General Question

whitenoise's avatar

Do psychopaths make good managers?

Asked by whitenoise (14126points) July 3rd, 2009

I recently listened to a radio-show on psychopaths, the lack of diagnostic models for their disorder and the frequency of the disorder. I then read-up on the topic and visited a website that helps people recognize psychopaths in their environment.

I learned that in the new Diagnostic Models for psychiatric disorders in The Netherlands (DSM V), psychopathy will likely be introduced and that according to these models the disorder is probably more common than many other better researched disorders, such as for instance border-line disorder.

What struck me when I looked into the test is that many of the traits associated with psychopathy are the same trait I have recognized in many (senior) manager I have met. These traits have actually benefitted them considerably.

These are the traits:
* Lack of conscience
* Destructiveness
* Manipulative
* Without remorse
* Undependable
* Narcissistic
* Superficial

The overall trait for psychopaths is that they thrive on having power over others and feel better themselves by making other people feel worse. Now when born / bestowed with a psychotic disorder, I would say management is an enticing profession. (Either that or become a politician or a criminal.)

What I would like to know is, do you think that given these traits, that management positions are of a job type where psychopaths will be over-represented and flourish?

!!! I do not want to say all politicians, criminals or managers are psychopaths, even though I suspect sociopaths will be over-represented in these professions, myself!!!

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25 Answers

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

A rather flippant question, but hey, I’ll run with it. I’ve had managers that may or may not have been psychopaths, but they are what I call Type Double A personalities. Manipulative, without remorse, narcissitic, and superficial. Sort of like ‘Git ‘er dun’ taken to the extreme. In other words real fuckers to work for.

But no, I think a psychopath would eventually end up killing his subordinates,and that is NEVER a good model for a successful business career. Let’s keep the psychopaths locked up, where they can be studied, and by no means should they be made floor manager at the local Denny’s.

ru2bz46's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra…or Post Office. :-\

whitenoise's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra I do not necessarily refer to psychopaths that are rampant killers. Studies indicate that in The Netherlands we have about 200,000 people that qualify for psychopathic personality disorder, while we have about 35,000 people locked up as criminally insane. That is a difference of about 165,000. Most psychopaths just destroy other people’s lives and do not kill people. I suspect the Dutch are not more violently crazy then others, so likely similar figures would apply to the US and the UK

aprilsimnel's avatar

I had a boss who was probably clinically a sociopath. He was not a good manager nor was he a good steward of his father-in-law’s interests. We had to cover up for his greed and thoughtlessness to clients all the time. And he lost business when people were on to what he was about. Bleah! I was so glad when I got laid off from his (rapidly deteriorating) company.

seekingwolf's avatar

I think the most obvious sign of a sociopath, lack of a conscience, is the main reason why they shouldn’t be in any authoritative position at all.

How can you effectively run and manage a position like that without a moral center? It would quickly turn into chaos as people would start to realize that they are being screwed over.

I’ve known (and dated) a couple sociopaths and while they do have their place in society, they should have as little control as possible in their job and others’ lives or they will screw things up. Sociopaths need professional help and be put into a job where ambiguity is slim and things are out of their control.

tadpole's avatar

@whitenoise you assume that most flutherites are from us/uk, and that is very kind of you…....tadpole (uk)

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Psychopaths don’t make good managers.
Just because your manager sucks doesn’t make them a psychopath.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Lots of things make for bad managers, such as upper managers that assume that because an employee is a good performer, they will make a good manager. The ability to do a job extremely well does not mean you are qualified manage people who do the same work. Nor does it mean that leadership can be learned without education or innate personality traits that are conducive to leadership.

basp's avatar

The traits you listed do not make good managers. Your question is based on incorrect use of logic.

strosek's avatar

These traits are related to a neurotypical person. These people are considered “cool” by everyone they know.

Darwin's avatar

Sociopaths who are very intelligent actually can be successful short-term managers in that they can put the bottom line ahead of human needs. Many of the folks who have risen rapidly from the bottom to become CEO or CFO are indeed sociopaths. Often, they spend little time at each stop along the way so their inability to empathize isn’t destructive to a company, only to individuals. Their ruthlessness can be the reason that a company becomes number one.

Someone who is not related to the owner of the business and who starts in the mail room but ends up running a multi-million (or billion) dollar business is quite possibly a sociopath. The folks running Enron and people like Bernie Madoff are sociopaths who got caught. There are many more who haven’t been caught out, but instead have retired with golden parachutes and trophy wives, or who are still running large corporations.

However, sociopaths who refuse to look ahead and who stall at one level of a company are bad for business.

