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Extreme managers, extreme workplaces: Capitalism, organizations and corporate psychopaths



This article reports on qualitative research carried out in England in 2013. Participants were five organizational directors and two senior managers who had worked with six corporate psychopaths, as determined by a management psychopathy measure. The corporate psychopaths reported on displayed consistency in their approach to management. This approach was marked by high levels of abusive control. The corporate psychopaths were seen as being organizational stars and as deserving of awards by those above them, while they simultaneously subjected those below them to extreme behaviour, including bullying, intimidation and coercion. The corporate psychopaths also engaged in extreme forms of mismanagement characterized by poor personnel management, directionless leadership, mismanagement of resources and fraud.
2015, Vol. 22(4) 530 –551
© The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/1350508415572508
Extreme managers, extreme
workplaces: Capitalism,
organizations and corporate
Clive Boddy, Derek Miles, Chandana Sanyal and
Mary Hartog
Middlesex University, UK
This article reports on qualitative research carried out in England in 2013. Participants were
five organizational directors and two senior managers who had worked with six corporate
psychopaths, as determined by a management psychopathy measure. The corporate psychopaths
reported on displayed consistency in their approach to management. This approach was marked
by high levels of abusive control. The corporate psychopaths were seen as being organizational
stars and as deserving of awards by those above them, while they simultaneously subjected those
below them to extreme behaviour, including bullying, intimidation and coercion. The corporate
psychopaths also engaged in extreme forms of mismanagement characterized by poor personnel
management, directionless leadership, mismanagement of resources and fraud.
abusive management, corporate psychopaths, extreme managers, extreme workplaces,
neoliberal capitalism, organizations
In the current era of ‘casino capitalism’ (Sinn, 2010; Strange, 1997), where managers are reported
to be experiencing increasing, significant, progressively intense work pressures (McCann et al.,
2008), including work overload and bullying (Boyle et al., 2013), research into the role of corpo-
rate psychopaths provides valuable insights. Corporate psychopathy theory has provided one
means of understanding the increasing rise of psychopathic managers as toxic and bullying leaders
Corresponding author:
Clive Boddy, Middlesex University, Room W133, Williams Building, The Burroughs, Hendon, London NW4 4BT, UK.
572508ORG0010.1177/1350508415572508OrganizationBoddy et al.
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Boddy et al. 531
(Lipman-Blumen, 2004, 2005) within organizations in western capitalist societies (Boddy, 2011a,
2012; Wexler, 2008).
With their conscience-free approach to life (Hare, 1999) and willingness to lie to present them-
selves in the best possible light, corporate psychopaths are to some extent products of modern
business. In particular, the increasing pace of business and fast turnover of personnel combined
with the relatively shallow appointment procedures, which do not uncover their personality flaws,
has allowed them to advance (Boddy, 2011a). Furthermore, western business has promoted psy-
chopathic managers because of their ruthless willingness to ‘get the job done’. However, as they
attain senior positions, corporate psychopaths have become architects of ruthlessness as they create
a culture of extremes.
Their characteristics of being ultra-rational, financially oriented managers with no emotional
concern for or empathy with other employees (Boddy et al., 2009), marks them as apparently use-
ful to the style of capitalism (Friedman, 1970) that is merely profit oriented. This may be illustrated
by a brief examination of one CEO who has been nominated as possessing some psychopathic
traits, Albert Dunlap.
A number of potential candidates for the title of corporate psychopath (or its synonyms) have
been nominated. In an article about sociopaths—a term commonly synonymous with that of psy-
chopaths (but arguably of different meaning see (Pemment, 2013)—Bernard Ebbers was men-
tioned in relation to his role in the US$11 billion fraud at Worldcom. Similarly, Ken Lay, Jeff
Skilling and Andy Fastow were also mentioned in relation to the Enron scandal (Ferrari, 2006).
Enron’s Skilling was mentioned as possessing the traits of a corporate psychopath being manipula-
tive, glib, lying, bullying, egocentric and lacking in remorse (Perri, 2013). Fastow has also been
described as displaying many of the traits of a corporate psychopath (Jarirdar, 2010). Bernard
Madoff, the ex-Chairman of Nasdaq, a competitor to the New York Stock Exchange, has been
called a sociopath (Henriques, 2012) as well as a potential psychopath (Winarick, 2010).
Albert Dunlap was mentioned as a possible psychopath (Deutschman, 2005) as well as being
discussed by Hare as a possible corporate psychopath (Ronson, 2011). Dunlap was the CEO of
Scott Paper and then Sunbeam Corporation in the United States. Dunlap was at first lauded by
analysts on Wall Street and known as ‘Chainsaw Al Dunlap’ because of his ruthless and bullying
approach to cutting costs and callous indifference to firing employees (Long, 2002). Callousness is
a key trait of psychopaths and Dunlap has been described as being outrageously callous (Kellerman,
2005). Furthermore, the more people he fired, the more the share price increased.
At Scott Paper, Dunlap started in 1994 and soon shed about US$2 billion of assets and laid-off
a third of the global workforce. To many analysts, such a strategy suggested a move to make Scott
Paper an attractive acquisition target (rather than a successful growing organization), and indeed
by the end of 1995, Dunlap had organized the sale of the corporation to its competitor, Kimberley
Clark. This caused more layoffs at both companies, whereas Dunlap’s severance package was
activated, and he left with a reported US$100 m. Scott Paper’s headquarters was closed, and in
total, about 11,000 people lost their jobs during Dunlap’s management. At Sunbeam, the share
price initially increased 50% after Dunlap’s appointment as Wall Street looked forward to a repeat
performance of factory closures and mass redundancies.
This possible role as the lauded agents of capitalism marks corporate psychopaths as worthy of
further investigation. As a part of such an investigation, this article qualitatively examines the
experience of organizational managers who reported working with individual psychopathic man-
agers. The article examines the extreme nature of the workplace that is created by these psycho-
pathic managers and reports on some of the outcomes of attempting to work with them. Of the six
corporate psychopaths investigated in these seven interviews, only one has been brought to account
for his actions and jailed.
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532 Organization 22(4)
This research is important because there is deemed to be a lack of research into psychopaths
within corporations and what the implications of this presence may be, and several calls for further
research in this area have been made (Babiak et al., 2010; Boddy, 2006; Smith and Lilienfeld,
Also, corporate psychopathy theory posits that changes in the speed of personnel turnover
within corporations are making it easier for psychopaths to advance because there is not
enough time for colleagues to recognize their destructive character traits (Boddy, 2011a).
Psychologists imply that corporations, by using less structured and longitudinal methods of
personnel assessment, facilitate the rise of corporate psychopaths, as these possible barriers to
their advancement are removed (Babiak et al., 2010). In such an environment, the superficial
charm of the corporate psychopath, together with their willingness to lie and ability to present
a false persona of competence and commitment, makes them appear to be ideal leaders. This
is particularly the case with those above the corporate psychopaths who do not interact with
them on a day-to-day basis and so do not know them well. This implies that there is a need to
understand the effects of the presence of corporate psychopaths in organizations. The current
research helps in furthering this understanding. First, there is a brief introduction to corporate
Corporate psychopaths
Psychopaths are people with a constellation of behavioural traits that marks them as uniquely ruth-
less in their parasitic, care-free, predatory approach to life (Boddy, 2006; Connelly et al., 2006;
Hare, 1994). Psychologists have not reached a conclusion as to the causes of psychopathy. However,
patterns of similar brain dysfunction have been associated with the personality, with particular
impairment in the orbital-frontal cortex being evident (Blair, 2001, 2008; Perez, 2012). Causality
is implied but not established, and, for example, physical damage to this area of the brain can result
in the onset of psychopathic behaviour (Blair and Cipolotti, 2000).
Some psychopaths are prone to instrumental violence, which is violence with a further
purpose, such as robbery (Blair, 2001), in order to get what they want, and these violent crimi-
nal psychopaths tend to end up in prison (Hare, 1994). More successful psychopaths have been
less frequently studied. However, they may have better cognitive levels of executive function-
ing, for example, in the orbital-frontal cortex of the brain and may retain the ability to control
their impulses, enabling them to seek corporate rather than criminal careers (Mullins-Sweatt
et al., 2010). Such psychopaths have been called ‘Industrial’, ‘Executive’, ‘Organizational’ or
‘Corporate’ psychopaths, to differentiate them from their more commonly known criminal
peers (Babiak, 1995; Babiak and O’Toole, 2012; Boddy, 2006; Morse, 2004). The term ‘cor-
porate psychopath’ has been adopted as the usual term for such people (Babiak and O’Toole,
2012; Boddy, 2011d; Hare, 1999). Corporate psychopaths may cross the line into criminal
activity, and fraud is theoretically considered to be common among corporate psychopaths.
