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BlogCorporations and Psychopaths?

Corporations and Psychopaths?


A recent scholarly article (Clive Boddy, The Implications of Corporate Psychopaths for Business And Society: An Initial Examination And A Call To Arms) gives an interesting perspective on Games at Work, and the breeding ground that modern corporations can provide. A working definition of psychopaths is “manipulative, arrogant, impatient, impulsive and charming and have no conscience”.

What is interesting about the argument is the following:
1.    Psychopaths are disproportionately drawn to business organization because of the opportunities that senior management positions provide to attain the power, money and prestige. (According to Professor Hare “Wherever you get power, prestige and money you will find them (psychopaths)”.
2.    They are then better equipped to “succeed” since they are more “ruthless, prepared to lie, have fewer other claims on their time because of fewer other emotional attachments and can present a charming façade”. In other words they are more willing to play games to get what they want.
3.    The consequences of this are high for society: since these people have very few emotional attachments (other than to themselves) they care little about mass employment, toxic waste, social responsibility etc.
4.    The consequences of this are also high for organizations: as we know in the long run games have consequences. “A Corporate Psychopath would not necessarily care about any corporate crisis and may even want to create a crisis rather than avoid one in order to divert attention away from his activities or to benefit from the opportunities a crisis throws up. As they have no conscience Corporate Psychopaths are not at all bothered about the affects of their actions on the corporation they work for as long as their own needs and wants are being met by their actions.”

If this hypothesis is true it has many implications. The first implication of course is the importance of building some screening for altruism, sense of responsibility and care, in recruitment and selection procedures. However, I believe there is a more profound conclusion that might be drawn. The current form of organizing corporations may be at the root of much game playing. What do I mean by the current form of organizing corporations?
1.    A lack of accountability in senior executive compensation (the difference between shop floor and senior executives attracts people with wrong motivations).
2.    A lack of attention to human values in the workplace (driven ultimately by distorted visions of success).
3.    A lack of honesty (driven partly by the corporation forgetting that it has been granted a licence to operate by society, and limited liability) in corporate governance with respect to “externalities”.

What conclusion can we draw? Perhaps that there are two transformations required to reduce games in the workplace: personal transformations of course, but also new ways of organizing to reduce the chance of psychopathology driving corporate behavior.

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Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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