HOW PSYCHOPATHS BECOME CEO’S – WE LET THEM
Psychopaths function better in formal hierarchies where rules are fairly well entrenched. New and emerging companies have less systematization and structure than their bigger brethren do. Psychopaths often acquire their power by breaking rules, but only if almost everyone else abides by them. Rules enforce controls, controls over people’s behaviors. This is why psychopaths are extremely hypocritical when it comes to rules: they will break them if it benefits them but will strictly enforce and punish others who do the same.
Incrementally growing or declining companies are fertile grounds for psychopaths as long as they sense an advantage. Psychopaths have no problems getting rich at the expense of the enterprise. High growth creates dynamic opportunities and change. This is risky for psychopaths because opportunities abound. A dog-eat-dog mentality to advance is less prevalent compared to situations where one can only get ahead through the termination of another. Psychopaths shine in dog-eat-dog situations.
Of course, if psychopaths can govern change in a high-growth situation or the growth is assured that is definitely an advantage. That is why they will definitely seek to run high-growth departments within slower-growing or declining companies; this only enhances their image and power. Furthermore, since change is dynamic, they will likely need to make new rules at which psychopaths are often good. Rules are good, making rules is even better.
Simply, psychopaths need people. They use rules to control them and acquire power by working outside them. They look for rich, mature hosts or very young ones assured of growth, needing organization, standardization, discipline and processes.
What’s difficult to remember is that psychopaths can be personable, especially smart ones. They can have rather high emotional intelligence since it’s about understanding, not feeling. They can also be very charismatic since it’s learnable, as is emotional intelligence. However, since relating emotionally to people is a conscious, mental exercise for them, it’s more taxing for them than for a sincere, sensitive person. Therefore, they must find other means of influencing such as through rules and uniformity.
Thus, cultures and people who prefer respecting authority to questioning authority and who prefer processes and rules to education and relationship building are better for psychopaths. They also prefer positive, agreeable, and compliant people, proverbial “yes men” who are more focused on not rocking the boat than doing what’s best. Psychopaths prefer self-interested people who are highly motivated by competition and incentives. This allows them to isolate people and prevent strong relational bonds from building, thus “dividing and conquering.”
Since uniformity is less taxing than diversity not only form a relational perspective but also a managing and leading one, psychopaths will thrive in homogeneous business cultures, especially from a personality perspective. Thus, rules, processes, negativity and dissent become psychopaths’ tools to eradicate personalities that do not conform to the one that they want.
In short, psychopaths prefer control-oriented, bottom-line focused cultures. This permits a business-accepted “ends justify means” approach for exploiting and disposing of those who threaten them or no longer serve their purposes.
Psychopaths prefer relationships in which we will tend to:
- Permit psychopaths to break the rules
- Be seduced by confidence
- Misinterpret success for talent
- Allow charisma to overshadow truth
In other words, style easily influences humans, so psychopaths will leverage these influences.
Since we tend to view those who break rules as powerful, psychopaths will often overtly break them to establish their power with us. They will also establish rules to control relationships but hypocritically breaking, again establishing their power.
Humans naturally fear uncertainty. Confidence reassures us. Psychopaths know they can use confidence to seduce us. In relationships, they will seek and enforce unquestioning respect for authority and rules to protect their confident persona.
Since we have a natural propensity to overweight talent’s impact on results, psychopaths will smartly position themselves to seize favorable opportunities and build their resumes. They will unabashedly take credit from others’ and embellish their contributions.
Psychopaths aren’t natural relaters so often make up for it by learning charisma and improving their emotional intelligence. Still, they must consciously think through every relational event. The same clumsiness results though as when thinking through every step of swinging a golf club or playing an instrument while doing it. Therefore, they will prefer one-on-one and large group interactions. The latter, even diverse ones, aren’t conducive to deeper discussions taxing to psychopaths, but diverse, intimate groups of three to eight individuals are. That’s why, as a whole, psychopaths will prefer homogenous cultures so they can avoid consciously toggling among many different personalities,
Consequently, hypocrisy, confidence, uniformity, agreeableness, obedience and charisma are key relational preferences psychopaths leverage to advance themselves interpersonally. Knowing the situations, trends, people and relationships that benefit psychopaths will help us recognize their shallowness and insincerity when they attempt to influence us.
Excerpts from Psychopaths in Workplace series, by Mike Lehr, March 2013