However, as yet, there remains little empirical evidence concerning corporate psychopaths as
white-collar criminals (Lesha and Lesha, 2012). Perri (2013) makes a persuasive argument
that psychopathy is a risk factor for fraud. Furthermore, Perri (2013) states that several frauds
have involved CEOs and chief financial officers (CFOs) with psychopathic traits. In terms of
the estimated incidence of psychopathy in the population, a UK study found a 0.6% incidence
with a statistical confidence level of 95%, indicating that the true figure may be somewhere
between 0.2% and 1.6% (Coid et al., 2009a). This corresponds with the figure of 1% that psy-
chology researchers have quoted for the incidence level of psychopathy (Babiak and Hare,
2006: 18).
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Boddy et al. 533
Research method
One approach to studying psychopaths is to ask people whether they have come across such per-
sonalities, confirming this with the use of a psychopathy measure. This approach entails asking
participants how those psychopathic managers behaved and how others reacted. This was the
approach adopted in a study by Mullins-Sweatt et al. (2010) which identified successful psycho-
paths, defined as being those psychopaths who succeed in their exploitative approach to life. Boddy
et al. (2010a) have also used this approach successfully. Following this approach, current research
adopted a qualitative methodology. Instead of asking respondents to complete a questionnaire, they
were questioned in-depth using semi-structured interviews to solicit information about workplace
psychopaths they had known.
A series of 1-hour interviews was conducted with four human resources (HR) directors and
three other managers in the United Kingdom from April to September 2013. Academic researchers
conducted the interviews, which were voice-recorded (with permission) and transcribed. The HR
directors were a part of a HR group who had seen a presentation on corporate psychopaths. All but
one said they had worked with such people. Usually in such presentations, around 35% of people
claim to have worked with a corporate psychopath, and similar figures have been found in quanti-
tative research (Boddy, 2010a, 2014). Presumably, the higher incidence of having come across
corporate psychopaths among HR directors reflects the nature of their role in recruiting and man-
aging senior managers and in dealing with problematic employees.
Research participants were shown a 10-item psychopathy measure called the ‘Psychopathy
Measure—Management Research Version 2’ (PM-MRV2) (see Appendix 1) and asked which
items on the measure applied to the potentially psychopathic manager they were referring to. In
this qualitative research, a score of at least 8 out of 10 was used to identify subjects as corporate
psychopaths. This is an abbreviated and statistically untested measure of psychopathy. However, it
corresponds with other measures of psychopathy in use.
For example, an examination of the distribution of psychopathy among a representative sample
of 638 UK adults, using the screening version of the Psychopathy Checklist Revised, was con-
ducted. This research found an exponential rise in behavioural problems at a cut-off score of 11.8
on the psychopathy measure, which is in line with the recommended cut-off score (12 out of 16 or
75%) for that measure (Coid and Yang, 2008). They concluded that psychopathy can usefully be
categorically defined because individuals become an exceptional risk at this score and above in
terms of social and behavioural problems (Coid and Yang, 2008).
Psychopaths share some characteristics with narcissists and Machiavellians, and psychologists
often research them as the so called dark triad of personalities (Paulhus and Williams, 2002). Some
psychologists suggest that the ‘dark triad’ consists of three overlapping but distinct personality
variables: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy (Jones and Figueredo, 2013). Others
suggest that Machiavellians and psychopaths are so similar that they are essentially the same
(McHoskey et al., 1998).
Narcissists can be exploitative and destructive leaders (Godkin and Allcorn, 2011; Maccoby,
2000; Nevicka et al., 2011; Rosenthal and Pittinsky, 2006; Stein, 2013). However, research is argu-
ably moving towards a consensus that narcissism is the ‘lightest’ of the triad and that while
Machiavellianism and psychopathy are very similar, psychopaths are the ‘darkest’ of the three
personalities (Jones and Figueredo, 2013; Rauthmann and Kolar, 2012). For a view of the charac-
teristics of the three personalities, see the following articles for a description of the ‘dark triad’,
‘dirty dozen’ measure (Jonason and Webster, 2010) and of an abbreviated measure of the original
‘dark triad’ measure (Jones and Paulhus, 2013).
The ‘dark triad’ literature is extensive and growing, and a discussion is beyond the scope of this
article (see Furnham et al. (2013) for a recent review). From an examination of ‘dark triad’
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534 Organization 22(4)
measures, it could be argued that the measure used in the current research may have been capturing
Machiavellians rather than psychopaths. However, the extreme nature of the behaviour reported on
appears to imply a lack of conscience which is characteristic of psychopaths but not necessarily of
The main findings from the current research are included in this article. However, because of the
sensitivity of the material and the potential danger to interviewees, the names of exact industries
involved and job titles have been disguised or changed. Participants in the research—the
interviewees—were particularly and understandably concerned about maintaining anonymity.
In terms of whether there is likely to be a psychopath in every organization, there is an ongoing
debate. However, in simple terms, if psychopaths are 1% of the population, then, assuming a nor-
mal distribution, it is statistically likely that every organization of over 100 people will have a
psychopath in it. The current research supports this view because nearly all the HR directors
involved reported that they had worked with a corporate psychopath. Furthermore, all of the six
managers nominated by interviewees as possible psychopaths did score highly enough on the man-
agement psychopathy measure to be called corporate psychopaths.
A recent article raised issues concerning workplace psychopaths, their incidence and the relative
importance of studying their behaviour (Caponecchia et al., 2011). It suggests that because of the
low incidence rate of psychopaths in the population then, not many employees will be affected by
psychopaths. The authors expressed surprise at their finding that 13.4% of respondents reported,
via a behavioural scale, that they worked with a psychopathic colleague. However, the incidence
of employees who work with a corporate psychopath is a multiple of the incidence of corporate
psychopaths. Therefore, if 1% of employees are corporate psychopaths, and assuming that people
can accurately report on 5–15 other employees whom they know well, then expected incidence
rates of working with corporate psychopaths should vary between 5% and 15%. The 2011 finding
that 13.4% of research participants rated someone in their corporation as psychopathic then falls
within expected levels. Caponecchia et al. also note that there are ethical issues involved in label-
ling people as psychopaths, and these are discussed elsewhere (Boddy et al., 2010a).
The corporate psychopaths investigated in the current research reportedly created a variety of
extreme and dysfunctional workplaces. For example, the HR director involved in managing the
psychopathic manager identified in interview 2 described the workplace as being extreme; first, in
terms of staff withdrawal behaviour. Departmental staff turnover at about 40% per year was twice
the average for the industry sector involved, and the reasons given for leaving were marked by fear.
One employee, in tears, reported, ‘it’s horrible, I cannot say how, but it’s all horrible’ when giving
in her resignation. In this case, the departmental head (the corporate psychopath) handled most
resignations personally, without involving HR, and reported that a high turnover was because of
the stress of working in such a highly efficient department:
He (the corporate psychopath) …, would say, ‘oh they’ve lost their drive … (He’d say) I don’t think ‘x’ is
performing very well; I am going to persuade them to go’. Then of course his superiors would think, gosh
he’s being proactive. He is really on top of his team. (HR director, interview 2)
This was an explanation that was accepted by the highly educated and professionally qualified
principals of the professional services company involved.
Second, in the department headed by the corporate psychopath, the department’s level of coop-
eration with other departments, notably with finance and HR, was extremely low. Post-crisis
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Boddy et al. 535
examination (the presence of the corporate psychopath precipitated an organizational crisis)
revealed that staff in the corporate psychopath’s department had been warned not to deal with HR
and finance other than through their departmental head (the psychopathic manager). This was to
minimize the possibility of his fraudulent scheme coming to light. However, this lack of commu-
nication was what first alerted the suspicions of the HR director:
I had suspicions about the Head of (named department) from when I first joined because of the way that
he interacted with people because of the way that he preferred to do things quietly on a one-to-one. How
lots of people at a senior level in the firm sang his praises but there seemed to be a slight atmosphere where
people in his department were clearly quite intimidated and had been specifically told not to communicate
with people in other departments. (HR director, interview 2)
Third, the department was managed via a culture of fear, involving the bullying and intimida-
tion of junior staff and the coerced resignations of those unwilling to unquestioningly obey the
psychopathic manager.
