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Climbing the corporate ladder: desired leadership skills and successful psychopaths

Dallas Hill (University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Canada)
Hannah Scott (Faculty of Social Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, Canada)

Journal of Financial Crime

ISSN: 1359-0790

Article publication date: 2 July 2019




Many of the characteristics embodied by successful psychopaths, such as superficial charm, cool decisiveness and a grandiose self-worth, are often treated synonymously with corporate leadership qualities. Consequently, it is possible that successful psychopaths are actively being selected for corporate positions as they exemplify the perfect candidate. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether or not the recruitment for positions of higher social status are inadvertently seeking out individuals with psychopathic tendencies to run their companies using similar characteristics in their job advertisements.


The current study will provide a deeper understanding of successful psychopaths whilst exploring the role of the “Westernized” corporation in recruiting successful psychopaths into their businesses through character descriptions in 25 executive career advertisements using Wexler’s (2008) psychopathic Personality Dimensions And Positively Reinforced Corporate Labels.


The results demonstrated that corporations are seeking out characteristics that are synonymous to Factor 1 psychopathic personality traits, which could increase the propensity of successful psychopaths in the workplace.

Research limitations/implications

Although the sample was representative for the current study, the sample size is minimal. Further, most companies in the sample were taken from the public sector. Given the implicit sample bias, the results and conclusions must be interpreted with caution. Future research should expand the relationship between psychopathic personality traits and corporate labels in a broader context.

Practical implications

The results also allude to potential protective factors that could be put in place by corporations during their hiring process. These factors include measures for empathy and emotional IQ. Beyond the hiring process, it is suggested that incentive-based promotions should be lessened and replaced with incentives that promote care and respect for one another.

Social implications

Whilst the inability for the public to conceptualize white-collar crime as a true form of crime conducted by powerful individuals is apparent, it is suggested that change should begin with public awareness and academia. With additional research on psychopathy in the field of criminology and organizational psychology, public awareness can be amplified.


The current study allows for an interdisciplinary perspective towards the concept of successful psychopathy by highlighting the increased potential for corporate scams and white-collar criminality. Specifically, the current study introduces a psycho-social criminological perspective.



Hill, D. and Scott, H. (2019), "Climbing the corporate ladder: desired leadership skills and successful psychopaths", Journal of Financial Crime, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 881-896.



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