As Martha Stout says:

“Four percent of Americans are sociopaths, meaning that they have no conscience, and this statistic probably gets larger as one goes up the ladder of success. At the top echelons of success in big business, sociopaths are probably even more plentiful. Most sociopaths in business are not physically violent, and they don’t look like Charles Manson. They look like we do.”

Intelligent sociopaths are also successful politicians, using their charisma and willingness to say what others want to hear in order to get votes. They can also be successful in the military if they don’t get caught during the time they are actually out on the battlefield. Once they get into a rank where they have some power, they can often schmooze their way into promotion after promotion.

Sociopaths are charming and manipulative, and if also intelligent they can function just fine, although they may step on a lot of limb to the top.

It is very difficult to be married to a sociopath, but you can often count on a sociopath to make money.

whitenoise's avatar

Some additional food for thought…

click to read more

Seems that sociopathic behavior amongst management is more common than expected.

(In all honesty, I personally do not think they would be good managers, I feel they may still rise to the top and be successful, be it from their own perspective.)

juwhite1's avatar

All people possess all of those traits to some degree. The diagnosis of a sociopathic personality disorder is based on the severity of those traits, and the the frequency with which they are used. Many professions may make the appearance of those traits seem more frequent… in large part by people who do not have all the facts about a situation. I can certainly see how people who crave power over others would be attracted to certain professions, such as management and politics, but they would also be attracted to teaching, ministry, surgery, and other professions usually viewed as benign, because many of those professions also offer power over others.

Sociopaths are marked by the extent they are willing to go to in the pursuit of causing others pain, solely for the purpose of creating that pain. They are the people who abuse animals (often to hurt the person who loves that animal), remain completely emotionally unattached to others, etc. They are not the people who don’t consider the impact of their decisions on others… they are the people who realize those actions will hurt others, and are motivated by that to proceed.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@juwhite1 – And that was my boss. He knew his decisions could hurt people and he did not give a eff.

YARNLADY's avatar

A list of traits does not a clinical diagnosis make. That list of traits would fit all of us to some degree. What make a psycopath goes above and beyond any rational behavior, and nearly always includes a strong anti-social component. You have been very selective in your description. There are traits that sound ‘bad’ but actually lead to success when combined with self-control and goal-oriented productivity.

whitenoise's avatar

I just copied the traits from a test that was published by a Belgian psychiatrist. Of course it is all about the extent and not a diagnostic model. If one interprets my introductory comment as a course to psychiatric diagnosis, then that is worrisome. Lighten up! I didn’t start this thread to get everybody of to to diagnosing. Lighten up ;)

I am just wondering whether sociopaths would be drawn to management and whether they might be over-represented in that job. Since starting this thread, I have been researching further and it does seem there is a lot of research out there that show narcissistic and sociopathic disorders are indeed over-represented in management. I have no grudge against management, as a matter of fact I have been in a managerial role for the last 12 years.

YARNLADY's avatar

@whitenoise Using technical terms in your question naturally lead to technical answers. When ‘lay’ people bandy clinical diagnoses about, it can lead to misunderstandings, and clouds the issue.

whitenoise's avatar

@YARNLADY you might be right, but this is not a scientific forum, I just greatly appreciate your opinion on a train of thought that came up this afternoon. I have read some interesting views in the mean time.

@all One thing I also found out… if you ever do get confronted with a sociopath… run!

lloydbird's avatar

My experience, has been that individuals who possess more ambition than ability, tend to work hard to get into positions of influence over others. There are many self demeaning practices that are employed by such types, usually involving the dubious kissing of anatomically repellent areas. Having achieved the heights, chaos and the creeping effects of incompetence tends to ensue. Sociopathic traits are often exhibited in such persons.

juwhite1's avatar

A point not mentioned here yet… Sociopaths are also marked by an ability to be extremely charming (a needed tool to master manipulation of others). Often, people who just seem mean and cranky are labeled as sociopaths incorrectly. Sociopaths are often known by those around them as being very charming and easy to talk to.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

I would not hire anyone like that to work for me and when I found out that they were behaving that way I would give them a broom and a mop pale and point them to the bathrooms.

aprilsimnel's avatar

But… such people know how to charm the socks off you. That’s how my old boss was able to attract clients in the first place. He’s a glib and “friendly” dude, in that shallow way.

walterallenhaxton's avatar

@aprilsimnel He does not sound like a manager but more like a entrepreneur.

whitenoise's avatar

Thank you all for your thoughts!!!!

I sincerely appreciate.

mzdesigns's avatar

thats there first qualification

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