What is psychopathy? In psychiatry and clinical psychology, it is currently defined as a condition characterized by lack of empathy or conscience, poor impulse control or manipulative behaviours.
For most of us, the word “psychopath” itself seems like a loaded term, and overwhelmingly shocking to use for someone who might be our boss or a colleague in the next cubicle at work. Other terms used in the organizational context are, “industrial psychopaths”, “organizational psychopaths” or “corporate psychopaths”
In common usage, the term psychopathy probably is more correctly thought of as part of a spectrum: the milder end being populated by persons with narcissism, and the more severe end being populated by mass murders and people who lie to start wars.
On the broad continuum between the ethical everyman and the predatory killer, there’s
plenty of room for people who are ruthless but not violent. In fact, executives are even more likely to be superficially charming, egocentric, insincere, and manipulative, and just as likely to be grandiose, exploitative, and lacking in empathy. They may be termed “successful psychopaths.” In contrast, the criminals — the “unsuccessful psychopaths” – tend to be more impulsive and physically aggressive.
High-level executives are more charming but less violent than criminals, but otherwise are quite similar. Both groups are skilled at coming up with excuses for their behaviour. In the corporate world, it has become standard practice to justify bad behaviour by saying that you are only doing what your shareholders expect, or that if you didn’t do it, someone else would, or “it’s just market forces at work”.