Minggu, 25 Desember 2011

The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis

The Corporate Psychopaths Theory
of the Global Financial Crisis
Clive R. Boddy
ABSTRACT. This short theoretical paper elucidates a
plausible theory about the Global Financial Crisis and the
role of senior financial corporate directors in that crisis.
The paper presents a theory of the Global Financial Crisis
which argues that psychopaths working in corporations
and in financial corporations, in particular, have had a
major part in causing the crisis. This paper is thus a very
short theoretical paper but is one that may be very
important to the future of capitalism because it discusses
significant ways in which Corporate Psychopaths may
have acted recently, to the detriment of many. Further
research into this theory is called for.
KEY WORDS: Corporate Psychopaths, The Global Financial
Crisis, leadership, corporate management
The Global Financial Crisis has raised many ethical
issues concerning who pays for the damage inflicted
and who is responsible for causing the crisis. Commentators
on business ethics have noted that corporate
financial scandals have assumed epidemic
proportions and that once great companies of
longstanding history and with previously unblemished
and even dignified reputations have been
brought down by the misdeeds of a few of their
leaders. These commentators raise the fascinating
question of how these resourceful and historic
organizations end up with impostors as leaders in the
first place (Singh, 2008). One writer on leadership
even goes as far as to say that modern society is
suffering from a epidemic of poor leadership in both
the private and the public sectors of the economy
(Allio, 2007).
An understanding of Corporate Psychopaths as
expressed in a recent series of papers in this journal
and in others, and based on empirical research, has
helped to answer the question of how organizations
end up with impostors as leaders and how those
organizations are then destroyed from within
(Boddy, 2005, 2010a, Boddy et al., 2010a, b).
The event of the Global Financial Crisis has
hastened an already changing climate in business
research. Commentators are no longer willing to
assume that all managers are working selflessly and
entirely for the benefit of the organization that
employees them, and the study of dark, dysfunctional,
or bad leadership has emerged as a theme in
management research (Allio, 2007; Batra, 2007;
Boddy, 2006; Clements and Washbrush, 1999). The
onset of the Global Financial Crisis has thus led
management researchers to be increasingly interested
in researching various aspects of dark leadership in an
attempt to explain the current financial and organizational
turmoil around the world. Numerous papers
on dark leadership have, for example, been recently
reviewed by this author for this journal and it is
evident that there are commentators with a deep
knowledge of individual types of dark and dysfunctional
leadership and with views on how these
people have contributed to the current crisis. Corporate
Psychopaths are one such type of dark manager,
and this paper investigates their possible
influence on the companies involved in the Global
Financial Crisis. This is important because when
large financial corporations are destroyed by the
actions of their senior directors, employees loose
their jobs and sometimes their livelihoods, shareholders
lose their investments and sometimes their
life savings and societies lose key parts of their economic
infrastructure. Capitalism also loses some of
its credibility.
These corporate collapses have gathered pace in
recent years, especially in the western world, and
have culminated in the Global Financial Crisis that
Journal of Business Ethics (2011) 102:255–259 Springer 2011
DOI 10.1007/s10551-011-0810-4
we are now in. In watching these events unfold it
often appears that the senior directors involved walk
away with a clean conscience and huge amounts of
money. Further, they seem to be unaffected by the
corporate collapses they have created. They present
themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around
them, unconcerned about those who have lost their
jobs, savings, and investments, and as lacking any
regrets about what they have done. They cheerfully
lie about their involvement in events are very persuasive
in blaming others for what has happened and
have no doubts about their own continued worth
and value. They are happy to walk away from the
economic disaster that they have managed to bring
about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising
governments how to prevent such economic
Many of these people display several of the
characteristics of psychopaths and some of them are
undoubtedly true psychopaths. Psychopaths are the
1% of people who have no conscience or empathy
and who do not care for anyone other than themselves.
Some psychopaths are violent and end up in
jail, others forge careers in corporations. The latter
group who forge successful corporate careers is
called Corporate Psychopaths. Who psychopaths are
and who Corporate Psychopaths are, is discussed
further below.
