Is Your Boss a Psychopath? Maybe.


Have you long suspected that your boss is a psychopath? Maybe not the kind who’s killing prostitutes in a rain coat to the musical stylings of Huey Lewis and the News, but…actually, now you’re thinking of it, maybe that? You’ll be the opposite of relieved to know that if you work in a corporate environment, your boss has a higher chance of being a psychopath than someone in a non-managerial position, according to a new study.

Other outlets are reporting that the study found that one in 25 bosses are psychopathic. Dr. Paul Babiak, one of the authors of the study, pointed out that that’s slightly disingenuous: “A better way to say it is that in a study of 203 executives across several companies, the researchers found that 3.9% scored at or above the traditional cutoff for psychopathy using the Psychopathy Checklist, the ‘gold standard’ for assessing this personality disorder,” he said in an email.

So don’t go thinking that your boss is definitely psychopathic. But, four percent is not to shabby, numbers-wise, especially considering that the normal incidence of psychopathy is about one in 100, according to Babiak.

The study links the higher incidence of psychopathy in corporate environments with the sad state of affairs in corporate America in general: “In the face of large-scale Ponzi schemes, embezzlement, insider trading, mortgage fraud, and internet frauds and schemes, it was inevitable that psychopathy would be invoked as one explanation for such callous and socially devastating behavior.”

The concept of the “successful psychopath” is well-known; the Scientific American wrote in 2007 that “Some investigators have even speculated that ‘successful psychopaths’–those who attain prominent positions in society–may be overrepresented in certain occupations, such as politics, business and entertainment.” (What about media?)

How do you know if you’ve got a psychopath on your hands? You might never realize, as the personality disorder involves an ability to mimic non-psychopaths. Babiak told a British documentary program that “you could be living with or married to one for 20 years or more and not know that person is a psychopath.”

“Part of the problem is that the very things we’re looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic,” he said. “Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership.”