businesses through character descriptions in 25 executive career advertisements using Wexlers
(2008) psychopathicPersonality Dimensions And PositivelyReinforced Corporate Labels.
Findings The resultsdemonstrated that corporations are seekingout characteristics that are synonymous
to Factor 1 psychopathicpersonality traits, which could increase the propensity of successfulpsychopaths in
the workplace.
Research limitations/implications Although the sample was representative for the currentstudy,
the sample size is minimal. Further, most companiesin the sample were taken from the public sector. Given
the implicit samplebias, the results and conclusions must be interpretedwith caution. Future research should
expand therelationship between psychopathic personalitytraits and corporate labels in a broadercontext.
Practical implications The results also alludeto potential protective factors that could be putin place
by corporations during their hiringprocess. These factors include measures for empathy and emotional IQ.
Beyond the hiring process, it issuggested that incentive-based promotions should be lessenedand replaced
with incentivesthat promote care and respect for oneanother.
Social implications Whilst the inabilityfor the public to conceptualize white-collar crime as a true form
of crime conductedby powerful individuals is apparent, it is suggestedthat change should begin with public
awareness and academia. With additional research on psychopathy in the eld of criminology and
organizationalpsychology, public awareness can be amplied.
Originality/value The current study allows for an interdisciplinary perspective towards the conceptof
successful psychopathy by highlighting the increased potential for corporate scams and white-collar
criminality.Specically, the current study introduces a psycho-socialcriminological perspective.
Keywords Personality traits, CEO, Psychopathy, Corporations, Systemic psychopathy
Paper type Research paper
Researchers have been examining the construct of the successful psychopath for decades
(Cleckley, 1976;Hall and Benning, 2006;Mullins-Sweatt et al.,2010). Cleckley (1976)
originallyargued that psychopathy is not a dichotomous disorder,and that it is possible for a
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.26 No. 3, 2019
pp. 881-896
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-11-2018-0117
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
psychopath to have all the personality traits relating to the disorder, but to also avoid the
aspect of criminal deviance. Consequently, Hall and Benning (2006) operationalize the
successful psychopathas an individual who embodies the interpersonal and affective
characteristics of the disorder (i.e. Factor 1), whilst effectively avoiding the antisocial
behaviours (i.e. Factor 2). In theory, these individuals encompass a wide range of high
societal positions (e.g. lawyers,chief executive ofcers (CEOs), politicians), achieved through
their ability to manipulate and deceive others (Mullins-Sweatt et al.,2010). Successful
psychopathicindividuals are those who areable to escape conviction forthe crimes that they
commit. In contrast,the unsu ccessful psychopathsare more likely to be higherin Factor 2
traits, which mayallow their impulsivity and othersocially deviant behavioursto result in a
criminal conviction, and are often argued to encompass the incarcerated population of
psychopaths (Hall and Benning, 2006).Given that the successful psychopathsmay be able
to achieve higher societal positions by utilizing their affective and interpersonal traits, it is
possiblethat they are being furtherassisted by the desired skillsof large corporations.
As Wexler (2008) argues, many of the characteristics embodied by successful
psychopaths, such as supercial charm, cool decisiveness and a grandiose self-worth, are
often treated synonymouslywith corporate leadership qualities. Successful psychopaths are
particularly attracted to organizations that are hypercompetitive and in-transition, and as
we can see in todays globalized market,numerous businesses have adopted this framework.
Therefore, it is possiblethat successful psychopaths are actively being selected for corporate
positions, as they exemplify the perfect candidate. It is not purely that corporate leadership
becomes corrupt; rather, those without conscious morals are selected as the winners in a
series of hypercompetitive contests occurring in a global setting. As a result, Allio (2007)
argues that leadership in modern society is falling short in both the private and public
sectors of the economy. These successful psychopaths, as corporate leaders and recruiters,
increase the probability of systemic psychopathyand white-collar crime. The current study
will try to help establish a deeper understandingof successful psychopaths whilst exploring
the role of the Westernizedcorporation in recruiting successful psychopaths into their
businesses throughcharacter descriptions in job advertisements.
What is psychopathy? Operationalizing psychopathy using the two-factor
Psychopathy is recognized as a personality disorder dened by a cluster of interpersonal,
affective and behaviouralfeatures (Hare, 1993). Psychopathic individuals are well known for
the callousness of their behaviour and their substantial ability to deceive others. The
traditional model of psychopathy as proposed by Hare (1993) divides the disorder into two
factors. Factor 1 psychopathy reects the combination of interpersonal and affective traits,
such as pathological lying,supercial charm, grandiose self-worth and callousness, whereas
Factor 2 is a combination of unstable and socially deviant traits, such as impulsiveness,
need for stimulation,parasitic lifestyle and a lack of realistic/long-term goals.
Does psychopathy belong in the DSM-IV?
Psychopathy is arguably the most widely researched and debated personality disorder in
the eld of criminology and psychology to date. The debates and research surrounding
psychopathy have ranged from the proper institutionalization (e.g. prison or a psychiatric
facility) and diagnoses for criminal psychopaths to the personality traits that are
encompassed by the disorder (Hare, 1993 for example). Most scholars and psychiatrists
openly discuss the difculty of operationalizing psychopathy and express that
psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the

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