The corporate psychopath - how many do you have leading your company?

A researcher has found that the upper echelons of the corporate business sector harbour psychopaths at rates similar to prison populations. Forensic psychologist, Nathan Brooks, says that 'businesses have their recruitment screening back-to-front', with character assessments being more initially important than skills. 

“Too often companies look at skills first and then secondly consider personality features,” Brooks says. “Really 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.”

Brooks calls them 'successful psychopaths', and points to estimates that there are one psychopath per 100 people in the community, but one in five in the prison system, and between three and 21 per hundred in the corporate world. 

Who is the successful psychopath?

These people are 'high-flyers' with traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy and remorse, egocentricity, charm and superficiality. This type of person may engage in unethical or illegal business practices, having a toxic effect on other employees, Brooks says. 

“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” Brooks says.

Brooks' research for his PhD, with Dr Katarina Fritzon and Dr Simon Croom, examined psychopathic traits in the business sector, studying 261 corporate professionals. Twenty-one per cent of the study participants had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits - comparable to prison populations. 

A new tool has been devised to help businesses assess for psychopathic personality disorder during recruitment. 

“We hope to implement our screening tool in businesses so that there’s an adequate assessment to hopefully identify this problem - to stop people sneaking through into positions in the business that can become very costly,” Brooks says.

Brooks and Dr Fritzon spoke about the emergence of non-criminal psychopathy at the 2016 APS Congress.