Psychopath is never assigned to someone with a positive intent. However, a new study looked on the potential strengths associated with psychopathy and not just the deficits. Researchers found higher initial psychopathy was associated with a steeper increase of general inhibitory control and the inhibition of aggression over time. The effect was magnified among those who were successful in the workplace. While professional accomplishments alone as an indicator of success dismiss the negative outcomes of psychopathic behavior, the study still raises some interesting thoughts.
“Someone being a 'successful psychopath' seems like a strange sentence,” said Dr. Giuseppe Aragona with Prescription Doctor. “But, psychopathy can have advantages. Those with psychopathy are more likely to work better underneath an abusive boss, as they are more resistant to stress and interpersonal abuse. It has less of an effect on them compared to the average person. Lacking empathy can be beneficial in scenarios where emotions need to be set aside, such as in the army under dangerous circumstances, or if a loved one has passed away.”
“Psychopaths can disassociate from themselves, and create a new reality where they are charming and popular,” said Girish Shukla. "For us, this fake reality appears as the truth. Since psychopaths are not tethered to emotions, they are so focused on their goals. They will remove any obstacles in their path to success, and even though they are aware of the consequences of their actions, they lack the empathy to comprehend them. Because they take pleasure in misleading and exploiting people for their own profits, this quality helps them further in their careers.” He adds, “This is why CEOs of exploitative companies are able to influence minds without coming across as inhumane.”
Eric Quanstrom, CMO of CIENCE, has witnessed business psychopaths achieve measures of success. He explains: “psychopathic behavior is most useful when the results needed are short term. Many psychopaths are successful at getting short-term productivity, efficiency, or output based largely on fear. Or a dramatically heightened sense of urgency around getting people to achieve their (the psychopath's) goals.”
“Another positive side of psychopaths is that they are confident and make no apologies about who they are,” added Vinay Amin, CEO at Eu Natural. “Confidence is one of the most valuable traits of a successful leader. The ones that get ahead are those that exhibit the most charm and aren't afraid to fake it til they make it. In my estimate, these people are more of a psychopath than they realize or are willing to admit.”
Amin also notes that psychopaths can also be callous, which is a negative trait in the general population, but “some callousness is necessary in a dog-eat-dog world. If backstabbing is seen as necessary in the business world, psychopaths have no qualms about doing just that. This is evident in their general lack of remorse and empathy.”
Neal Taparia, CEO of Solitaired, points to Travis Kalanick, the founder and CEO of Uber, as a case study of psychopathy in the business world. “Kalanick pushed for aggressive expansion of his company,” said Taparia, “breaking the law every step of the way, because he believed this would lead to the most successful outcome for Uber. While it hurt the company's brand, Uber is now ubiquitous and much of this is attributed to his psychopathic leadership when he was the CEO. He created a culture of aggression and rule breaking which allowed Uber to blanket the market.”
While traits of psychopathy could be beneficial in a cutthroat business environment, Ken Lewis, PhD and Managing Partner of Client Expander, says it is never good to be labeled a psychopath because that person has a “disconnected head and heart.” He explains, “That pathway is so important. The heart is the leader in most of us, even though our brain is easily tricked into thinking it is doing the work. We are emotionally driven creatures which explains a lot about the world including status, luxury brands, being a fan of a sports team, etc.”
Pascal Wallisch, a clinical associate professor of psychology and data science at NYU, believes the answer is more complicated than labeling psychopathy as good or bad. He points to chemist Fritz Haber as an example. “He introduced poison gas to WW1,” said Wallisch, “making a terrible conflict even more hellish. But he also invented the Haber-Bosch process, which creates fertilizer that enables food production for about half the current world population. So it is with psychopaths. As they are born with it, they had no choice in the matter. Moreover, it is particularly the affective components of psychopathy that are culturally prized. For instance, psychopaths are cool, calm and collected under pressure. They don't get stressed out by high stakes or chaos and can even exhibit courage.”
Wallisch notes: “Like everything else, psychopathy is a package deal. It is important to neither romanticize nor demonize the condition, but rather respect its complexity.” And although there are perceived benefits in the workplace, it's good to remember what Lewis said earlier: "It is never good to be labeled a psychopath." Some benefits are never worth the cost.