Another key manager was coerced, threatened with murder, and then blackmailed by the psycho-
path into cooperation with his fraud, and because of this had a nervous breakdown. Perri and Brody
warn that psychopathy is a risk factor for fraud and further, that if a psychopath’s fraud is thwarted,
then violence and murder may result from this (Perri, 2010, 2011; Perri and Brody, 2011, 2012). Such
links between psychopathy and white-collar criminal behaviour have been noted (Ragatz et al.,
2012), and in the current research, a link between fraud and the threat of murder was evident:
The man was vile but very clever, extremely good at managing upwards, so got promoted because
everybody thought he was doing such a fantastic job and saving everybody so much money and he was
crooked to the core and ruthless. (HR director, interview 2)
The manager embroiled by the corporate psychopath into the fraud believed that the lives of her
family and herself were in danger if she disobeyed the psychopath. He had threatened to kill mem-
bers of her family if she did not cooperate. That manager finally became a witness in the eventual
prosecution and imprisonment of the psychopath. Other departmental members also reported that
they had been in fear of their lives.
Fourth, and counter-intuitively to those unaware of the modus operandi of corporate psycho-
paths, prior to exposure, the workplace was marked by high levels of top management support for
the corporate psychopath who perpetrated the fraud. The top managers of the business regarded
him as being an extremely able manager who was highly efficient at running his department and at
saving money for the firm. This expertise at cost cutting was actually from another manager—the
manager who had been coerced into the fraud. Such claiming of the good work of others is thought
to be typical of corporate psychopaths:
He managed the relationship in a charming fashion entirely and pretty much every one thought he was a
star until you hit that middle management layer who were having to provide a service to him and they
hated him. (HR director, interview 2)
This good reputation among superiors was so positive that when the HR director first made the
allegations, they were met with disbelief and denial by the main board members and accusations
that the HR director was acting out of jealousy. Only when presented with specific evidence did the
directors bring in fraud accountants.
This latter experience is in line with the expectations raised in the literature on toxic leadership
and corporate psychopaths. Corporate psychopaths are described as being people who flatter those
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536 Organization 22(4)
above them while manipulating their peers and abusing those under them (Babiak, 1995; Boddy,
2011c). Reed describes toxic leaders as being malicious, malevolent and self-aggrandizing. People
who manage by controlling, bullying and instilling fear rather than uplifting their followers while
simultaneously appearing to their superiors to be enthusiastic, impressive and articulate managers
(Reed, 2004). Similarly, Clarke and other psychology researchers describe corporate psychopaths
as typically recognized as toxic leaders by their followers but not by their superiors (Boddy, 2011c;
Boddy, et al., 2010b; Babiak, 1995; Babiak and Hare, 2006; Clarke, 2005, 2007). This is how psy-
chopathic managers were regarded in the current research.
An extreme level of top management support for the corporate psychopath in interview 1 was
evident. Those under the corporate psychopath judged him to be destroying the company from
within by losing good staff, premises and clients and by eroding the reputation of the company,
resulting in what was judged to be an unsustainable business. However, the main board (based
overseas) gave him a financial excellence award.
Similarly for the psychopath discussed in interview 2, who was described as being charming
and manipulative, which is in line with expectations from corporate psychopathy theory (Boddy,
2011a). Here, the directors of this global professional services organization were fooled by the
apparent charm of the psychopath, while his bullying and fraudulent activities went unnoticed by
(He had) … Lots of superficial charm, lots of apparent intelligence, a smooth talker … everybody thought,
gosh, hasn’t he done well … the fact that he managed to get an MBA despite having next to no other
qualifications and of course the MBA was completely fabricated! … Extremely charming to superiors. The
senior (directors) thought he was wonderful particularly as he was a rough diamond because most of them
were public school educated or American Ivy League …, I think they liked the fact that he was more of a
contrast and yet clearly had skills they didn’t have. (HR director, interview 2)
Staff withdrawal and turnover
In terms of staff turnover through resignations and firings, this aspect of the influence of having a
psychopathic manager was a notable finding. This was evident from the discussion of interview 2
given above as well as those discussed below. This finding represents a useful contribution to
knowledge. Corporate psychopaths have been theoretically expected to influence turnover, but
there has been little empirical evidence to support this expectation. In the presence of corporate
psychopaths, employees are significantly more likely to withdraw in terms of leaving work early,
taking longer breaks, coming to work late and claiming to be sick than they are under normal man-
agers (Boddy, 2011c), but there are no known quantitative findings on actual staff turnover. In the
current research, high employee turnover was a commonly reported consequence of the presence
of a corporate psychopath.
For example, in interview 3, one HR director reported the firing of employees who would be
relatively unproductive in the short term (e.g. the training manager), as the principals of the
company concerned concentrated on short-term profitability before a stock-market floatation.
The HR director also reported that he decided to seek alternative employment from the first day
in that job when he realized the way in which employees were treated. This corresponds with
expectations from social exchange theory (Emerson, 1976; Nord, 1969) which are that employ-
ees engage in exchanges of reciprocal (Gouldner, 1960) positive or negative (Biron, 2010)
behaviour. In the current research, this HR director came across negative supervisory behaviour
towards employees in the form of the dismissal of employees who would have been of long-term
benefit. This alerted the HR director to the probability that his own future with the organization
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Boddy et al. 537
would not include a mutual exchange of benefits and commitment, and therefore, he would be
better off working elsewhere.
In other words, there was going to be no positive psychological contract between the organiza-
tion and its employee over and above the legal contract, and so, no compelling reason to stay with
the organization. This corresponds with Turnley and Feldman’s (1999) finding that psychological
contract violations result in increased levels of employee withdrawal. They also found decreased
levels of loyalty to the organization where such psychological contract violations existed (Turnley
and Feldman, 1999).
In the current research, the HR director reported that he left in about 2 years, reporting that he
stayed that long so that his employment with that organization did not look too short:
I mean quite honestly as soon as that first incident with the apprenticeship issues came to light I suddenly
thought well I ought to be planning my career move out of this establishment at the earliest opportunity
which is what I set about doing. (HR director, interview 3)
This HR director also reported that the organization had a high turnover rate because good
employees in that area at that time had other opportunities to be employed and would not tolerate
poor-quality working environments. This aligns with theories of conversion, brand switching and
organizational attrition which hold that other things being equal, the presence of attractive alterna-
tives influences people to move their loyalty or commitment to these alternatives, be they religions,
brands or organizations (Boddy, 2010c; Tinto, 1988):
Well certainly in the factory managers’ context turnover was high. … We did have high turnover because
we had regular redundancies and it was an area of high employment which meant that people didn’t have
to hang around. If they didn’t like what they had in terms of the work experience they moved on to other
organizations. (HR director, interview 3)
This shows that the ruthless, money-oriented culture engendered by the presence of a corporate
psychopath does affect individual turnover decisions. Firings for the sole purpose of short-term
profitability do not go unnoticed by other employees who take note of the values and priorities
displayed by top management.
Another interviewee reported that a psychopathic manager would get rid of any employees who
he thought may prove to be a threat:
If he didn’t think he had complete, 100% loyalty within the juniors in his team, then he would basically
lean on them to make them want to leave and hand in their resignation. (HR director, interview 2)
The HR director in interview 3 also mentioned that the presence of a psychopathic manager
jeopardized the discretionary extra effort that employees can put into a business. Therefore, it is not
just physical withdrawal that is influenced by the presence of corporate psychopaths but also emo-
tional withdrawal:
His selfish nature, his negativity around things that didn’t suit his own particular agenda, his whimsical
way in which he made decisions and people had to live with the consequences, the uncertainties of it all.
All of that militated against a constructive business. (HR director, interview 3)
A rapid turnover of personnel in the department headed by a corporate psychopath in interview
4 was also reported. The research participant reported that he found out that his predecessors had
all lasted about 18 months, whereas he lasted 14 months before resigning. This research participant
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538 Organization 22(4)
also reported physically withdrawing from the particular environment as often as he could by
working in other parts of the plant.
In interview 1, the corporate psychopath’s actions reportedly destroyed the morale and commit-
ment of the advertising department. At the time of the interview, those who had not yet left were all
planning to do so. This is in line with theoretical expectations because in the employee withdrawal
literature, there is a clear link between commitment and intention to leave (Falkenburg and Schyns,
2007; Tett and Meyer, 1993). The psychopath had also reportedly divided the main (UK) board, and
one board member had resigned in disgust, leaving the corporate psychopath even more in control.
