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Businesses The Almighty Buck Science

Could Testing Block Psychopaths From Senior Management? 422

Posted by timothy
from the self-aggrandizing-liars-with-golden-parachutes dept.
Freshly Exhumed writes "Dr. Clive Boddy believes that increasingly fluid corporate career paths have helped psychopaths conceal their disruptive workplace behavior and ascend to previously unattainable levels of authority. Boddy points out psychopaths are primarily attracted to money, status and power, currently found in unparalleled abundance in the global banking sector. As if to prove the point, many of the world's money traders self identify as the "masters of the universe." Solution? Screening with psychological tests. Who would pay for it? The insurance industry." The tech world has plenty of company heads who've been called psychopaths, too — but would you want to actually change that?
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Could Testing Block Psychopaths From Senior Management?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Would be great to see such a test for forum or internet users. Imagine how useful youtube comments would be if the psychopaths couldn't register.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:18PM (#42068505)

    Picked them up from the printer's yesterday. That's Bone. Lettering is something called Cillian rail.

  • by superwiz (655733) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:22PM (#42068529) Journal
    it should probably pick less karma-whore targets for it. First of all, investment banks and insurance companies are indistinguishable. They are essentially in the same business. But to answer the actual question, why wouldn't you want a banker to be attracted to money? Not everyone should be socially conscious as a job requirement. Only if it is in fact part of the job. I mean I wouldn't want a nurse or doctor who were sociopaths. But a banker? Why not? If it makes them better bankers, then more power to them.
    • by Millennium (2451)

      Actually, a surprising number of doctors are psychopaths, especially surgeons. Emotional detachment and all that.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:04PM (#42068799)

        [citation needed]

        Or, if you want another way of putting it.

        BULLSHIT

        To be a Doctor or surgeon requires years of dedicated study and work. That's not a feature of psychopathy - quite the opposite. Psychopaths are pathetic individuals who thrive only in the most superficial quick win environments where chancers and spivs can make it big by spinning the wheel.

        So many people seem to think emotional control = psychopath. Quite the contrary... psychopaths have very poor emotional control as well as concentration... they are also have extremely poor impulse control. In any environment where you have to deal with people over long periods... they fail horribly by getting caught out eventually. They only succeed when they can wreck their havoc and then vanish up/out leaving others to clean up.

        Go speak to a real psychopath sometime.

        • by superwiz (655733)
          I'll give you that the statement would be helped by citation. But I won't give you the BS. I would agree with the gp post. I heard it from other sources (which I trust). The sources were academic. This type of inquiry was within their field of academic interest. But I too don't have a citation. The causal link seems to be that to cut into a human being and not be repulsed by it takes a certain sadistic inclination. So, while these people are not your mobster type psychopaths, a good fraction of sur
      • by westlake (615356)

        Actually, a surprising number of doctors are psychopaths, especially surgeons. Emotional detachment and all that.

        Emotional detachment is what you should be looking for when you are seeking professional advice. You need someone who will tell what you need to know, not what you want to hear.

        Case in point, Steve Jobs.

        • Are you using Steve Jobs as an example of someone who will tell you what you need to know, or an example of the dangers of only hearing what you want to hear?
    • by Zironic (1112127) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:28PM (#42068577)

      The point is that it doesn't make them better bankers. Specifically a psychopathic banker will instead of help you make more money, help your money get into his pocket.

      The problem isn't their attraction to money, it's their medical inability to give a shit about anyone else.

      • by superwiz (655733)

        The problem isn't their attraction to money, it's their medical inability to give a shit about anyone else.

        But does that make them worse bankers? You can structure incentives in such a way that in order to help themselves they have to help the bank's clients. My point is that this "article" falls in the trap which is common nowadays -- failing to separate function from the form. Most trading nowadays is done by computers. They, too, don't give a crap about anyone else. But so what? They are good traders. Rather than requiring that only extreme extroverts rise to the top (which is really what this movement

        • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:42PM (#42068671) Journal

          Can you structure things in that fashion. One of the attractions of the entire industry is the promise of reward for sound investing. The problem is that a psychopath can game the system by achieving the reward through carefully constructed investments that will collapse inevitably, but after the reward has been gained. In some cases, those rewards appear to have been gained simply by lying (various iterations of cooking the books), and thus catching the cooking takes longer than the reward cycle.

          The only way I can see it is to push the reward off into the distance by years, so that whatever investment strategy is made today, the guy doing it will have to wait a year, two years, or even more before they get their reward.

          Even where systems like that have been implemented (ie. paid in shares rather than in cash or perks), it seems there are still ways for a sufficiently nasty person to grasp the reward that ultimately they did not deserve.

