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Corporate psychopathy: deviant workplace behaviour and toxic leaders – part one

Henry S. Cheang (McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.)
Steven H. Appelbaum (John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 1 June 2015




Increasingly, it is recognized that (larger) organizations have many employees who present with corporate psychopathy (i.e. a milder version of antisocial personality disorder (APD)). Importantly, such a disorder contributes to the presence of deviant workplace behaviour. Organizations must therefore adapt its practices to both identify and manage employees who either present with, or have tendencies towards, corporate psychopathy. As a means of developing a guiding framework for organizational adaptation, the purpose of this two-part paper is to offer two reviews of relevant research. The first revolves around the body of knowledge regarding corporate psychopathy and the primary, established behavioural method of identifying its presence; the second is a brief review on physiological measures that can complement current gold standards.


A range of published empirical and practitioner research articles were reviewed to elaborate on APD and corporate psychopathy; showcase the efficacy of the currently most accepted method of detecting psychopathic behaviour – the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) and; highlight physiological methods of detecting psychopathic tendencies which may complement usage of the PCL – electroencephalography, measurement of galvanic skin responses, and electromyography.


Deviant workplace behaviours cause losses of billions of dollars across all business organizations, and much of this behaviour stems from corporate psychopaths in positions of leadership; the PCL, while useful, can nonetheless yield sharp differences in the identification of psychopathy across different administrators of the test; measures of physiological states show good reliability in discriminating psychopathic persons from non-psychopathic persons. Based on these findings, the authors propose guidelines for how to identify and mitigate the effects of corporate psychopathy for organizations.

Research limitations/implications

The proposed guidelines must be tested in an empirical paper to measure their effectiveness.

Practical implications

The paper suggests an overall framework that may help leaders and organizational development practitioners identify the major factors which may be considered to safeguard against the potentially detrimental conduct of corporate psychopaths in their organizations.

Social implications

This paper highlights the need to identify and ward against the presence of corporate psychopaths. There needs to be guidelines for organizations on how to identify and mitigate the effects of corporate psychopathy for organizations.


The suggestion of integrating physiological methods of detection with the PCL, as well as urging proactive education of all employees as the symptoms and effects of corporate psychopathy, is the novel contribution of the paper.



Cheang, H.S. and Appelbaum, S.H. (2015), "Corporate psychopathy: deviant workplace behaviour and toxic leaders – part one", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 47 No. 4, pp. 165-173.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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