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Published: Tuesday January 3, 2017

The corporate psychopath

In 2011 Clive Boddy wrote a short theoretical paper “The corporate psychopaths theory of the global financial crisis” in the Journal of Business Ethics, (102 (2). pp. 255-259. ISSN 0167-4544).

In his article he proposed a “plausible theory” regarding the motivations and drivers that may have influenced the behaviours of corporate directors who held positions of power at the time of the global down turn in 2008. The paper presents a theory concerning the Global Financial Crisis which argues that individuals with “dark triad”behaviours working in financial corporations had a major part in causing the melt down.

This was not the first time that an unflattering light had been shone on the behaviours of the corporate movers and shakers. In 2006 industrial psychologist Paul Babiak and psychopathy expert Robert D. Hare explored the subject in their book Snakes in suits-When Psychopaths Go to Work (HarperBusiness 2006). Hare had actually published an earlier book on the subject of psychopathy entitled Without conscience:The disturbing  worlds of the psychopaths among Us (1993) however this was the first time he tackled the subject of the corporate psychopath.he discusses how the financial sector corporate ideology is manipulated to benefit themselves and the effects such behaviour has on on their organisations and colleagues. Whilst a good and valid premise the book does adopt a rather sensationalist standpoint intermingling the science with non-factual stories emphasising the key premise of the similarities between leadership skills and psychopathic traits.

The subject has now been revisited by Dr Terry Sheridan(1) as part of her theory Executive Impression management”. Terry has written an informative article on psychopathy in business which is unique as it is written from the perspective of the psychopath himself.

My position on this subject is that psychopathological behaviour is a spectrum disorder and traits associated with it, like lack of empathy, in themselves are not dangerous. However,such traits must be identified and managed by both the individual and the organisation . I accept that the nature of the financial sector, like politics, is somewhere where the culture suits individuals who are self loving and promoting but think the corporate psychopath is still a rare animal and  could in fact be a distraction and over simplification of the reasons why corporate fraud and malfeasance occur. As Dr Alexander Stein(2) states in his excellent article Everyone is a fraudster (LinkedIn 2016);

‘In suggesting we’re all fraudsters, I’m underscoring a reality always at play in fraud but not absolutely about the perpetration of criminal fraud: we are all masters of self-generated deception, misperception, magical thinking, and fantastical delusion”.

It is therefore my position that we must be holistic in our approach to protecting and growing a business by adopting a recruitment to retirement protective monitoring system which encompasses both physical interaction and technical systems to work in tandem identifying and responding to behavioural cues in a non judgemental and fluid manner.

I,for one, am grateful that we have specialists like Dr Sheridan and Dr Stein who move us away from the basic premise of the Fraud triangle and take a much deeper and meaningful look  at corporate fraud and malfeasance something that is without doubt a real and present threat to us all on a personal, organisational and global level.

(1) for more information about Dr Terry Sheridan and her important work please click here

(2) for more information about Dr Alexander Stein and his innovative work please click here

Bob Pointer Is the founder and Director of business development and product development at the Centre for Investigative learning

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