          • by superwiz (655733)

            The problem is that a psychopath can game the system by achieving the reward through carefully constructed investments that will collapse inevitably, but after the reward has been gained. In some cases, those rewards appear to have been gained simply by lying (various iterations of cooking the books), and thus catching the cooking takes longer than the reward cycle.

            Then the system is badly designed. Increase the reward cycle. Everyone employed is familiar with vesting rewards. Those are there to promote employment longevity. So you can't tell me no such mechanisms exist. If the system is designed for chasing short-term gains, don't expect psychologists to fix it. Change the system.

            Even where systems like that have been implemented (ie. paid in shares rather than in cash or perks), it seems there are still ways for a sufficiently nasty person to grasp the reward that ultimately they did not deserve.

            Ok, so something is broken. Fix it. But psycho tests? Those are appropriate only when people might be ask to receive no reward for their work (for example because their work require

            • by CFTM (513264) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:10PM (#42068821)

              I don't disagree with your assessment but it's not nearly as easy as you make it out to be; otherwise no organization would have incentives that rewarded behavior that was not desired.

              To your point though, you get what you reward...building the right system is not easy.

    • The problem here is that an investment banker, for instance, should be in the game not only for personal reward, but also to help their clients. There is considerable opportunity for an investment banker to further their own enrichment that will do substantial harm to their clients.

      Greed is good. Greed unmoderated by any sense of responsibility to anyone but one's self is not a good thing.

      • by superwiz (655733)

        Greed unmoderated by any sense of responsibility to anyone but one's self is not a good thing.

        That makes no sense. A is good. But only if A is not A. That's the gist of this argument. Bankers should understand banking. It's not their job to get in touch with their emotions. They are not playing bankers on TV. They are actually being bankers. If there is a need to change their job objectives in order to better serve bank's clients, you change the banker's incentive structure. You don't say they must first ask themselves what's the right thing to do. It's a job, for God's sake. It has as mu

    • If it makes them better bankers, then more power to them.

      The problem with this statement is the core meaning of "better".

      Better corporate-whore megacorp fat-cat greedy bastards or better-for-society in a "we can all make buckets of money and be happy if we play nicely" kind of way?

      Not that I think companies should not make a profit.
      Not that I think companies should not make LOTS of profit.

      But when banks are crying about their massive costs one week (to justify fee increases) and then announcing RECORD PROFITS (in a never ending succession of record profit yea

      • by superwiz (655733)
        They bail out didn't happen because the bankers cried. No one gives a damn about the bankers. It happened because there is no logistics for such a bankruptcy. And due to interconnected nature of the system, without bankruptcy resolution, all debts governing the world finances would be defaulted on. If the logistics for bankruptcy existed, the banks would be forced to accept 70 cents on the dollar and move on. This has nothing to do with psychology. It has everything to do with the government's inabili
    • by suricatta (617778)

      This is why not. [wikipedia.org]

      From the linked article - emplasis mine to illustrate my point:

      The U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported its findings in January 2011. It concluded that "the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive bo

    • by ukemike (956477)
      Wow, so many things wrong here.

      First of all, investment banks and insurance companies are indistinguishable.

      This is patently untrue. Sure investment banks to make counter party deals that they believe will insure them against losses on other investments, and people refer to this as "insurance." But it is nothing like insurance. The insurance business is based on statistics and actuarial data. The data are used to make rational decisions about how much to charge a particular group for insuring a particular risk. The risks are well known and thoroughly accounted for. In fact ins

  • Change it? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ilsaloving (1534307) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:27PM (#42068567)

    Damn straight we want to change it. If companies are getting so big that they become "too big to fail" and governments would rather throw money at them then watch them collapse, then some other mechanism must be found to mitigate the destructive behaviour of higher-ups. I wouldn't care, if not for the fact that their screw ups can wreak massive amounts of havoc against innocent people.

    Of course, this all depends on if the tests are actually reliable.

    • Damn straight we want to change it. If companies are getting so big that they become "too big to fail" and governments would rather throw money at them then watch them collapse, then some other mechanism must be found to mitigate the destructive behaviour of higher-ups. I wouldn't care, if not for the fact that their screw ups can wreak massive amounts of havoc against innocent people.

      Of course, this all depends on if the tests are actually reliable.

      The thing I find most frustrating is the ABSOLUTE HYPOCRISY of these major finance industry institutions.

      One second they LOUDLY AND PROUDLY talk up the benefits of THE FREE MARKET but the moment that FREE becomes FREE FALL they want ABSOLUTE GUARANTEES that there will be no actual consequences to their screwup.

