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What Corporate Psychopaths Can Teach You About The Dangers of Overlooking Character

What Corporate Psychopaths Can Teach You About The Dangers of Overlooking Character

In my experience, there are two kinds of people in the commercial world.

On the one hand, there are those who see business as a kind of war – “crush” all those that stand in their way, “destroy” the competition, and generally get one over on the next guy.

Then there are those who treat it more like farming. Nurture your crops (products and services), develop their value and then trade them with happy customers who benefit from this value.

Thankfully, people in the Life Sciences overwhelmingly fall into the second camp. A major reason why I chose to work in this industry in the first place.

But we must consider two things. Business-as-war people tend to be very persuasive. They tend to deliver great results, too – at least in the short term. And the psychopathic mind is very adept at hiding its true form from good natured people, until it’s too late and the damage has already been done. So it pays to be on the alert.

The news is littered with examples of destruction caused by psychopaths run amok, if you know what to look for.

Theranos.

The non-violent civil war that is playing out throughout the entire Western world in service of special interests and of benefit to no one else.

Politicians who sacrifice the future to win votes and kickbacks today.

And I’m sure you can think of numerous examples from your own career – people who got what they wanted, and maybe even helped you achieve your own goals for a time, until the chaos they had been storing up was unleashed and they moved on to their next victim. Whether that chaos was fraudulent sales pipelines that never materialised, resentment from duped customers, or something else.

The problem

We live in a world that runs on quarterly results. When the pressure’s on to hit targets, it’s only human to ignore the warning signs and grab the solution on offer to your short-term problem.

But it takes months to build trust. It takes years to build a brand. It takes a lifetime to build a career, or a company that stands the test of time. Mere moments to destroy all three. If the moral grounds alone for working only with people of good character aren’t convincing enough, consider whether it’s worth risking these precious assets through insufficiently vetting those to whom they are entrusted.

Is a good financial year – or potentially just the promise of one – worth your life’s work and company’s reputation in ruins?

What to look for

I often stress the importance of evaluating a track record of accomplishment when you’re hiring. But through that, you can pull out the all-important context behind this track record. What kind of context are we looking for here?

  • What means did they use to accomplish their ends?
  • What are they most proud of, and why?
  • How well have they managed to retain long-term relationships with customers, colleagues, and employers?
  • How do they empathise with others?

An additional key indicator of character can be whether they are intrinsically motivated to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, or whether they’re primarily interested in how other people see them.

Following that, make sure to verify what they’ve told you with feedback from third parties to check for inconsistencies. And although relying on gut feeling is a poor way of making decisions, it can be a good way of telling you something’s not quite right. If you have a bad feeling about the person, be sure to find out why that is. Don’t ignore it.

Protect the integrity of your team – and remember, a trickle easily becomes a flood. A single psychopath brought into a senior leadership position can bring down an entire company if left unchecked.

This article was written by Harrison Wright Managing Director