The purpose of this paper is to re-open a debate as to whether candidates for public leadership should be screened for psychopathy.
This is a conceptual paper which examines the diffuse literature concerning psychopaths in public leadership positions.
Psychopathy researchers have been divided as to whether psychopathic individuals should be screened out of leadership positions in public and corporate life. Recent evidence from bullying research and historical research into psychopaths in politics sheds new light on this issue.
There is increasing evidence that psychopaths are detrimental to the organisations they work for, to other employees, to the environment and to society. Screening for psychopathy should therefore be considered. This may help to prevent governments entering into illegal wars and committing crimes against humanity. Screening in the corporate sector may also help prevent the worst excesses of greed and fraud that were evident in collapses like Enron and the Mirror Group as well as in the events leading up to the global financial crisis of 2008.
The paper makes a contribution to the literature on public leadership by bringing together the diverse reports on the effects of psychopaths in public organisations like the National Health Service, publicly listed corporations, academia and politics. The paper uses historical and corporate examples to illustrate the initially favourable impression that psychopathic leaders can make but the ultimately disastrous outcomes they engender.
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