      It's called risk-vs-reward, sometimes you push the risk too far, and sometimes you get burned.
      Survival of the fittest.
      Darwinian Evolution.

      Or did they not teach these overpaid psychopathic CEOs anyt

    • If companies are getting so big that they become "too big to fail"

      I have a suggestion, one that I heard from Paul Volcker:
      Any bank that is too big to fail, should be broken up and sold off in pieces. Any bank that is too big to fail is too big to exist.

      He got his reputation as a wise man for a reason.

  • There have been studies posted about on Slashdot that state a ridiculously high percentage of all CEOs have significant mental problems. I think it was close to 50%. They're definitely more driven than clock punchers with no real motivation. They better watch their ass for business owners like me though. I operate lean and mean in a customer centric way and are super motivated to take out my competition by simply doing better instead of just running the company with my balls as a status symbol and build
    • You know that investment account your putting the proceeds of your success into. Well, a psychopath is probably administering it.

      You may think you can win, but believe me, all you've done is remove one orifice their sticking their members into.

  • Test everyone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hessian (467078) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:36PM (#42068625) Homepage Journal

    I've worked with enough people who are nuts to think that if we're going to test the leaders, we should test everyone and put the psychopaths out of the workplace entirely.

    One bad person on a team can not only make life miserable, but ruin the work output of the team, drive away anyone competent and damage everyone else's careers when they're associated with the failed team's product.

  • ... if it works of course.

  • many of the world's money traders self identify as the "masters of the universe." Solution?

    I would guess that 90% of these people became psychopaths because of cocaine abuse. A simple urine test would be much cheaper, and quite efficient...

  • But good luck getting the head honcho to agree to put himself on the chopping block.

    Many social solutions require cooperation from the same people they seek to oust.

  • by faustoc4 (2766155) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @04:51PM (#42068725)
    The problem is in the system, not in the individuals, however the system gives incentives for psychopathic behavior
  • Isn't it generally illegal, under the ADA, to discriminate on the basis of mental illness, unless it can be shown said illness directly hinders job performance? It seems to me that being a psychopath not only doesn't hinder job performance if you're a banker, it might make you better at it, in the same way being somewhat Asperger's tends to make you better at jobs in the technical field?
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:26PM (#42068935) Homepage Journal

    They test for psychopaths when selecting managers. How else would we get the psychopath managers we have now?

  • by DarkOx (621550)

    Would this even be legal? Psychopathy is a recognized disease/disability if you test for it and use it to restrict caree path would that not be against the ADA?

  • Let me guess ... the submitter works in tech, not in banking?

    Why is it OK for tech companies to be run by psychopaths, but not banking?

  • "Testing" is not for senior management. Like "austerity" and "cost-cutting" and "right-to-work", such things are meant for the less important, less productive members of our society (aka "the 47%" as described by a member of the senior management set not long ago). We can't expect the job creators to submit to something as demeaning as testing. It's just not done, and we run the risk of them deciding to deprive those of us who are the takers, the mooches, the leeches of their singular talents by "going G

  • by Conspicuous Coward (938979) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:44PM (#42069067)

    The expected behaviour for any corporation is to maximise profits at the expense of nearly anything else. Certainly corporations are not expected to show empathy or compassion (except as PR exercises in the service of greater profit). In a person such complete narcissism and lack of empathy would be indicative of tendendcies towards sociopathic personality disorder.

    Is it any wonder then, that psychopaths are drawn to, and probably well suited to, senior positions in corporations, where their natural tendencies towards such behavior are rewarded rather than punished.

    It's somehow indicative of our complete lack of self-awareness as a society that we create these psychopathic institutions, and are then suprised and appalled when psycopaths end up running them. The problem isn't individual psycopaths as such, it goes far deeper than that, and testing managers for psychopathic tendencies will change nothing.

  • by chipschap (1444407) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:53PM (#42069129)
    Such tests would be used to *ensure* that psychopaths are chosen for senior management, so that no one unsuitable (i.e. non-psycho) slipped through by accident. As other posters have noted, just take a lot at senior management of large corps if you don't think this is true.
  • by guttentag (313541) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @05:59PM (#42069167) Journal
    If you block the psychopaths with the goal of blocking people who are attracted to money, status and power, who will be left to run the corporations? Corporations are set up to attract people who are attracted to those things... It's an incentive system. If you disqualify people who want those things, then all you really have left are the INTJs [keirsey.com], also known as the "mastermind" personality type:

    Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once they take charge, however, they are thoroughgoing pragmatists. Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency -- any waste of human and material resources -- they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel. Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. Only ideas that make sense to them are adopted; those that don't, aren't, no matter who thought of them. Remember, their aim is always maximum efficiency.

