But one subject got me thinking more than I usually do.
She mentioned The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson’s wildly popular piece of cod-psychology, and said that much of his argument can’t be proven. A brain isn’t 100% psycho. The weirder, less empathic parts of our minds don’t rule how we think. They can be tamed and, sometimes, let loose.
This is especially true when leading a business. Psychopathy has negative connotations, but also positive ones – success, focus, a willingness to do more than most of society can deal with.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading. This is the first part of a series on why being a bit of a psychopath isn’t bad for business, but often beneficial. Let’s start with the research…
The condition is everywhere
So how many of us are psychopathic? The general consensus is: 1% of the population. Amongst violent offenders, men are three times more likely than women to be considered a psychopath. Pretty much all of us are on the spectrum though.
How much these symptoms manifest depends on both our genetics and the environment we grew up in. It’s even possible to tell whether we have more psychopathic traits than someone else from a brain scan. Neurology, family and culture all play a role in where we fall on the scale.
You may be wondering what ‘being a psychopath’ means. The most common aspects are:
- A tendency to manipulate, instead of playing by the rules
- The ability to be charming, whatever the situation
- A lack of empathy towards other people
- Plenty of quick wit and good problem-solving skills
- A disregard for safety; they’re much more inclined to take risks
Take a look at that list again… To me, it sums up a whole lot of business aptitude. Taking risks where others fear to tread. Being strong-willed and savvy. Knowing what people want, in regards to you or what you provide.
Embracing the psychopath inside of us can be a killer (forgive the pun) professional tactic. We don’t have to be Christian Bale wielding an axe. Or even Katie Hopkins. But we can be forthright about harnessing the sides of our mentality that, in so many cases, help us succeed in the world.
Where business and psychopathy unite
Look, we live in a capitalist system. For good or ill, that’s the way of things. If you aren’t the best, you will fail.
A psychopath would probably tell you that they never fail. It’s not in their DNA. So shouldn’t we focus on how their predilections – self-certainty, commitment to a task, being able to leave emotions at the door – can reward us sometimes? It’s so much truer to life than the ‘everyone wins, everyone gets a Participation Award’ nonsense that many business cultures go for.
The recruitment sector is full of pointless backslapping and nervous leadership. I’ve seen this far too much. And it’s damaging, because it doesn’t prepare a team for the hard knocks they’ll have to take. Remember – you are the individual who sets the moral compass. ‘Taking part’ doesn’t count for anything. We shouldn’t tell those we work with to be flaky, lazy, charmless or neurotic. Steer the psychopath inside, and you’ll learn to push an organisation to its peak. All it takes is a little behavioural step sideways…
There’s so much more to say about this. In my next article, I’ll be exploring how we can tame the beast within. Because I don’t want you to be a raging maniac – far from it. I only want you to see what psychopaths can teach us about making powerful decisions. As my daughter says, “Calm your psycho, Dad.” Cheeky thing!