How to tell if your boss is a psychopath

A new study finds that one in five CEOs has Francis Underwood-like qualities.

Meryl D'Souza September 14, 2016

Do you ever feel like you boss is senile? Like he’s charming when he needs to be but lacks any empathy for what you’re going through or feels no remorse for treating you and your colleagues like slaves?

Well, you may not be wrong to call him a psychopath. According to new research, one in five bosses is a psychopath. The same research also shows that one in five prisoners are also psychopathic.

From that information, it’s safe to deduce that psychopaths are as prevalent in the upper echelons of the corporate world as they are in prisons. 

According to the research conducted by forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks and research colleagues Dr. Katarina Fritzon of Bond University and Dr. Simon Croom of the University of San Diego, 21 per cent of the 261 corporate professionals studied in the supply chain management industry had 'clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits.' By contrast, the prevalence of people with psychopathic tendencies in the general community is one in 100.

Successful psychopaths

Research on the so-called "successful psychopath" grew after the 2008 global financial crisis. Successful psychopathy – although controversial - is not a new idea. According to American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, psychopaths are charming, self-centered, dishonest, guiltless and callous people who lead aimless lives devoid of deep interpersonal attachments.

How would you identify a successful psychopath?

Dr. Brooks said the successful psychopath – apart from being charming, superficial and insincere – might also engage in unethical and illegal business practices and have a toxic impact on other employees.

You’re most likely to spot a successful psychopath in the field of…

Scott Lilienfeld from Atlanta’s Emory University told “They (Psychopaths) are over-represented in certain occupations: politics, business, high-risk sport. The research on that is in the preliminary stages.”

That statement is consistent with Kevin Dutton’s findings. The Oxford University psychologist conducted the ‘Great British Psychopath Survey' and discovered the top ten professions with the most psychopaths:

  • CEO
  • Lawyer
  • Media
  • Salesperson
  • Surgeon
  • Journalist
  • Police Officer
  • Clergyperson
  • Chef
  • Civil servant

Dr. Brooks felt that the screening process in many companies was to blame. "Too often companies look at skills first and then secondly consider personality features," he said. "It needs to be firstly about the candidate's character and then, if they pass the character test, consider whether they have the right skills." 

While Dr. Brooks and his team look to change the way the office environment works and recruits its staff, there isn’t a team working round-the-clock to ensure you’re not dating a psychopath, so here’s how you can tell (because the rule of thumb says it’s better to be at the mercy of just one psychopath than two).