    By definition, INTJs do not want power. They want results and efficiency. If they take power, they try to get out from under it as soon as they can. But do you really want to replace the psychopaths with masterminds? The only group whose personality type is usually preceded by the adjective "evil?" Doesn't sound like a good plan to me.

    • One potentially interesting caveat to your observation: people's personalities shift over time. When I was younger, I tested out as INTJ consistently. Nowadays I test out as INTP. It might be nice if INTJs ran things. I know I've always thought so. :) But INTJs don't necessarily stay INTJs forever.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @06:07PM (#42069235) Homepage Journal

    Because the people giving and scoring the tests are in Corporate HR and they are hands down the worst of the bunch.

  • They'll then cry discrimination and sue, gaining money and power through the courts.
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @06:52PM (#42069551)
    I'd be happy if we can block them from moderating /. Is there a test for that? :-)
  • Could it? (Score:5, Funny)

    by pitchpipe (708843) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @07:19PM (#42069697)
    Could A Block B From C?
    • A)
    • Testing
    • Monitoring
    • Banning
    • Killing
    • Condoms
    • B)
    • Terrorists
    • Sperm
    • Germs
    • Pedophiles
    • Psychopaths
    • C)
    • Senior Management
    • The Bloodstream
    • The Anus
    • Airplanes
    • Your Mom

    I daresay it could, but probably not. At anyrate I'm more frightened by sharks.

  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @07:22PM (#42069713) Homepage
    By "Masters of the Universe", do they mean that they're cheap, plastic people only taken seriously by 8-year-old boys, 30 years out of date and the subject of cheesy nostalgia nowadays?

    I think I saw one of those guys on YouTube covering that Four Non-Blondes song...
  • Worked with one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @09:13PM (#42070347)
    I worked with a genuine psychopath; no hyperbole; a true psychopath. This guy could charm the pants off anyone. If you met him you loved him; that simple. But after around 6 months you wanted him dead. After a while I learned some key skills to working with him. One was to nail everything down in an email and I mean everything. If you didn't have everything nailed down he would change the past. If you said you could have something done by the 30th and didn't put it in an email then around the 20th he would announce at a meeting that you were going to be late with your promise to have it done by the 25th like he told the client and put in the contract, a contract he would swear on a stack of bibles that you had looked over. The key here was that you probably did look over a contract that said the 30th and he had an email from you saying that it looked fine. So as I said, everything must go in an email so the trick was if he handed you some paper you scanned it and attached it to the email replying that you had read the contract.

    Most people were unwilling to go to such lengths and thus would be screwed over and over until they quit. The key to understanding this guy was that he simply had zero empathy. Not little but zero. So if he hurt you for some tiny gain of his own so be it. But this is different from someone who is say mean as in a bully, for them being mean is the goal. For my psychopathic co-worker you had to understand that he had his own desires and that was it. He didn't weigh pro and cons in any normal fashion. If you quit then you could be replaced with a fool who might be easier to screw.

    I long ago left working with him but in the years since I have encountered really nice person after person who clench their fists and say horrible things about this guy. They all say the exact same basic thing; wow charisma coming out his ass until he sets you on fire to warm his hands.

    On a superficial basis a company might justify that having someone like this around is useful for the moment that you need to charm some upset client. This might work in theory but what you forget is that the moment it is advantageous for this type of person to screw you they will screw you. Your company might say, "they wouldn't do something so stupid as this industry is too small" but keep in mind that there are two incomprehensible factors at play. This is a person who does not give the tiniest of craps what anyone really thinks as long as they can't actually do anything. The other factor is that they will be able to charm themselves out of almost any situation. So if you say that they will never work in this industry again you are wrong. You will make a solid case to other people you know really well who also respect you and your opinion but the psychopath will meet them and turn their opinion 180 degrees and land on their feet.

    This might seem a bit long winded but after dealing with a true psychopath it is hard to believably explain the functioning of someone who simply is incapable of sympathy and has 100% confidence that normal consequences don't apply to them. Take any situation where a normal person might say ooh this might blow up in my face, or I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy and remember that a psychopath will do it and would do it to their mother if there was even a tiny chance of them somehow benefiting.

    So when I see the whole banking crisis and people are suggesting that these guys inadvertently destroyed trillions of dollars of the wealth in the US along with their own companies and I just remember my psychopath and think that if he was getting low on gas and could push a button that refilled his tank but destroyed a company all he would think is "cool Free gas" while the rest of us would frown about what kind of dick would even create such a button.

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