Another example of an extreme form of staff turnover resulted from on-the-spot firings marked
by an emotionless and uncaring attitude towards long serving staff. Corporate psychopaths are
theorized to indulge in this kind of activity, and this was evident in this research. In interview 1, an
‘on-the-spot’ firing orchestrated by the corporate psychopath was reported to have had a poor influ-
ence on morale:
So basically it was ‘your face no longer fits, you are gone’. That has never been the culture of this company.
This company prides itself on its integrity. The one thing this company has is integrity. Then suddenly for
people to be … disappearing like that is a big concern. (Advertising manager, interview 1)
The research participant in interview 6 reported on the influence of a newly appointed corporate
psychopath CEO in a not-for-profit organization. With less than 50 employees, absenteeism was
reported to have gone from a monthly occurrence to a daily one. Senior staff were reported to be
absent for weeks due to stress, and junior employees were reported to take regular days off sick. In
terms of turnover, 86% of the staff employed at the time of the CEO’s appointment had left, with
the remaining staff planning to leave:
The thirtieth person handed her notice in two weeks ago … He made her life like a living hell … she left
with no job to go to. (Middle manager, interview 6)
Morale in this organization was described as being at an all-time low. The research participant
was reportedly planning to leave as soon as his final attempt to warn the board of governors of what
was happening with the CEO was complete. Success in this endeavour was not anticipated by the
interviewee as the psychopathic CEO had reportedly ingratiated himself with the head of the board
of governors who had come to regard the psychopath as a friend.
Reports of extreme work environments
In interview 3, the HR director reported that there was high turnover, lack of long-term planning
and of any attempt to engender employee engagement in the business. When asked to place the
company with the corporate psychopath in it on a scale from one (normal) to ten (extreme), this HR
director reported it as an eight or nine and as the worst organization he had ever worked for:
I’ve never come across a company worse than that one and therefore I don’t know how bad bad would
have to be but it would be in the lower reaches of eight or nine. Yeah. It was not the good experience that
I was looking for, not the constructive, positive proactive type of role that I was hoping for. (HR director,
interview 3)
Regressive work practices such as whimsical decision making and abusive management were
also reported when there was a corporate psychopath present. There was reportedly an emphasis in
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Boddy et al. 539
these environments on increasing short-term profits by cost cutting rather than by increasing longer
term profits through investment in new production techniques and training:
The whole culture, well from my perspective it was very much what you would say was traditional British,
‘them and us’ type of manufacturing. Everything was about cost reduction, … high volume, it was about
quality but the investment really wasn’t being put in to get the high volumes and the quality because they
wanted to keep the costs down. … My own view is it was almost a stereotype of some of the worst films
of management/worker relationships. (HR director, interview 4)
Similarly in interview 3, the HR director reported that other senior managers were doing a good
job and making progress with exports and advertising but that the corporate psychopath was like a
cancer in the UK business.
Commentators have reported that single bad leaders can have a disproportionately negative
effect on the whole organization (Allio, 2007; Ferrari, 2006). In this research, it was found that the
extent of the bad influence of the corporate psychopath depended on his position. At main board
director or CEO level, the malignant influence was organizational, whereas at departmental level,
the influence was more specifically located but with wider repercussions:
So it was a fascinating business with some very much larger-than-life characters who were doing an
excellent job in their own part but you had this cancer, if you like, in this guy who was doing everything
he could to screw what essentially was the operational side of the UK business. (HR director, interview 3)
Interview 4 was the discussion about a HR director by another HR practitioner (now a director
himself) for whom the practitioner used to work in a large manufacturing plant. The plant was
reportedly under pressure to improve its financial performance, but this pressure did not manifest
as psychopathic behaviour in other managers apart from the corporate psychopath. The atmosphere
generated by the corporate psychopath in the HR department was described as hostile, unpleasant
and nasty:
So much of my life had been wasted there which was just miserable or unpleasant, it’s not even miserable,
it was nasty. I think that is some of the difference. I think if something is unpleasant you can put up with it
if you need to. If it feels just nasty and vicious then why stay, so I didn’t. (HR director, interview 4)
A strength of qualitative research is that it gives a more in-depth and profound understanding of
a phenomenon than quantifications supply. For example, it is known from the literature that
employees are significantly more likely to withdraw from an organization when corporate psycho-
paths are present (Boddy, 2011c). However, comments that research participants ‘hate’ these
‘vicious’ and terrible situations ‘with a passion’ give a greater depth of understanding as the com-
ments below demonstrate:
Well me, personally, I hated the place with a passion. I started finding opportunities to get out as much
from in the office and on to the production floor in to manufacturing just to hide from what was going on,
to some extent. … I was miserable. I didn’t enjoy the time there. (HR director, interview 4)
I would liken the (working environment) to the reign of terror in the French revolution. (HR director,
interview 3)
The sense from the participants in this research was that the experience of working with a psy-
chopath was a harrowing one, remembered long after the event and considered unique. One
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540 Organization 22(4)
participant reported dreaming about it for 10 years afterwards and that his resignation from that
company was the only fond memory of working there. Another participant found that they could
not continue to talk about the experience at all because it was too painful:
Actually I will be honest, for quite a few years afterwards … I would dream about being back there …
which that would have been for a good ten years or more afterwards I think … It was really unpleasant
working there … I’ve worked in quite a lot of different sectors. I’ve worked in construction which is a
really hard-nosed industry … I never saw anybody like him (the corporate psychopath) before or after.
(HR director, interview 4)
Corporate psychopaths are reported to be excellent manipulators of people, good at organiza-
tional politics and skilled at causing divisions in order to make people disunited and easier to
control (Babiak and Hare, 2006; Boddy, 2006; Clarke, 2005). This was evident in one manufactur-
ing plant where the unions were reported to be divided and where a multiplicity of different work
practice agreements were reported to exist:
He took a lot of pride that there wasn’t a plant wide union agreement. There was something like about 30
and each of your operating lines had a separate arrangement and a separate deal negotiated and for me I
think it was a divide and rule kind of strategy. (HR director, interview 4)
The literature on corporate psychopaths characterizes them as bullies (Boddy, 2011b), and this
was evident in the current research where fear was endemic and public humiliations were reportedly
both frequent and regular. Orders were issued via shouts or screams, and normal everyday pleasant-
ries were reportedly absent. The atmosphere could be reasonably described as being extremely
hostile to such as extent that one employee just walked out and never came back after one humilia-
tion. Similarly, in interview 7, the psychopathic manager created an atmosphere of fear:
Amongst a very senior population there was a huge amount of fear around dealing with the individual. So
everybody was trying to develop strategies to cope with what might come their way. It was never balanced
and reasonable. … It was provocative, it was undermining people, it was making a fool of them in public.
(HR director, interview 7)
This behaviour is again in line with the expectations from the bullying literature, where there is
a clear correlation between bullying and employee withdrawal (Lewis and Orford, 2005; Sliter
et al., 2012):
He would never come in and ask somebody to come and see him … just sit there and scream and you had
to get up and respond when shouted at. Typically … three or four times a day, everybody went through …
a humiliating dressing down to an extent which was quite public … The whole atmosphere was very
hostile and unpleasant … When he left.. he never said goodbye. You knew he had gone because the door
slammed. (HR director, interview 4)
Bullying was also evident in the other interviews and was reportedly used as a tactic to instil
fear, obedience and confusion as illustrated by the comment below. Similarly, the corporate psy-
chopath who had resorted to fraud used bullying to intimidate his staff and keep them from ques-
tioning him:
I think his bullying tactic was the bit about him that was so unpredictable … you never knew what he was
going to do. (Advertising manager, interview 1)
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Boddy et al. 541
Corporate psychopaths fail to provide training and information needs for employees working
under them (Boddy, 2010a). The current research extended this finding to uncover that research
participants thought that they were being undermined in their jobs as part of, for example, organi-
zational power plays by the psychopath involved. This is illustrated by the following comment:
Because people didn’t trust people … It was unpleasant. You were undermined quite regularly as a young
professional which I would have been in my mid 20’s I suppose. There was no support … He said ‘I am a
hard manager’. A hard manager is fine … hard and fair is OK but hard and completely contradictory and
unpleasant and undermining is not OK. (HR director, interview 4)
A characteristic of psychopaths is their ability to lie convincingly because they do not get emotion-
ally flustered (Porter et al., 2011). This was evident in interview 1 where the psychopathic board
director denied to the other members of the UK board that he had been advised of a business plan that
was about to be implemented. This resulted in the plan being abandoned, after months of careful plan-
ning, on the day it was supposed to start, and this engendered organizational confusion and personal
upset. This can best be understood in the words of the participant concerned in the incident:
An awful amount of work went into this (business plan) involving lots of people. We … briefed this
(psychopathic) guy on what was going to happen … He went through it in detail with us and he said, ‘yes,
I am very happy’. … He was very supportive of it … So anyway (the day of implementation) came around
and the Board sat down for a final meeting … He said ‘I know nothing about what you are talking about’
… Other people … were saying, ‘… you talked to us about it’. He was just adamant that … he knew
nothing about it and he said you have to stop the whole thing. … So huge trauma in the Board room …
people in tears and all sorts … it really got very angry and feisty in this conversation with people saying
‘but you know!’. He was adamant he didn’t know anything. So they had to stop the whole thing …
Straightaway you could see he … would just lie blatantly. (Advertising manager, interview 1)
This interviewee also commented that the corporate psychopath was untrustworthy in that he
would undermine other people’s work, lie about his involvement or knowledge, and sit through
presentations and criticize them but then later represent the same presentations and ideas as his
own work. Trust, when given to someone who does not deserve it or abuses it, can become like a
poisoned chalice (Skinner et al., 2014), and this was the case in the current research. The psycho-
path would also make promises and business predictions to head office that he knew were impos-
sible to meet. The interviewee reported that the corporate psychopath did not have the ability to do
the job he was hired for and had, for example, no grasp of strategy. Instead, he stole the ideas of
other people or got management consultants in to do his work. This reported behaviour was so typi-
cal of textbook descriptions that during the interview the researcher asked the participant whether
he had read any books on corporate psychopaths; he had not.
