Are Senior Business Managers ‘successful psychopaths'?

Successful business managers may share many of their personality traits with those found among incarcerated patients legally classified as having psychopathic disorder or mental illness.

Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon ( University of Surrey ) found that a sample of senior British managers and chief executives averaged higher scores on self-reported measures of histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive personality than did two samples of former and current patients at Broadmoor hospital. These personality dimensions reflect characteristics such as superficial charm, lack of empathy and perfectionism. However, unlike the Broadmoor patients, the business managers scored significantly lower on antisocial, borderline and paranoid personality dimensions. These dimensions reflect characteristics such as aggression, impulsivity and mistrust.

"The senior business managers appear to possess...elements of psychopathic personality disorder that have been referred to as the emotional components, and they closely resemble characteristics known to be beneficial to achieving in a senior management role" the authors said. These findings are consistent with the concept of 'successful psychopaths' -"people with personality disorder patterns, but without the characteristic history of arrest and incarceration", they explained.

Board and Fritzon's results were obtained by asking 39 business managers to complete the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory for DSM III Personality Disorders, and by comparing their scores with those recorded for 1,085 current and former patients at Broadmoor. "The relatively small sample size of the business manager sample calls into question the reliability of these results", the authors cautioned.

Board, B.J. & Fritzon, Katarina, F. (2005). Disordered personalities at work. Psychology, Crime and Law, 11, 17-32.

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