I’ve got no strings on me: Is being a sociopath good for business?

Andy McNab, who is a diagnosed psychopath, is also of the belief that sociopaths become leaders. More importantly, he believes they make great business owners

“When I look at CEOs, or even political leaders, I don’t want them to have empathy,” he said. “What I want them to do is to have focus and to make the best decisions possible. I want them to be ruthless.”

Dutton, who has worked with McNab on several projects, suggested that whenever most of us hear the words psychopath or sociopath, images of infamous serial killers flash across our minds. But psychologists use the term to refer to a much wider group of individuals who have a distinct cluster of personality traits.

“As you might expect, reduced empathy for others and lack of conscience are among them,” Dutton said. “But they also include ruthlessness, fearlessness, impulsivity, self-confidence, focus and coolness under pressure.”

He stressed that no one characteristic is necessarily bad in itself. It’s the particular combination of levels at which they are twiddled up or down that matters.

If these combinations can be harnessed correctly, McNab is convinced it can be turned into a secret weapon – the good kind.

“We tend to look at the Hannibal Lecter-type character or Norman Bates as a comparison” he said. “Focus is the key. And, in my line of work, I have found where I am on the psychopathic scale has been nothing but an advantage. The boardroom is the same as the situation room. I tell them, get rid of the empathy. Focus on what you’ve got to do. The most important thing is the mission. Ask yourself what am I here to achieve?”

And “empathy,” he concluded, “doesn’t help you get there”. It may sound harsh, but he’s actually not the first to suggest it. Jon Ronson’s book “The Psychopath: A Journey Through the Madness of Industry” estimated the incidence of psychopathy and sociopathy among CEOs was four times larger than in the rest of society.

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The British journalist claimed that capitalism often selects them for their specific behavioural features. 

“At first I was really skeptical because it seemed like an easy thing to say, almost like a conspiracy theorist’s type of thing to say,” he said about the theory that they made great CEOs. “I remember years and years ago a conspiracy theorist telling me the world was ruled by blood-drinking, baby-sacrificing lizards. These psychologists were essentially saying the same thing. Basically, when you get them talking, these people are different than human beings. They lack the things that make you human: empathy, remorse, loving kindness.”

Then he met “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, who was the former CEO of Sunbeam, and “notorious downsizer”. According to Ronson, Dunlap had a reputation for firing people, and enjoying it. He also claimed that Dunlap had told his first wife he wanted to know what human flesh tasted like. “He was hailed and given high-powered jobs, and the more ruthlessly his administration behaved, the more his share price shot up.”

Paul Verhaeghe, senior professor of psychoanalysis at the University of Ghent, is convinced that economic policy has also impacted out personalities. “Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative,” he said.

Success in the corporate culture of the free market requires individuals to be “increasingly articulate, manipulative risk takers, who find lying easy and feel little guilt or responsibility for their actions”, Verhaeghe explained. These are all traits which “feature heavily” in boardrooms.

“It stuns me, as much as it did when I started 40 years ago, that it is possible to have people who are so emotionally disconnected that they can function as if other people are objects to be manipulated and destroyed without any concern,” he said.

Thought that females were being left out of the equation? Think again. Experts have pointed out that female sociopaths are rare and are seven times less likely than than their masculine counterparts to be diagnosed. Yet a recent article pointed to their rise in popular culture. It means as hard as it is to pinpoint if someone is a sociopath, you’ll have a much harder time at doing it if the person in question is a woman.

There has been a rising trend in the female sociopath. Take, for example, Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. And what about Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne?

Andrew Pierce, a psychiatrist at the University of Florida, noted that Dunne fitted all seven criteria for the condition: violation of the law, deceitfulness, impulsiveness, irritability and aggressiveness, disregard for the safety of self and others, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse. “She’s easily diagnosed from a mile away,” he said.

For M.E. Thomas, author of “Confessions of A Sociopath,” a female’s manoeuvres are “tantamount to fulfilling an exchange.” “You might call it seduction,” she suggested, but “it’s called arbitrage and it happens on Wall Street (and a lot of other places) every day.”

Thomas explained that in general, the women in her life “seemed like they were never acting, always being acted upon.” 

If we’re going to mention sociopaths, then Claire Underwood, the machiavellian wife of Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards” needs to be mentioned. She is far more cruel than her husband is. Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” cared so little that she could cheat a lie detector. And let’s not forget about Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, and shape-shifting alien Laura from “Under the Skin”. 

No matter the gender, analysts seem to think that sociopathic behaviour will help business bosses get the job done no matter what.

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