Interview 5 was scheduled to be with another advertising manager who was a colleague of
interviewee 1 and concerned the same psychopathic manager. However, after starting the interview
and hearing the questions the research covered, the participant reported that talking about the expe-
rience was bringing painful memories back and was too upsetting to continue. The participant
reported forgetting how horrible the experience was and not wanting to go through the experience
again by recalling it. Worries about confidentiality and about the psychopath discovering about the
interview were also mentioned. This interview thus ended within minutes of it starting.
Organizational destruction
In the literature on corporate psychopaths, it has been theorized that their presence and influence
will ultimately lead to organizational destruction and that an ethically bankrupt organization will
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542 Organization 22(4)
become financially bankrupt (Boddy, 2010b, 2011c). However, this theorized link between psy-
chopathy and performance has not been established empirically. The current research was not
designed to establish this but nevertheless provides some evidence. In one case, the fraudulent
activities of a corporate psychopath cost the company over a million pounds but did not lead to
organizational destruction because of its overall size and profitability.
In another case (interview 1), the corporate psychopath was reported to be in the process of
destroying the company from within by causing good people to leave, needlessly abandoning good
business plans and by destroying its ethical reputation. Service and product quality were reported
to be deteriorating, and clients were said to be leaving as they noticed the decline. However, at the
time of this research that company was still reporting profits.
The research participant in interview 1 was an advertising manager in the company he was talk-
ing about with reference to a corporate psychopath who occupied a main board position. This psy-
chopath reportedly had a devastating effect on the advertising department and advertising practices
of the company because with no real experience he took over advertising within the company:
The first challenges started to come when my old boss, (the advertising director) who was a great creative,
found that she was being put out of place by this guy coming in and saying he could do advertising and yet
… had no real experience. His experience was very shallow compared to the broad depth experience that
she had and he was basically telling her that she was wrong in everything she was doing. (Advertising
manager, interview 1)
This interference was so great that it caused the highly regarded advertising director to resign
with no job to go to. The corporate psychopath then proceeded to disregard or replace the plans,
initiatives and advertising staff associated with the ex-advertising director until nothing of the
original and previously highly successful department was left. This included the product develop-
ment team whose presence was considered by other employees to be central to the future success
of the business. This new product development process, representing the innovativeness underly-
ing the core competency of the organization, was then outsourced. In the literature on strategy, it is
usually considered advisable to maintain the core competencies within the business and only to
outsource non-essential elements of it. Therefore, outsourcing a key element, as happened here,
demonstrates the lack of competence of the corporate psychopath involved. This left other staff
demoralized and disheartened.
Corporate psychopaths are theorized to be promoted beyond their true abilities because of their
capacity to present themselves well, manipulate others, lie about their abilities and claim the good
work of other people as their own (Boddy et al., 2010b). Another example of this is that in inter-
view 2, the claimed MBA from a world-class university turned out to be bogus in the case of the
psychopath involved in the organizational fraud.
With the psychopathic CEO discussed in interview 6, the CEO would not permit any discussion
at board meetings which were convened to pass his policy papers, distributed before the meetings.
This was said to create a totally different tone at the top than was evident under the previous CEO.
The previous tone was reported to be marked by openness, creativity, innovation and communica-
tion. The psychopathic CEO was reported to cut-off any discussion and thus to deny potentially
valuable contributions to the organization from experienced staff. In the organization discussed in
interview 6, employees were described as having changed from being motivated, happy and inno-
vative to being directionless, unmotivated and uncommitted after the appointment of a new, psy-
chopathic CEO:
Staff morale is just at an absolute low. When the guy walks in the office falls silent and it is worse than a
morgue, I imagine, in our place. (Middle manager, interview 6)
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Boddy et al. 543
In interview 4, the research participant was of the opinion that the corporate psychopath was
instrumental in the eventual closure of the business:
If you look at that plant, the plant was sold and within about two to three years was closed down and
flattened and it is now a housing estate. So, did he do a great job? In my opinion it was an appalling job
otherwise that place wouldn’t have failed. (HR director, interview 4)
In interview 1, the research participant reported that the corporate psychopath closed down one
office merely because it was associated with being a success and initiative of the advertising director
who had resigned. The particular office was described as being in a convenient central location at a
remarkably cheap rent. Closing it down led to extra costs and lost clients and was reported to have been
a poor business decision, so could be classed as a partial destruction of the company concerned.
Similarly, the research participant in interview 6 was of the opinion that the organization was
being effectively destroyed from within. This destruction was reported to be through the influence
of the psychopathic CEO involved in this not-for-profit organization:
We’ve got this situation where the finances are plummeting downwards; the staff are leaving on almost a
fortnightly basis now. (Middle manager, interview 6)
The work ethic, involvement and commitment of the employees were reported to have been
largely destroyed with staff taking days off, undertaking large amounts of non-organizational
related activities in the workplace and lacking drive and purpose:
Well I think there were lots of issues … grievances, people off sick, people having to move on to new roles
very, very quickly, people getting damaged along the way, performance not being great, not positive
behaviours permeating down the organization, lack of willingness to tackle what was becoming quite
evident. (HR director, interview 7)
The research participant in interview 7 also described a variety of ways in which the presence
of a psychopathic manager affected the performance of the organization and of the employees
within it. These included staff withdrawal and a lack of commitment towards tackling the problems
facing the organization.
Writers engaged in the study of organizations have called for a multiplicity of approaches, diffus-
ing disciplinary boundaries to enrich our analysis of organizations whereby ideas from other disci-
plines are integrated into a viewpoint encompassing the real world in order to converge on and
further the prospect of a better world (Burrell et al., 2003).
In line with this viewpoint, Winchester (2012) comments that sociologists adopt a systems
appraisal which is valuable but which does not sufficiently account for individual greed, fraud,
theft and mismanagement. He reports that more individually oriented analyses do account for this
and so deserve consideration (Winchester, 2012). Winchester reports that sociology is uniquely
capable of considering both systematic and individual aspects of events and thus of bridging a
divide in the approach to studying organizations and society, that between the sociological or situ-
ational view and the psychological or personality-based view (Hogan and Kaiser, 2005).
In what may be seen as a different approach relative to sociological orthodoxy (Parker and
Thomas, 2011), this article attempts to bridge the sociological and individual by demonstrating how
individual managers can influence the work environment around them towards an extreme
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544 Organization 22(4)
environment marked by poor practices and conflict. The stance taken is not critical in Rowlinson
and Hassard’s (2011) sense. Rather, a critical stance is adopted in the sense of being critical of how
these unethical psychopathic leaders have been allowed to prosper in the high risk, unethical, casino
capitalism that has become emblematic of neoliberal society (Rowlinson and Hassard, 2011).
What neoliberal organizations and managerial psychopaths apparently share is abusive control
and an unethical lack of care (Baines, 2004; Yates et al., 2001) for employees. Ethics has long
informed and guided the approach taken to management studies (Rhodes and Wray-Bliss, 2013),
and this ethical viewpoint is of relevance to the study of corporate psychopaths as managers. Such
unethical management has been expected of corporate psychopaths, as noted in the speculations of
psychology researchers (Clarke, 2005) and as uncovered through research (Boddy, 2011b; Babiak,
1995; Babiak and Hare, 2006) as well as in this study.
