Is the CEO of your Company a Psychopath?

Robert Hare, a well respected psychologist, who has spent a lifetime researching psychopathy, has developed and refined a test to assess the likelihood that you are a psychopath.  When I think of psychopaths (which I don’t do often, I must add), I think of cold-blooded serial murderers.  But Hare reckons that the personality traits most often associated with unfeeling criminals can also be found in some successful business leaders.

He believes that a disproportionate number of psychopaths can be found in high places. It’s all to do with how the how the amygdala ( I didn’t even know I had one) region of the brain communicates with the central nervous system.  Psychopaths are wired differently; so they feel or rather don’t feel emotions differently –like empathy or sympathy, which may be why some CEOs are comfortable making harsh decisions which affect other people adversely without being emotionally affected themselves.

Hare reckons about 1% of the population exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but for senior executives it may be as many as 10%, a surprisingly high proportion.

Can psychopathic traits actually fuel business success?

Theories abound as to why psychopathic tendencies will result in criminal behaviour in some people, while in others they lead to successful business careers. Jon Ronson, author of ‘The Psychopath Test’conducted interviews for his book with suspected or actual psychopaths. They included an inmate of Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane and ‘Chainsaw’Al Dunlap, a retired CEO who gained notoriety for the ruthless methods he used to axe jobs and factories across the United States. The book raises some interesting questions about how we define normality.

Forbes Magazine asked Ronson in an interview whether there might be a ‘sweet spot’on the spectrum, short of full-blown psychopathy that is conducive to success in business. Ronson conceded it is possible that CEOs on the psychopathic spectrum may be good at remaining cool under pressure and cited other positive traits for psychopaths in business such as: a need for stimulation and being prone to boredom. As Ronson puts it: “You want somebody who can’t sit still, who’s constantly thinking about how to better things.”

So what are the tests?  Before you read the psychopath checklist, here is a word of warning from a reviewer of Ronson’s book who cautions that anyone who uses the psychopath test must proceed with caution: “One misunderstood personality trait and the wrong man could end up in Broadmoor. Or on the board of a FTSE 100 company. Both outcomes are pretty terrifying.”

20 point Hare PCR Checklistfor psychopaths

  1. Glibness/superficial charm
  2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
  3. Need for stimulation/prone to boredom
  4. Pathological lying
  5. Cunning/manipulative
  6. Lack of remorse or guilt
  7. Shallow affect
  8. Callous/lack of empathy
  9. Parasitic lifestyle
  10. Poor behavioural controls
  11. Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  12. Early behaviour problems
  13. Lack of realistic long term goals
  14. Impulsivity
  15. Irresponsibility
  16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  17. Many short term marital relationships
  18. Juvenile delinquency
  19. Revocation of conditional release
  20. Criminal versatility

Score 1 -3 for each.  Anyone with a score over 30 is likely to have psychopathic tendencies.

But wait, I know quite a few people with those kind of tendencies………Do you?

Tom Craig
About the author

Tom founded Craig Corporate in 1985. He is now Chairman of Craig Corporate and sits on the board (as a non-executive or Chairman) of several companies...
read more


by Tom Craig