Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers

Alexis Downs (Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas, USA)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 30 March 2012

893

Citation

Downs, A. (2012), "Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 352-354. https://doi.org/10.1108/09534811211214008

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


On December 24, 2011, The Telegraph reported, “The Archbishop of York has criticised the growing divide between high and low earners and asked whether it is right that bankers ‘who helped cause the economic crisis’ should ‘rake in massive bonuses’” (The Telegraph, 2011). The Archbishop's criticism presents a challenge, and one must choose: i.e., support either the high or the low earners. Let us assume that research guide the decision. What might one read?

Two alternatives are relevant. The first is Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers by Clive R. Boddy; the second (reviewed below) is a more standard management text titled Managing People in a Downturn by Adrian Furnham. Clive Boddy introduces his book by observing that “corporate collapses” (p. 1), especially in the Western world, have accelerated in recent years and have “culminated in the global financial crisis” (p. 1). He attributes such collapses to the corporations’ senior directors, who “cheerfully lie” and then happily “walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs” (p. 1). And why do the directors lie and happily walk away? According to Boddy's research, such directors display characteristics of psychopaths: i.e., the “1 per cent” who have “no conscience or empathy” and care only for themselves[1]. Some psychopaths are violent: i.e., they murder, rape, and pillage. Some work in corporations. The latter, the corporate psychopaths, are the subject of Boddy's research. Boddy's text “presents research that for the first time empirically examines the extent of the destruction” (p. 3) caused by corporate psychopaths.

Predatory corporate psychopaths, says Boddy, jeopardize the organizations for whom they work, and he documents their prevalence. Referencing other researchers[2], Boddy argues, “[T[here must be Corporate Psychopaths in leadership positions at greater rates than their (1 per cent) incidence in the total population” (p. 3). For example, as reported by Boddy (p. 104), Babiak and Hare (2006) studied approximately 200 senior executives and found that 3.5 per cent were corporate psychopaths. Moreover, citing other research[3], Boddy suggests that country‐level culture influences the prevalence of corporate psychopaths. In particular, individualistic societies, says Boddy, such as the culture of the USA, promote anti‐social behavior and, thus, exhibit greater rates of corporate psychopaths. For example, Boddy explains: “[I]n the USA most people leave their companies for reasons related to their bosses” (p. 103). On the other hand, societies that value the group over the individual provide constraints on the behavior of potential corporate psychopaths (p. 109).

How does Boddy identify the corporate psychopaths? Boddy's research methodology relies on a survey and on a previously developed questionnaire: i.e., the Psychopathy Measure‐Management Research Version (PM‐MRV) (Boddy, 2009). The survey asks participants to rate their managers (current and previous managers) on a variety of organizational behavior constructs and managerial traits. The organizational behavior constructs include, for example, job satisfaction and conflict at work. Included among the managerial traits are traits of corporate psychopaths; one question in the survey asks participants to rate managers on psychopathic behaviors from the PM‐MRV (p. 9). The following traits are a partial list of behavioral traits of Corporate Psychopaths: “glib and superficially charming”; “accomplished liars”; “manipulative and cunning”; “grandiose sense of self‐worth”; “lack of remorse”; and “lack of empathy.” Boddy's sample includes 346 well‐educated, white‐collar workers from a variety of professional and managerial associations, such as chambers of commerce, voluntary charitable organizations, business alumni, and commercial organizations in Perth, Australia (pp. 8‐9). Their organizations include those from manufacturing, mining, cultural, financial services, and governmental sectors. His surveys of the 346 workers include 345 responses about current managers and 227 responses about managers with whom respondents had worked previously; complete surveys (regarding current and previous managers) were received from 487 participants. Of these 487, 104 report managers who are or were dysfunctional and exhibited some psychopathy (i.e., scores of 9‐12 on the PM‐MRV) and 119 report managers who are or were corporate psychopaths (i.e., scores of 13 and above on the PM‐MRV). In other words, 119 of the 487 managers are corporate psychopaths!

Having established the presence of corporate psychopaths, Boddy proceeds to study negative impacts of psychopaths on organizations. Boddy finds six main effects of corporate psychopaths and a seventh outcome that “magnifies the others” (pp. 23‐24). The six effects are these:

  1. 1.

    heightened level of conflicts;

  2. 2.

    low levels of social responsibility;

  3. 3.

    high levels of organizational constraints (e.g., poor equipment);

  4. 4.

    heightened workloads;

  5. 5.

    low job satisfaction; and

  6. 6.

    withdrawal from work.

The seventh factor that “magnifies the others” is the incidence of corporate psychopaths at higher levels of an organization (p. 25). When corporate psychopaths occupy senior positions, argues Boddy, their power magnifies their destructive capacity. “Employees working under Corporate Psychopaths,” explains Boddy, “experience less instruction, less training and less help from others than they would otherwise” (p. 127). Moreover, such employees receive less recognition, less appreciation, and less reward as well as work in a less friendly environment with poor communication. In short, when corporate psychopaths are present, the workplace becomes “toxic” (p. 128).

Relying upon his findings, Boddy proposes the “Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis” (p. 164). The Theory proposes that the current financial crisis is due to the omnipresence of corporate psychopaths. When corporate stability, as exemplified by “jobs for life,” disintegrates due to globalization and technological innovations, corporate psychopaths flourish. In other words, corporate psychopaths advance in environments characterized by job switching: i.e. in an unstable job environment, corporate psychopaths “operate relatively unknown and undetected … [in order to] flourish and advance relatively unopposed” (p. 165). Thus, according to Boddy's Theory, the “world needs corporate leaders with a conscience” (p. 166). Psychopaths threaten the longevity of Western capitalism, social justice, and global financial stability (p. 166).

Let's return to the Archbishop's polemic. Is Boddy aligned with the high earners or low earners? Clearly, because he associates high earners with psychopaths, he is aligned with the low earners. Is his research convincing, such that others will align with the low earners? I am not convinced, but I am definitely interested in Boddy's research. Why am I not convinced? I am troubled by his method, which asks subordinates to evaluate the psychopathy of management. Boddy himself does not survey and evaluate management. I am also troubled by the term “corporate psychopaths” because Boddy's subjects come from various backgrounds; not all are “corporate.” Would I recommend this book? Yes, it is interesting and challenging. Oh, by the way, I am American.

Notes

Alternatively, the “1 per cent” in the USA, according to the Occupy Wall Street movement, are “the top 1 percent of American households [that] had a minimum income of $516,633 in 2010 – a figure that includes wages, government transfers and money from capital gains, dividends and other investment income” (Khimm, 2011).

For example, other researchers are Babiak and Hare (2006).

Boddy refers to the work of Stout (2005).

References

Babiak, P. and Hare, R.D. (2006), Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, Regan Books, New York, NY.

Boddy, C. (2009), Corporate Psychopaths in Australian Workplaces: Their Influence on Organizational Outcomes, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Khimm, S. (2011), “Who are the 1 percent?”, The Washington Post, October 6, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra‐klein/post/who‐are‐the‐1‐percenters/2011/10/06/gIQAn4JDQL_blog.html.

Stout, M. (2005), “The ice people: living among us are people with no conscience, no emotions and no conception of love”, Psychology Today, January/February, pp. 726.

(The) Telegraph (2011), “Archbishop of York attacks bankers' massive bonuses”, December 24, available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/8977082/Archbishop‐of‐York‐attacks‐bankers‐massive‐bonuses.html.

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