From the body of research into psychopaths at work, theories have arisen which attempt to
explain how modern business has facilitated the emergence of the psychopathic manager who has in
turn influenced capitalism in an extreme direction (Boddy, 2011a; Cohan, 2012; Spencer and Wargo,
2010). The findings in his research illustrate a profane side of organizational leadership, one that is
neither heroic nor in any way self-sacrificing (S’liwa et al., 2013). Furthermore, there was a per-
ceived lack of credibility and of competence in the abilities of the corporate psychopaths discussed
in the current research. Such competence uncertainty has been associated with workplace deviance
and leader mistreatment (Mayer et al., 2012), and this corresponds with the current findings.
Counter to current findings, some psychology researchers claim psychopathic traits such as the
ability to remain calm and unemotional in pressured circumstances may be factors of success in
business (Crawford, 2013; Lilienfeld et al., 2012). However, psychology researchers usually define
success in individual terms (e.g. Do traits help the individual get promoted?). Broader measures of
success could include whether psychopathic managers are good for other employees, society or
corporate social responsibility (Boddy et al., 2010a) or are likely to indulge in the illegal dumping
of toxic waste (Ray and Jones, 2011).
Psychology researchers and management writers differ in their views on whether there is enough
known about psychopaths at work to screen for them in employment decisions. Some say that not
enough is known (Smith and Lilienfeld, 2013); others are sufficiently convinced to offer psychopa-
thy screening services such as the BS360 to employers (Babiak et al., 2010). The current research
throws some light on this discussion because it shows how damaging this type of personality can
be in management.
Limitations and suggestions for further research
The research was conducted in England, mainly in London, and findings may be subject to cultural
influences that do not operate elsewhere. For example, Stout (2005) suggests that collectivist cul-
tures may present psychopaths with a more constraining influence than that imposed by individu-
alistic countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. This may influence how their
behaviour manifests itself and could be a subject for further research. The current research adopted
a qualitative approach utilizing a small sample size to gain essentially constructivist insights into
how corporate psychopaths act. As such the research makes no claims towards positivist statistical
This research makes a contribution to the literature on extreme workplaces by demonstrating that
ruthless managers in the form of corporate psychopaths have an influence in generating such
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Boddy et al. 545
workplaces. The research makes a contribution to corporate psychopathy theory because it shows
that corresponding with expectations, employees seek to leave or emotionally withdraw from the
organizations or parts of organizations that are managed by corporate psychopaths. Furthermore,
that as expected, turnover is higher in such organizations.
The psychopathy measure used demonstrated good face validity; findings from using it were as
would be expected of the behaviour of corporate psychopaths. Employees are mistreated, loyal
employees are fired or resign, resources are misallocated or stolen, business plans are capriciously
rejected, management consultants are hired needlessly and internal intellectual resources are
abused or unused. Employee well-being decreases, organizational confusion replaces a sense of
direction, organizational ethics decline and corporate reputation suffers. Corporate psychopaths
rely on the good work of others claiming their ideas, presentations and plans as their own or else
rely on management consultants to do their work. Employees report that they hate to work in these
environments and withdraw from these extreme workplaces via claiming high levels of sick leave,
leave due to stress and via seeking alternative employment. A minority even withdraw from the
workforce with no other jobs to go to.
Although often regarded as stars and given awards for their short-term or apparent financial
performance by those above them, these research findings illustrate that the behaviour of corporate
psychopaths is not aligned with the longer term success of the organizations that employ them.
Corresponding with theoretical expectations, the current research found that corporate psycho-
paths will engage in fraud and are unconcerned with the organizational destruction that they
The commonalities in these reports concerning the behaviour of corporate psychopaths were
notable, and they appear to have a modus operandi involving bullying, fear, control and manipula-
tion. The current research supports earlier findings from quantitative studies because yelling,
shouting and the undermining of employees via public humiliations were all evident. Insights
gained go beyond what has been established quantitatively because reports of employees living in
fear of their lives were recorded.
The current research also supports the view that corporate psychopaths over-state their qualifi-
cations and abilities, claiming degrees from prestigious universities and management competen-
cies that they do not possess. Furthermore, corporate psychopaths use divide-and-conquer tactics
to maintain control of employees, unions and boards, while jeopardizing client service quality and
organizational outcomes through their erratic and fickle management plans.
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Author biographies
Clive Boddy is Professor of Leadership and Organization Behaviour at Middlesex University. He was previ-
ously a Professor of Marketing at Middlesex. Prior to working in academia he co-founded a multi-national
marketing research company in Asia-Pacific.
Derek Miles is Emeritus Professor of Human Resource Development at Middlesex University and a Chartered
Companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD). Before a 14-year career as an aca-
demic, and after leadership roles in the private and public sectors, he worked as Director of Global Learning
for an Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working across 100 countries.
Chandana Sanyal is a Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Development at Middlesex
University Business School. She has over 17 years of experience of working as a human resource develop-
ment practitioner and a senior manager in the public sector. She joined Middlesex University in 2009 as a
practitioner academic. Her specialist areas include individual and organizational learning, leadership develop-
ment, coaching, mentoring and action learning.
Mary Hartog is the Director for Organization and Leadership Practice at Middlesex University Business
School. She has a background in Management Learning and has worked both in the private and public sectors.
Mary is both a National and Principal Teaching Fellow (2006, 2014, respectively) of the Higher Education
Academy. She was awarded her PhD from the Center for Action Research in Professional Practice, University
of Bath in 2004.
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550 Organization 22(4)
Appendix 1
In-depth interview guide
Introduction. Thank you for agreeing to take part in this research concerning your experience of one
manager you worked with who displayed the characteristics of a corporate psychopath. I would
like to talk to you about this particular manager and what influence they had on the organization
that you worked for and on you and the other employees. Your answers will be reported on anony-
mously and confidentially in that any names of people or companies including your name and any
relevant dates will be changed to ensure the anonymity of the people concerned and the confiden-
tiality of your answers and so that nobody will be able to identify the companies and people con-
cerned. You will also be able to veto any material before it is published in academic journals or in
material presented back to this HR directors group. As an aid to my memory and in the interests of
accuracy and validity, I would very much appreciate your consent to my tape-recording the inter-
view—would that be acceptable to you? (if not then make extensive notes including verbatim
Can you first tell me something about the company you were working for at the time you expe-
rienced the psychopathic manager (nature, size, geography, number of personnel, purpose). What
was your position and that of the psychopathic manager? (Hierarchical nature of the working
What did they do that displayed a psychopathic personality? What impact did they have on you
and their colleagues—the organization—its other stakeholders?
How did you manage them? What successes/failures did you have in managing them?
What were the outcomes for the organization, its culture and the working environment? Were
there any outcomes related to HR issues with the company? Were there any outcomes related to
legal issues with the company?
What were the outcomes for you? What were the outcomes for other employees? What were the
outcomes for corporate partners like suppliers, any advising consultants like advertising agencies
or advertising consultants, and auditors?
On a range from normal to extreme, how would you characterize the working environment
when the psychopathic manager was operating? In what ways, if any, would you say the working
environment was an extreme one? In what ways, if any, would you say the working environment
was a normal one?
What advice would you give someone in your position if they knew beforehand that the man-
ager they would be dealing with was psychopathic? Is there anything else you would like to say
about the situation in which you worked with a psychopathic manager?
Thank you very much for taking part in this research, I will contact you again once the inter-
views are complete and all the material has been analysed.
Finally, looking at this page describing corporate psychopaths is there anything this makes you
remember about their behaviour that you have not mentioned already? Also, what elements do you
think apply to the person we have been talking about—please tick all sections that apply to them
and put a cross against all those that do not.
The PM-MRV2 (Psychopathy Measure—Management Research Version 2) Copyright: The
Corporate Psychopaths Research Centre; reproduced with permission.
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Boddy et al. 551
1. Superficial charm and apparent intelligence. The subject appears to be friendly and easy to talk to,
agreeable, makes a positive first impression and is apparently a genuine person who is socially at ease.
2. Untruthful and insincere. The subject lies and is a convincing liar because of their apparent sincerity and
3. A cheating personality. The subject cheats, fails to live up to promises, cons, seduces and deserts others.
They are good at organizational politics, claim the good work of others as their own and would
probably steal, forge, commit adultery or fraud if they could get away with it.
