Blade-Runner Business CEOs executives fiduciary-duty politicians Politics psychology Science Slashdot

Response to Whether “CEOs are Inherently Sociopathic”

Jason wrote an interesting post about whether the denizens of Slashdot were correct in claiming that CEOs are inherenly sociopathic. While it is tempting to label CEOs sociopaths because the nature of their job supposedly rewards lacking empathy and nobody likes the wealthy and powerful, they are not and here is why. A corporate executive has a fiduciary duty to the corporation’s shareholders. That means they need to think about growing the company and creating a profit so that shareholders make money. It also means they have to exercise due care and diligence, amongst other things, in their handling of corporate affairs and to refrain from committing any legal or ethical violations. To condemn CEOs for doing their jobs is to condemn the entire corporate system, which is held together by the trust that various people must place in others within the entity. This mutlifaceted trust is encapsulated by and embodied through the fiduciary relationship, which imbues all forms of legal agency. Keep this fiduciary duty in mind while looking at the DSM-IV factors for Antisocial Personality Disorder (which is grouped with general sociopathy in the DSM). Critically analyzing the nature of the executive position vis-a-vis these factors reveals that the fiduciary duty, the very defining duty of an executive, actually inhibits sociopathic behavior, rather than encouraging it or even tolerating it. Here are the seven factors: (1) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest. Lawful behavior for a CEO would be to conform to the various specific duties imposed by the general fiduciary duty he or she owes to the shareholders. (2) Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. Deceitfulness and lying for personal profit would be clear violation of the fiduciary duty (and violations of many other laws). (3) Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead. This would be a potential violation of the fiduciary duty of dilligence and care, although not in all cases. But even when the actions are ambiguous enough that it is uncertain if there is a violation, they would still be actions that harm, rather than benefit, the company. CEOs are generally not interested in harming their own company and if they were, the shareholders, acting through the board of directors, would remove the offending CEO. (4) Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. I don’t find that this is often a concern with CEOs. I am sure many CEOs are annoying to be around, but they don't normally commit assaults or get into fights (paper-based white collar crimes are more their style). (5) Reckless disregard for safety of self or others. See the response to factor 4. (6) Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations. Not honoring financial obligations is a violation of the fiduciary duty and mroe importantly is what leads companies to ruin and offers them up to hostile raiders or voracious creditors. (7) Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. This is the only factor that has legs. While I cannot attest personally to the level of remorse the average CEO has, it is easily within the realm of reasonability that they are more likely to lack remorse. Ultimately, only one factor would be met by the “ideal� CEO who obeys the laws governing his or her office, hardly enough to posit that many CEOs are sociopaths. In fact, the fiduciary duty directs CEOs to avoid the behaviors listed above. The very nature of being a CEO is not sociopathic. If a CEO consistently violates that duty and his actions mesh with the factors above, then it may be appropriate to label him a sociopath, but that would constitute a deviation from what is considered to be appropriate and legal. Politicians on the other hand, they are inherently evil.

Are politicians and CEOs sociopaths?

I was reading something on Slashdot about HP dumping Board member George Keyworth for leaking things to the press. The issue wasn't that he was dumped, it was that pretexting was used to get his phone records. This being Slashdot, the idea that all CEOs and politicians are sociopaths quickly came up. This is how it supposedly works: no normal human being would be willing to cut jobs, sell out their colleagues, keep saying what people want to hear with no guilt from lying, and otherwise do the things that lands you on top of the corporate ladder or in Congress. In order to be successful at those things, you have to lack empathy with others – hence, you're a sociopath. Very intelligent sociopaths can be surprisingly charismatic – they learn can learn, and exploit, social graces even if they don't feel bound to them. Is there any evidence to back this up? There's a book called The Sociopath Next Door, written by a clinical psychologist, but I haven't read it. A search of the literature doesn't show much, although I have to admit I'm not familiar with the technical terms to use in searching academic journals. I did find one piece of related evidence. A magazine was able to run a Voight-Kampff test on the candidates for mayor of San Franscisco. They determined that the majority were replicants, and not human beings at all. What do you think? Are politicians and CEOs really amoral enough to be called sociopaths, or do these jobs select for sociopathic tendencies? Or is it just an intelligent way of saying their jerks and we're jealous of them?