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Characteristics of Corporate Psychopaths and Their Corporations

Summary by J. Scarlet

From the books, Snakes in Suits by Dr. Paul Babiak & Dr. Robert Hare, Corporate Psychopaths by Dr. Clive Boddy, Working with Monsters by Dr. John Clarke & Without Conscience by Dr. Robert Hare

“It is important to study [corporate] psychopaths because of the large-scale financial, environmental and human resources that many modern international corporations have at their disposal.  Many corporations are bigger financially than some nation-states: of the 100 largest economic entities in 2002, 50% were corporations,” (Boddy, 6).  The actions of some senior managers have destroyed corporations and such collapses have become more common in recent years, (1).  When these managers lie about their involvement in such catastrophes, walk away with huge payoffs and seemingly unaffected by the lives they have devastated, normal people wonder what kind of person would behave this way.  It is my hope that by compiling this paper the reader will understand the traits of corporate psychopathy and why it is important that employers screen for them.

Dr. Robert Hare states that a portion of the PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist-Revised), which was created to detect violent criminal psychopaths, also identifies corporate psychopaths, (Boddy, 7).  According to Dr. Hare, corporate psychopaths are glib, superficially charming, have a grandiose sense of self-worth, are pathological liars, conning, manipulative, lack remorse, are emotionally shallow, callous, lack empathy, and fail to take responsibility for their actions, (39).  He believes that criminal and anti-social definitions of psychopathy are inappropriate for corporate psychopaths so a revised definition should be used to detect them.

All psychopaths thrive off of the feelings of power and control they get from dominating their victims, but corporate psychopaths victimize people in primarily psychological ways, (Clarke, 10).  They seek out leadership positions because money, power, status and control are what make them tick, (Boddy, 5).  “Some psychopaths are violent and end up in jail; others forge careers in corporations.” (1).

Corporate psychopaths can control their behavior and that of others much more effectively than violent criminal psychopaths can, (Boddy, 42).  Although they appear charming, charismatic and likeable, corporate psychopaths are emotionally disconnected to others, viewing them as objects to be used, (2).  Of their psychopathic traits, the least noticeable are their manipulative behaviors and callousness, (42).

It is not difficult for these psychopaths to rise to very high levels in corporations, particularly in today’s uncertain and constantly changing corporate climates, (Clarke, 10).  There are actually three and a half times more psychopaths in senior managerial positions than there are in the general population, (Boddy, 104).  The managerial positions they move into exceed their abilities, but they are able to attain these positions because of the false personas they create, (3).  Corporate psychopaths masterfully fool others into believing they are talented and trustworthy, but in reality their behavior is extremely destructive, (2).

According to studies conducted by Dr. Clive Boddy, corporate psychopaths accounted for 26% of workplace bullying, (Boddy, 44).  When they were present in an organization, 93.3% of the employees witnessed bullying in the workplace, (60).  When they were not present, the percentage was 54.7%.  Not all corporate psychopaths are bullies, but the ones who are tend to be more abusive than charming, (Babiak & Hare, 187).  They humiliate, intimidate, harass and scare their victims, and will become vindictive if they don’t get what they want, (Boddy, 44).  They also encourage others to act these ways and such behaviors can spread through companies like a virus, (59).  “Employees who worked in organizations where corporate psychopaths were present experienced people yelling at them at work more than five times more frequently than did employees who worked in organizations where corporate psychopaths were not present,” (58).

Unethical leaders create unethical followers, which in turn create unethical companies and society suffers as a result, (Boddy, 169).  The more corporate psychopaths there are in a corporation, the less the corporation is socially responsible, environmentally friendly, beneficial to the community, and committed to its employees, (69).  Based on his research, Dr. Boddy developed the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis: that corporate psychopaths, rising to senior positions within corporations, where they have considerable power and influence over the climates of the organizations have largely caused the financial crisis we are experiencing today, (164).

As Dr. Hare states in his book, Without Conscience, “If we can’t spot them, we are doomed to be their victims, both as individuals and as a society,” (Hare, 6).  Dr. Hare teamed up with Dr. Paul Babiak to develop the B Scan, a diagnostic tool used to screen for dysfunctional behavior in organizations.  More information can be found at http://www.b-scan.com/.