4. Is totally egocentric. The subject is egocentric and self-centred, cannot love or care for others and can
only discuss love in intellectual terms. They are totally indifferent to the emotions or fate of their
5. Has no remorse about how their actions harm other employees. The subject denies responsibility for their
own poor behaviour and accuses others of responsibility for failures that they themselves cause. If they
admit any fault, then they do so without any regret or humiliation. They put their career advancement
above their colleagues.
6. Emotionally shallow. The subject can readily demonstrate a show or display of emotion but without any
true feeling. They cannot experience true sadness, woe, anger, grief, joy or despair and are indifferent
to the troubles of others.
7. Unresponsive to personal interactions. The subject does not respond to kindness or trust in the ordinary
manner. They can display superficial reactions but do not have a consistent appreciation for what
others have done for them. They are indifferent to the feelings of others and can openly make fun of
other people.
8. Refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. The subject initially appears to be reliable and
dependable but can then act unreliably and with no sense of responsibility or regard for any obligations
to others.
9. Calm, poised and apparently rational. The subject does not display neurotic or irrational characteristics.
They are always poised and not anxious or worried even in troubling or upsetting circumstances which
would disturb or upset most other people.
10. Lack of self-blame and self-insight about own behaviour. The subject blames their troubles on other
people with elaborate and subtle rationalisations. They do not think of blaming themselves, even when
discovered in bizarre, dishonest or immoral situations that would promote despair or shame in other
Ask: How do the ones you have ticked resonate with your experience?
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... Several studies suggest that this indeed is the case, althoughagain-many of these studies also do not account for the multi-dimensionality of the psychopathic personality. For instance, employees who report having colleagues scoring high in psychopathy suffer from conflict, bullying, reduced job satisfaction, and increased workload and absenteeism (Boddy & Taplin, 2016;Boddy et al., 2015;Boddy, 2010bBoddy, , 2015aBoddy, , 2015b. Employees who have supervisors who score high on psychopathy report lessened personal consideration of those supervisors (Westerlaken & Woods, 2013) and not being allowed to speak up and voice opinions (Boddy, 2017). ...
... Followers often greatly suffer from the psychological abuse and self-serving behavior of their supervisor, with consequences ranging from increased levels of depression, emotional exhaustion and anxiety, lower job satisfaction and organizational commitment, to insomnia, problem drinking, and reduced satisfaction with life (e.g., Schyns & Schilling, 2013;Tepper et al., 2017). Boddy et al. (2015) found that subordinates of corporate psychopaths (measured by subordinates' assessment of the resemblance to a leader with primary psychopathic traits) indicated to be subject to abusive tactics by their leaders. This finding corroborates an earlier study by Boddy (2011a) showing that the incidence and frequency of unfair supervision and bullying are more likely to occur in teams headed by corporate psychopaths. ...
... This fear may be particularly strong if they are led by leaders scoring high on psychopathy (cf. Boddy & Taplin, 2016;Boddy et al., 2015;Boddy, 2015aBoddy, , 2015b. Instead, employees may displace their discontent with how they are treated by their leaders on others, such as their fellow employees, creating a hostile culture. ...
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Primary psychopathy in leaders, also referred to as successful psychopathy or corporate psychopathy, has been put forward as a key determinant of corporate misconduct. In contrast to the general notion that primary psychopaths’ destructiveness cannot be controlled, we posit that psychopathic leaders’ display of self-serving and abusive behavior can be restrained by organizational contextual factors. Specifically, we hypothesize that the positive relationship between leader primary psychopathy on the one hand and self-serving behavior and abusive supervision on the other will be weaker to the extent that the organizational context (clear rules and policies, sanctionability of misconduct, and transparency of behavior) is stronger. Three studies (one experiment, one survey of leader–subordinate dyads, and one survey of teams) showed that clear rules in particular weakened the positive association between leader primary psychopathic traits and their self-serving and abusive behavior. Explanations for why clear rules rein in primary psychopathic leaders’ destructive behavior more than sanctionability of misconduct and transparency of behavior will be discussed.
... The non-emotional psychopathic manager creates, via their cold bullying and calculated abuse, an emotionally turbulent workplace (Boulter and Boddy 2021) and an extreme environment (Boddy et al. 2015). In this turbulent environment moral and ethical standards decline as subordinates adopt the behaviour and attitudes displayed by their leaders, as happened in the case of Enron which is discussed below. ...
... Not entirely unexpectedly, some 40% of one sample of HR practitioners reported that they do worry about appointing the psychopathic to roles in their companies and one way they try to avoid this is to undertake thorough background checks to spot irregularities and falsifications in CV's (Tudosoiu et al. 2019). MBA's claimed as earned by psychopathic business leaders can turn out to be bogus, falsely claimed and entirely unwarranted (Boddy et al. 2015). ...
Full-text available
The current paper explores the rationality and associated non-emotionality of the psychopathic mind. This was undertaken because psychopaths in the corporate sphere (corporate psychopaths) have been identified as possessing the ability to rise to senior leadership positions within organisations from where they can wield enormous power over their colleagues, organisation and society. When in leadership, the psychopathic create emotional turbulence among their colleagues and subordinates, resulting in an extreme workplace environment. Nonetheless, findings as to the rationality of the psychopathic, include that psychopaths do embody the characteristics of economic rationality and may be the only rational human or ‘homo economicus’ that exists. Taken together with their total immorality and lack of all integrity this makes them the most serious threat to business ethics globally and a threat to the coherence of human society. These findings are important because such people care nothing for the future of humanity and their rationality is dedicated towards personal, short-term gratification. Potentially dire implications for humanity, organisations and society are drawn from this.
... Ethical leadership is fair, moral, and non-abusive (Kleshinski et al., 2020), whereas unethical leadership entails the opposite of this (Solas, 2016). Psychopathic leadership may be the darkest, most immoral type, as such leadership is extremely unethical and abusive (Boddy, 2023;Boddy et al., 2015). ...
Moving sustainability towards flourishing for all implies a care for all and for the future. However, in this commentary I note that many corporate and political leaders do not care for others or the future because, embodying egotistical, ruthless, remorseless, and dishonest (psychopathic) characteristics, their concern is only for themselves. This commentary argues that toxic leadership and governance, in the form of corporate psychopathy and corporate psychopaths, are important barriers to achieving sustainability. Notably, and of relevance to this argument, the embodiment of psychopathic traits can give people the ability to brazenly push themselves to the top, unimpeded by emotional distractions and thereby attain leadership. However, due to their deep indifference to corporate social responsibility and a readiness to falsify environmental impact reports, engage in faking corporate social responsibility and illegally dump toxic waste materials; the influence of such psychopathic leadership may be detrimental to sustainability and to flourishing for all. Leaders high in psychopathy will ignore or dismiss scientific evidence of unsustainable practices because they do not care about the future or about dismissing scientific evidence of detriments to the prospects for humanity. Accordingly toxic leadership and governance are arguably the critical factors in achieving a flourishing sustainability. The future of all life thus depends on who we choose as our leaders.
... However, within the last decades, growing research interest has developed toward negative behaviours in organizations, highlighting the pivotal responsibility that a dysfunctional leadership might have (Wu and Hu, 2009). Studies on ineffective leadership have examined punitive or aggressive leadership behaviours, such as tyranny (Ashforth, 1994), toxic leaders (Lipman-Blumen, 2005a;2005b), abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000, Tepper et al., 2009Zellar, Tepper and Duffy, 2002),, despotic leadership (Bass and Stogdill, 1990), bad leadership (Kellerman, 2004), narcissistic leaders (Rosenthal and Pittinsky, 2006), unethical leaders (Treviño et al., 2003), destructive leadership (Einarsen et al., 2007) and corporate psychopaths (Boddy et al., 2015;Boddy, 2017). ...
The present study is aimed to two related objectives: 1) to make a systematic review of the relationship between toxic leadership, burnout and turnover intentions in the workplace 2) to use this knowledge to investigate if and to what extent a toxic leadership style might negatively impact workers' burnout and turnover intentions. This second objective was pursuedconducting a survey focused on a convenience sample of 156 employees (48% males and 50% females), working in small and medium enterprises across Italy. The structured questionnaire adopted is composed of validated measures of emotional exhaustion (Sirigatti et al. 1988 ), toxic leadership (Schmidt, 2008), turnover intention (Mobley et al., 1978) and job satisfaction (Wanous et al., 1997). Results showed that all dimensions of burnout and turnover intentions were positively related to toxic leadership. Limitations of the study as well as practical implications for research and practice in HRM are discussed.
