Are Leaders Psychopathic?

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that the research that supports the use of tests in selection indicates that the relationship between the likes of personality tests, and cognitive tests, and the link to performance, are likely to be linear. To support this claim, I refer to a recent review in the field that found little evidence for the existence of curvilinear relationships and that the use of curvilinear modelling is likely to undermine selection success.

In a similar vein, the argument that many managers have psychopathic tendencies (illustrated by extreme scores on a combination of traits) is likewise not supported by research. Indeed, when thinking about the indicators of a psychopath, we take the view purported by Guenole that the measurement of maladaptive behaviours cannot come from assessments that extrapolate from questions related to normal behaviours. Rather, one should measure maladaptive tendencies from specific questions related to maladaptive behaviours, using a model that is recognised by the assessment of such issues.

Many of us have experienced bosses whose behaviours we colloquially see as psychopathic, and this makes for attractive click-bait. The reality is however far more nuanced, and the research indicates once again that one swallow does not a summer make. Leading a large company, division in a company, small business or group of people, is no easy task. There will be times when the stresses of the role get to people, and they make calls that they later regret, but this is not psychopathy. Many leaders are career focussed, and it does take something special to get to the top of a large corporate, but to assume that this something always relates to narcissism, psychopathy, or eccentricity, is an oversimplification. Many of the people who write on such topics have never managed or grown a business, and they comment from the safety of an ivory tower, much like a fight fan who has never entered the ring.

Building good leaders is, like most things in I/O psychology, multifaceted. Businesses need to support the right behaviours, make clear the behaviours they are after, and provide training to help leaders develop and maintain the skills required to operate at the highest level. Rather than bagging leaders, we need to support them, recognise the realities of the job, and the impact that their performance has across the lives of employees.

 

References

Guenole, N. (2014). Maladaptive personality at work: Exploring the darkness. Industrial and Organizational Psychology7(1), 85-97.

Landay, K., Harms, P.D., & Credé, M. (2019). Shall we serve the Dark Lords? A meta-analytic review of psychopathy and leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104, 1, 183-196

Walmsley, P.T., Sackett, P.R., & Nichols, S.B. (2018). A large sample investigation of the presence of nonlinear personality-job performance relationships. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 26, 2-4, 145-163

2019-04-16T02:01:15+00:00