From ruthlessness and charm to fearlessness and a lack of empathy – spot the traits that prove you could be working under a secret psychopath
Words: Lizzie Pook
Imagine walking along the street and the woman in front trips over, catapulting Miranda-style into the air in an unintentional feat of physical comedy. She looks hurt and embarrassed. Do you a) help her up and ask if she’s OK? Or b) stifle the smirk that’s spreading across your face. If it’s ‘b’, it’s likely you have low empathy levels. And this, believe it or not, makes you the owner of a psychopathic trait.
The word ‘psychopath’ may conjure up a chilling image of Anthony Hopkins in a straitjacket, but actually, as Professor Kevin Dutton explores in his book The Wisdom Of Psychopaths, being psychopathic doesn’t necessarily make you a serial killer. “A psychopath is someone with a distinct cluster of personality traits, including narcissism, persuasiveness and a lack of conscience,” he says. Perhaps unsurprisingly these traits can often be found in successful business figures. A 2011 study suggested one in 25 CEOs make it to the top because of their inherent ‘psychopathic’ traits, such as an ability to manipulate any situation.
“Psychopathy lies on a spectrum,” adds Dutton. “Some of us may score higher on some traits than on others.” But unless you score high on all of them (and are naturally inclined to be violent) you’re not likely to find yourself the subject of Jo Nesbø’s next novel.
To find out if you’re working under a secret psychopath, give the questionnaire attached below to your boss. You may just be surprised by the results…
Scroll down to download and print out the test
What The Real CEOs Say
We asked some of the UK’s most successful (and brave) businesswomen to take the test. But where do they fit on the scale?
26, CEO and founder of iPhone app Snap Fashion
Result – 7 (mostly white)
Kevin Dutton’s analysis: “Jenny appears to be a very warm and empathic individual with a strong social conscience. She is not easily fazed and is good at getting things in perspective. However, she might benefit from coming out of her shell a bit more and upping her confidence levels.”
Jenny says: “I really can’t believe how accurate this description is, and after a few jokes in the office it’s comforting to know that I don’t have too many psychopathic tendencies. I’m a firm believer that an important part in building a sustainable business is the environment and culture that you create, so I’m pleased that I’m perceived as being empathetic and good at weighing up situations from different angles. I also agree with the comment about upping my confidence levels a bit; then again, in business, a bit of self-doubt can be less dangerous than a dollop of over-confidence.
To be a successful CEO I’d say that life skills are more important than psychopathic tendencies as you can achieve the same outcomes through nicer means, which will rarely backfire. Instead of being calculating and ruthless you can be considered, tenacious and ensure that you offer a package which is mutually beneficial; I want to build long-term partnerships instead of using people on my way up.
I think the media can glamorise the more psychopathic tendencies that people display, making better entertainment but skewing public perceptions on what CEOs and entrepreneurs do for a living. Most of the CEOs that I know are driven by passion and belief in their businesses rather than the need to have power and get to the top.”
37, global CEO at M&C Saatchi PR
Result – 21 (mostly yellow)
“Molly comes across as an outgoing and energetic leader who works hard and plays hard. Though her conscience is in the right place she has a strong pragmatic streak and isn’t afraid to do her own dirty work. A keen sense of humour reveals a big – but balanced – personality.”
Molly says: “I’m slightly surprised that I scored highest of the CEOs in psychopathic traits, but I’ll take that as a good thing (I think). It must be that charisma and persuasiveness of mine coming through – which certainly helps with influencing relations and, on occasion, challenging clients. Looking at the psychopathic traits I have to say I do (rather worryingly) identify with and recognise a fair few within me such as focus, persuasiveness and fearlessness (alongside the not so positive ones, too). But I definitely think those traits do help in my day-to-day business. Kevin’s analysis of me is spot on really – I would never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do (or haven’t done in the past) myself and a sense of humour in this industry is a real necessity. As I like to say, ‘PR not ER’. Now where’s my machete...”
39, CEO of campaigning technology agency Lady Geek
Results – 10 (mostly white)
Dutton’s analysis: “Belinda presents as a real people person. Loyalty and trust are the two central pillars of her psychology and she has a strong sense of personal, and corporate, responsibility. However, when called upon she is not afraid to make tough decisions – even though they may perhaps play on her mind a little.”
Belinda says: “I am quite surprised with Kevin’s assessment of me as a ‘people person’ (I have recruited people in my team to specifically supplement my weakness in this area) and that I am so low on the scale. I agree that I am not afraid to make tough decisions when needed and thought this would have placed me higher. I’m aware that high-functioning psychopaths can be very good at rising through corporate ranks but, in my opinion, the problem with psychopaths in business is that they obsess about protecting their own position at the expense of growing long-term company value. By contrast, highly empathic cultures are usually better at focusing on long-term performance. Empathy makes you better at predicting the consequences of your and other people’s actions. Even though I use empathy for the benefit of Lady Geek, I can at times be ruthless in achieving company objectives. But, I always have the longer-term vision and health of the company in mind.”
The Wisdom Of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton is out in paperback on 12 September (£8.99, Arrow); kevindutton.co.uk