... Similar to Machiavellianism, the relative paucity of empirical studies of CEO psychopathy has restricted scholarly access to meaningful knowledge on the topic. However, relevant case studies have suggested that psychopathic CEOs lack the necessary leadership abilities to be effective decision makers within their respective organizations (Boddy, 2017;Boddy et al., 2015). Of the empirical studies that do exist, Myung et al. (2017) showed that CEO psychopathy is negatively related to CSR activities. ...
Research in the area of chief executive officer (CEO) dark personality has significantly increased over the last two decades. This study provides a comprehensive summary of the extant literature on CEO dark personality traits (e.g., narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, sadism, overconfidence and hubris) and their impacts on organizational outcomes. We first synthesize the existing literature, highlighting the results produced by some of the key studies published on CEO dark personality. We next use bibliometric analysis to quantitatively assess the intellectual structure of the CEO dark personality literature and to identify its most prominent contributors. Finally, we address important gaps and general trends in the literature, providing future scholars with opportunities to integrate additional theories and methodologies in their studies on CEO dark personality.
This article reflectively applies measurement tools to gage whether a renowned financier and champion of shareholder capitalism, in 20 th century business history, might be categorized as a corporate psychopath. The article examines aspects of the career of the outstanding financial investment manager, Bernie Madoff. Psychopaths and corporate psychopaths are defined as background to the article. Gauges of corporate psychopathy and psychopathy are outlined which could be modified by market research companies to identify corporate psychopathy in organisations as a way of aiding investment decisions into such organisations. The current article concludes that insolvencies such as those at Madoff’s investment company, have been distinguished by CEOs being present who were simultaneously the lauded agents of financial market capitalism and who embodied the traits of the corporate psychopath. The examination of potential corporate psychopaths using this historical methodology helps inform ideas about what the effects of psychopathic leadership may be within economies and gives new insights into the reasons for the greed, risk taking, and unethical practices found in financial markets. Findings support the accepted view that corporate psychopaths can be discovered in senior roles in the financial services sector. This current paper provides new avenues for research offerings from market research companies. For example, business to business researchers could undertake research to identify firms more likely to be longitudinally viable, sustainable and less likely to collapse (i.e., non-psychopathic firms). Investment companies like pension funds could use such research to identify firms that are less risky, more ethical, better led, and therefore safer to invest in.
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This foundational text was one of the first books to integrate work from moral philosophy, developmental/moral psychology, applied psychology, political and social economy, and political science, as well as business scholarship. Twenty years on, this third edition utilizes ideas from the first two to provide readers with a practical model for ethical decision making and includes examples from I-O research and practice, as well as current business events. The book incorporates diverse perspectives into a "framework for taking moral action" based on learning points from each chapter. Examples and references have been updated throughout, and sections on moral psychology, economic justice, the "replicability crisis," and open science have been expanded and the "radical behavioral challenge" to ethical decision-making is critiqued. In fifteen clearly structured and theory-based chapters, the author also presents a variety of ethical incidents reported by practicing I-O psychologists. This is the ideal resource for Ethics and I-O courses at the graduate and doctoral level. Academics in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management will also benefit from this book, as well as anyone interested in Ethics in Psychology and Business.
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Cinema, like all forms of art, carry within itself the hopes, dreams, anxieties, and horrors of a society. Movies are social constructs meant to entertain their audiences by bringing them romantic stories, heartfelt dramas, fast paced adventures, and even dreadful horror. The production of films is something quite complex and entails the influence of many different individuals. From director and actors to producers and sponsors, every human element will bring its own social influence in the final product. In that, a movie is, in a postmodernist approach, a parallel reality conceived of different visions. Given that this entails different possible interpretations for films and that, ever since the age of industrialization, class struggle seems like a constant characteristic of capitalism, it’s certain that many movies will often carry Marxist subtexts to them. From Metropolis (1927) to Joker (2019), this research intends to use discourse analysis to interpret a selection of movies through Marxist lenses, thus adding to the already existing literature on sociological interpretation of cinema.
The Psychology of Wisdom: An Introduction is the first comprehensive coursebook on wisdom, providing an engaging, balanced, and expert introduction to the psychology of wisdom. It provides a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the psychological science of wisdom, covering wide-ranging perspectives. Each chapter includes extensive pedagogy, including a summary, a glossary, bolded terms, practical applications, discussion questions, and a brief description of the authors' research. Topics include the philosophical foundations, folk conceptions, and psychological theories of wisdom; relations of wisdom to morality and ethics, to personality and well-being, to emotion; wisdom and leadership, wisdom and social policy. These topics are covered in a non-technical, bias-free, and student-friendly manner. Written by the most eminent experts in the field, this is the definitive coursebook for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as interested professionals and researchers.
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The leadership literature is full of stories of heroic self-sacrifice. Sacrificial leadership behaviour, some scholars conclude, is to be recommended. In this article we follow Keith Grint's conceptualization of leadership as necessarily pertaining to the sacred, but-drawing on Giorgio Agamben's notion of profanation-we highlight the need for organization scholars to profane the sacralizations embedded in leadership thinking. One example of this, which guides us throughout the article, is the novel A Wild Sheep Chase, by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. By means of a thematic reading of the novel, we discuss how it contributes to profaning particular notions of sacrifice and the sacred in leadership thinking. In the novel, self-sacrifice does not function as a way of establishing a leadership position, but as a way to avoid the dangers associated with leadership, and possibly redeem humans from their current collective urge to become leaders. Inspired by Murakami's fictional example, we call organization scholars to engage in profanation of leadership studies and, in doing so, open new vistas for leadership theory and practice.
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While there is no universally accepted cause of psychopathy, there are basic biological patterns in brain dysfunction observed in individuals who display psychopathic tendencies. These individuals show significant impairment in specific regions of the brain, particularly the orbital frontal cortex (OFC). Such abnormalities exist in brain areas most involved in impulse control and behavior inhibition. There are also significant environmental factors that the majority of these individuals have in common. For example, a strong correlation exists between attachment disorder and anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). Finally, the differences between ASPD, psychopathy, and sociopathy are considered. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are clear differences between these psychopathologies.
The Western financial system is rapidly coming to resemble nothing as much as a vast casino. Every day games are played in this casino that involve sums of money so large that they cannot be imagined. At night the games go on at the other side of the world. In the towering office blocks that dominate all the great cities of the world, rooms are full of chain-smoking young men all playing these games. Their eyes are fixed on computer screens flickering with changing prices. As in a casino, the world of high finance today offers the players a choice of games. Instead of roulette, blackjack, or poker, there is dealing to be done – the foreign exchange market and all its variations; or in bonds, government securities or shares. In all these markets you may place bets on the future by dealing forward and by buying or selling options and all sorts of other recondite financial inventions. Some of the players – banks especially – play with very large stakes. These are also many quite small operators. There are tipsters, too, selling advice, and peddlers of systems to the gullible. And the croupiers in this global financial casino are the big bankers and brokers. They play, as it were, ‘for the house’. It is they, in the long run, who make the best living.
This chapter looks at employees as a key resource in an organisation and explains how the productivity of this human resource can be helped or hindered by organisational rules and procedures, supervisors, managers and other constraints. It defines organisational constraints and then outlines why Corporate Psychopaths can affect them. The chapter discusses the findings from an empirical investigation into whether the presence of Corporate Psychopaths in an organisation influences the level of organisational constraints within it. It concludes that Corporate Psychopaths do influence the level of organisational constraints, by a large factor. As corporate psychopathy increases within an organisation, so does the level of organisational constraints. The implications for human resource selection and management policies are discussed in terms of the potential for screening employees for psychopathy.
The biggest crook in U.S. history is trying to pull off one last swindle from jail: rewriting his own story.
The manner in which the concept of reciprocity is implicated in functional theory is explored, enabling a reanalysis of the concepts of "survival" and "exploitation." The need to distinguish between the concepts of complementarity and reciprocity is stressed. Distinctions are also drawn between (1) reciprocity as a pattern of mutually contingent exchange of gratifications, (2) the existential or folk belief in reciprocity, and (3) the generalized moral norm of reciprocity. Reciprocity as a moral norm is analyzed; it is hypothesized that it is one of the universal "principal components" of moral codes. As Westermarck states, "To requite a benefit, or to be grateful to him who bestows it, is probably everywhere, at least under certain circumstances, regarded as a duty. This is a subject which in the present connection calls for special consideration." Ways in which the norm of reciprocity is implicated in the maintenance of stable social systems are examined.
Expanding upon existing theory, it is argued that the longitudinal process of student departure, far from being uniform across time, is marked by distinct stages which reflect the unique problems individuals encounter in seeking to become incorporated into the life of the institution. Research and policy implications are discussed.