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How Corporate Criminal Psychopaths Con Their Victims

How Corporate Criminal Psychopaths Con Their Victims

From Working with Monsters by John Clarke

Summary by J. Scarlet

Corporate psychopaths con their victims in stages, (Clarke, 134).  The first stage involves meeting the victim and bombarding them with so much information that the victim has no time to evaluate it.  The psychopath compliments the victim, who is often selected because of their loneliness or low self-esteem.  During this phase, the psychopath appears very friendly and helpful.  They will establish a rapport with the victim to ensure the victim’s false perception of them is solidified in the second stage, (134-135).

The third stage involves identifying the victim’s needs and emotional weak points, such as not feeling loved or being financially insecure, (Clarke, 135).  The psychopath then creates lies to make the victim believe their needs will be met if they trust the psychopath.

In the fourth stage, the psychopath creates emotional pain if the victim begins to doubt the psychopath’s credibility, (Clarke, 135).  At this point the psychopath may attack the victim for being ‘stupid’ not to trust them.  Since the victim has already imagined that their needs will be met, it is difficult for them to believe they have been conned so they continue supporting the psychopath, (136).

In the fifth stage, the psychopath employs reverse psychology on the victim, (Clarke, 136).  They criticize the victim for their lack of trust in the psychopath and suggest that the victim must lack courage or determination.  The victim loses confidence in their ability to make decisions because they’ve trusted the psychopath to take care of them and it’s proven to be a huge mistake, (137).

Consumer scams are effective ways for psychopaths to deceive larger numbers of victims, (Clark, 137).  The most common consumer scams involve property, superannuation, and investment seminars.  The needs of the victims are generally centered on financial success.

For example, the psychopath creates emotional pain by explaining to their audience that they are not millionaires, they don’t know how to invest, they are financially struggling, etc, (Clarke, 137-138).  Using reverse psychology, they suggest to their audience that it takes courage, determination and trust to invest in their ‘scheme’, (138).  At this point, the corporate criminal psychopath either sells them ‘investment packages’ that are over-inflated or they take their victims’ money and disappear.  It also is relatively easy for the corporate criminal psychopath to use their glib and superficial charm to steal a person’s identity in the process.

Types of Workplace (Corporate) Psychopaths

From the books, Working with Monsters by Dr. John Clarke and Corporate Psychopaths: Organizational Destroyers by Dr. Clive Boddy

Summary by J. Scarlet

Most psychopaths are successful at avoiding detection, because they do not engage in violent criminal behavior.  According to Dr. Hare, these types of psychopaths are able to control their anti-social impulses and are so clever and charming that they are able to avoid getting in trouble with the law, (Boddy, 39).  Dr. Boddy characterizes these psychopaths as glib, superficially charming, having a grandiose sense of self-worth, accomplished liars, conning and manipulative, lacking remorse, emotionally shallow, cold and calculating, lacking empathy, and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions, (14).

Dr. Babiak, Dr. Hare, and Dr. Boddy have labeled this subtype as ’corporate’ psychopaths.  Labeling them as ‘corporate’ can be misleading, however, because they do not all work at corporations.  They can also be found in religious organizations, law enforcement, the military, politics, and even in medicine and education.

Dr. John Clarke is more specific and places these ‘successful’ psychopaths into three categories: ‘occupational’, ‘corporate criminal’, and ‘organizational’, though some psychopaths fall into more than one category.  “Everything they do is in their own self-interest.  How they satisfy their needs is what sets them apart,” (Clarke, 183).  For the purpose of this paper I will explain Dr. Clarke’s subtypes.

The Occupational Psychopath

The occupational psychopath uses their occupation to satisfy their desires while avoiding or minimizing punishment, (Clarke, 76).  They don’t necessarily want to climb the company’s ranks, because they enjoy the power and control that they already have.  Psychopaths who are police officers, army officers, parking officers, security guards, or those who work for government agencies fall into this category, (76-77, 168 & 172).

