Do Psychopaths Run the World? The Sometimes Dark Personality Traits of Leaders


These days, the word “psychopath” is thrown around quite loosely. Though we shouldn’t diagnose anyone with a mental illness, some personality traits of leaders — in public service and the corporate world — can sometimes be questionable. But are they simply extremely career-driven, or are they ruthless psychopaths?

What is a psychopath?

“Psychopathy” isn’t exactly a specific mental illness — as it’s not an officially recognized diagnosis. However, a psychopath is typically someone who displays Antisocial Personality Disorder traits. People with this personality type usually lack empathy, are manipulative, find it difficult to distinguish what’s right and what’s wrong, and don’t mind manipulating or hurting others for personal gain.

People who display psychopathic behaviors sometimes get in trouble with the law, endanger themselves or others’ safety, are pathological liars, and can be very narcissistic.

Do psychopathic personality traits of leaders benefit their community?

According to a Washington Post article, they estimate that 21% of CEOs display psychopathic tendencies. Psychopaths tend to think that the world revolves around them. However, when psychopathic leaders don’t get what they want, they can become either very aggressive, or they can take Machiavellian measures to remain successful.

Some psychopathic personality traits of leaders:

1. They lie

Sometimes, psychopaths know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong — because the people surrounding them and society make it evident. However, they don’t feel morally obliged to follow it. That’s why they don’t find guilt in lying. If you work with a psychopath, they might sometimes blame you for the things you didn’t do. They might even accuse you of their wrongdoings or lapses of judgment.

For instance, it can be as simple as denying that they received the email that you sent. It can be them who last used the printer before it broke but will insist that it was you who broke it.

2. They lack compassion

That said, if your boss doesn’t mind doing the things above, and they’re known to bully his subordinates, they might lack empathy — which can be another one of the psychopathic personality traits of leaders.

Regular people may often — or should be — told to treat everyone equally (regardless of race, age, social status, identity, etc.), but psychopaths don’t adhere to such. To them, everyone is below them — because they tend to be narcissistic like that. Unfortunately, sometimes, they don’t even bully people to see results in the department they’re handling — they sometimes do it just so they can advance to the top of their game.

3. They can be devious

There can be times when leaders won’t use terror as their weapon. Sometimes, it’s their charisma that will help them become more successful. Each individual should have a friendly — or, at the very least, presentable — demeanor, psychopaths, however, will take it a step further.

One of the many psychopathic personality traits of leaders is they will charm just about anyone around them for personal gain — they might make themselves appear very friendly, they might try to seduce those around them (sexually and romantically), or they might even offer perks that they’re not willing to actually provide.

4. They’re unpredictable

Psychopaths can either be aggressive or charming — and if they’re known to display both, unpredictability can be another one of the antisocial personality traits of leaders.

Moreover, psychopaths tend to change their minds a lot — but they’re not willing to take accountability if their workforce ends up fumbling because of confusion. Because of this, the cycle continues. Their reaction to the manpower’s failure to deliver results will, again, either be anger or charm; even then, sometimes, what they consider as “failure” isn’t exactly that — it might actually be “success” had they only stuck to their initial plan or decision.

What kind of problems can arise when psychopaths attain power?

Compared to world leaders, psychopathic CEOs handle a relatively small labor pool. Even then, their lack of compassion can prevent them from having loyal employees. Their business partners can also withdraw from their ventures once they realize how manipulative, aggressive, and impulsive their business partner/s can be. Some psychopaths may end up becoming successful. But it’s difficult to guarantee that they’ll remain that way, due to their erratic behavior.

Political and world leaders, on the other hand, have the whole nation for them to control. In democratic nations, where people can vote for who their next leader will be, psychopaths who will campaign probably have the upper hand — as their charisma can be enough to secure votes.

However, once political and world leaders are in position and power, that’s when problems can potentially emerge. Their indecisiveness can cost the area (that they’re responsible for handling) certain things — such as money from budget mismanagement. But their penchant for manipulation and narcissism can also lead to more permanent problems: deaths — especially when they’re radical enough to declare executions or wars.

Which world leaders of the past displayed psychopathic tendencies?

We listed below world leaders of the past who displayed psychopathic behaviors. Keep in mind that these powerful individuals ruled and reigned their nations when psychiatric medicine was vastly different from what it is today. However, countless documentaries, books, and articles have been made about these rulers and their gruesome acts. But at the end of the day, they’re all mere speculations.

Here are a few infamous world leaders who allegedly displayed psychopathic traits.

1. Nero

There has long been a rumor that the Roman Emperor Nero played the fiddle while Rome was burning. However, that has been debunked by historians (as the fiddle wasn’t invented yet during Nero’s lifetime). Furthermore, many historians believe that it was Nero himself who had Rome burned — so he could have space to build his unnecessarily lavish palace.

Nero being suspected by history experts to be the mastermind behind the Great Fire of Rome is a testament to how notorious Nero is for being narcissistic, and how he lacked empathy towards his people. Moreover, Nero also had his mother and two wives killed. He also ordered the murder of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.

2. Caligula

Another Roman Emperor who displayed psychopathic traits was Caligula. At the beginning of his rule of Rome, he infamously galloped back and forth a bridge made from merchant ships — while wearing a gold cape; Caligula did this for two days straight. Caligula was also known to consistently utter the phrase “Remember I have the right to do anything to anybody.” as he believed he was an immortal god.

Caligula had numerous members of the senate murdered. He also turned gladiator games into a location for execution — he had countless criminals killed in front of the crowd for sheer entertainment. However, despite all of this, Caligula loved his horse, Incitatus. But he loved it so much that he even considered making the horse a Roman consulate.

3. Vladimir Lenin

Russian Marxist Vladimir Lenin was the first communist dictator. His lust for power brought him to establish the Bolsheviks. Lenin then launched the Red Terror campaign. During the Red Terror, the Bolsheviks murdered Tsar Nicholas II and the rest of his family — including the Tsar’s sick son. But countless others were executed during the Red Terror — some historians estimate that over 100,000 people died during this campaign.

Vladimir Lenin’s Red Terror campaign and overall atrocities — unfortunately — paved the way for other bloodthirsty leaders to emerge. Other leaders who also displayed psychopathic personality traits (that Lenin “inspired”) were Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Adolf Hitler.

What to do if you work for a psychopath:

The psychopathic personality traits of leaders can make it intimidating to work with them. However, if your own mental well-being is on the line, the best option is to simply just leave your current job. Not only do psychopaths not have the ability to sincerely empathize with you, but your own growth will be jeopardized if you continue to work for them.

It will also be difficult — and 99% impossible — to suggest that they seek a professional to help them. It’s extremely rude to do so, and they will be too narcissistic to admit that there’s something wrong with them. What you can control, however, is your own decisions. You can walk away from a toxic environment and you also have the freedom to get the help that you need and deserve — especially if a psychopath leader tarnished your ego.


It can be difficult to direcognize the psychopathic personality traits of leaders. Regardless if your boss is a psychopath or not, if their leadership is negatively affecting you, it’s best that you find another boss who’s more rational with their management approach. You can also set up an appointment with a mental health expert (such as a therapist or psychologist) if a psychopathic boss greatly affects your mental health.

If the psychopathic personality traits of leaders you’re working for borders civil offenses (such as defamation or harassment), you should probably seek legal action.

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