Occupational psychopaths can exhibit violent and non-violent criminal behaviors and manipulate others in the workplace to escape detection, (Clarke, 180).  They employ multiple tactics to gain complete control over their victims, (179).  They play on their victims’ fears and emphasize their victims’ fates for disobeying them.  Obedience is gained by getting the victims to think they are the only person that can be trusted, (180).

The Corporate Criminal Psychopath

The corporate criminal psychopath commits crimes in their workplace, or as a part of an organized ring devoted to corporate crimes, (Clarke, 65).  “This category includes bank employees who defraud their employers, stock brokers involved in scams, builders who ‘con’ clients, real estate agents who dupe home owners, lawyers who spend their clients’ trust funds, second-hand car salespeople who alter cars to get a sale, gangs who are involved in identity theft and the use of fraudulent checks and so on,” (65-66).  They rely on peoples’ greed and their low self-esteems to help them commit their crimes, (133).

When these psychopaths enter companies they make connections with people they can use to help them cover up their behavior, (Clarke, 125).  They are usually superficial and brilliant at giving the ‘right’ impressions to con their victims, (67).  They find weak spots in the systems that allow them to steal large amounts of money and avoid detection for long periods of time (125).  They blend so well into organizations and societies that it is difficult to detect them until it is too late, (143).

The Organizational Psychopath

The organizational psychopath craves a god-like feeling of power and control over other people, (Clarke, 95).  They prefer to work at the very highest levels of their organizations, because this allows them to inflict harm the most amounts of people, (60).  Psychopaths who are political leaders, managers and CEOs fall into this category.

Organizational psychopaths generally appear to be intelligent, sincere, powerful, charming, witty, and entertaining communicators, (Clarke, 84 & 99).  They quickly assess what people want to hear and then create stories that fit those expectations, (98).  They will con people into doing their work for them, take credit for other people’s work and even assign their work to junior staff members, (92-93).  They have low patience when dealing with others, display shallow emotions, are unpredictable, undependable and fail to take responsibility if something goes wrong that is their fault, (90-95).

Organizational (Corporate) Psychopaths

From the book, Working with Monsters by John Clarke

Summary by J. Scarlet

Psychopaths generally have an over-inflated, narcissistic sense of self-importance, (Clarke, 36).  It is common for them to pursue authoritative careers that give them status as opposed to “hands on” work. “It is the sense of ‘owning’ other people that is important for them, along with the challenge of gaining even more power and control in their workplace,” (95).

Organizational psychopaths find organizations that are constantly transitioning more desirable, (Clarke, 104).  They prefer them because these organizations allow them to use the confusion within the companies to mask their behaviors.  They can hide their actions more easily because they are seen as creative and dynamic, which are traits the companies need to move forward in a difficult business world.

These psychopaths possess good verbal skills, effectively manipulate others, are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and may be creative in developing new ideas, (Clarke, 188). They “can quickly work out what they want people to hear, and create a story that corresponds with their listeners’ expectations…listeners are generally deceived by how the story is told rather than the story’s content,” (98).

“The psychopath might bully their way through a conversation, and by sheer force of their charm and personality, people will believe them.  If questioned about their facts the organizational psychopath will attempt to steer the conversation in another direction.  When the organizational psychopath’s lack of knowledge is found out, they show very little if any concern, and gloss over the gap in their story by reworking the facts.  Some organizational psychopaths are very proud of their ability to persuade people to do things they would not normally do by using their charm and good communication skills,” (Clarke, 100).

The organizational psychopath manipulates established social systems to cause confusion, to further their own careers and/or destroy the careers of others, (Clarke, 89).  They generally have two main goals, (59).  The first is to get to the top of their profession because of the financial rewards and power.  Their second goal is to be able to inflict suffering and misery on the people they work with, (60).

“Once the organizational psychopath has established how the company works, and how useful each colleague is, they set in motion a series of strategies that help them rise through the company ranks.  As they are promoted higher in the company, the organizational psychopath has greater power and control over the people around them.  Often it is when they reach the higher levels in an organization that they implement strategies designed to cause unnecessary stress for their workers, for no other reason than to watch them suffer,” (Clarke, 112).

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