Psychopaths are people who, perhaps due to physical
factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and
chemistry, especially in the areas of the amygdala and
orbital/ventrolateral frontal cortex (Blair et al., 2005,
2006; Kiehl et al., 2001, 2004, 2006) lack a conscience,
have few emotions and display an inability
to have any feelings, sympathy or empathy for other
people. The area of the brain known as the amygdala
has been described as the seat of emotion and fear
and is reported to be important in processing socially
relevant information and it is therefore theorized
that disruption of its functions could lead to cold
and socially inappropriate behaviour (Wernke and
Huss, 2008). This abnormal brain connectivity and
chemistry of psychopaths makes them extraordinarily
cold, much more calculating and ruthless
towards others than most people are and therefore a
menace to the companies they work for and to
society (Brinkley et al., 2004; Viding, 2004).
Corporate Psychopaths
The concept of the Corporate Psychopaths marries
the terms ‘psychopath’ from the psychological literature
with the term ‘corporate’ from the area of
business to denote a psychopath who works and
operates in the organisational area (Boddy, 2005).
These people have also been called Executive Psychopaths,
Industrial Psychopaths, Organisational
Psychopaths, and Organisational Sociopaths by other
researchers in this emerging area of research (Pech
and Slade, 2007). They ruthlessly manipulate others,
without conscience, to further their own aims and
objectives (Babiak and Hare, 2006).
Although they may look smooth, charming,
sophisticated, and successful, Corporate Psychopaths
should theoretically be almost wholly destructive to
the organizations that they work for. The probable
mal-effects of the presence of psychopaths in the
workplace have been hypothesized about in recent
times by a number of leading experts and commentators
on psychopathy (Babiak, 1995; Babiak
and Hare, 2006; Boddy, 2005, 2006; Clarke, 2005;
Hare, 1994, 1999).
Researchers report that such malevolent leaders
are callously disregarding of the needs and wishes of
others, prepared to lie, bully and cheat and to disregard
or cause harm to the welfare of others (Perkel,
2005). Corporate Psychopaths are also poorly organized
managers who adversely affect productivity
and have a negative impact on many different areas
of organizational effectiveness (Boddy, 2010b).
The theory
Professor Robert Hare, the world’s leading expert
on psychopathy, has said that if he didn’t look for
psychopaths to study in prisons he would look for
them in stock exchanges. Recent newspaper headlines
such as ‘Wall Street Shows No Remorse’ do
nothing to suggest that his viewpoint is incorrect.
Hare has repeatedly drawn attention to the possible
damage that Corporate Psychopaths could cause in
major financial and other organizations. Some of this
256 Clive R. Boddy
damage has been illuminated by the research presented
in a number of recent papers while other
damage is merely hypothesised about.
Psychologists have argued that Corporate Psychopaths
within organizations may be singled out for
rapid promotion because of their polish, charm, and
cool decisiveness. Expert commentators on the rise
of Corporate Psychopaths within modern corporations
have also hypothesized that they are more
likely to be found at the top of current organisations
than at the bottom. Further, that if this is the case,
then this phenomenon will have dire consequences
for the organisations concerned and for the societies
in which those organisations are based. Since this
prediction of dire consequences was made the
Global Financial Crisis has come about. Research by
Babiak and Hare in the USA, Board and Fritzon in
the UK and in Australia has shown that psychopaths
are indeed to be found at greater levels of incidence
at senior levels of organisations than they are at
junior levels (Boddy et al., 2010a). There is also
some evidence that they may tend to join some types
of organisations rather than others and that, for
example, large financial organisations may be
attractive to them because of the potential rewards
on offer in these organizations (Boddy, 2010a).
These Corporate Psychopaths are charming individuals
who have been able to enter modern corporations
and other organisations and rise quickly
and relatively unnoticed within them because of the
relatively chaotic nature of the modern corporation.
This corporate nature is characterized by rapid
change, constant renewal and quite a rapid turnover
of key personnel. These changing conditions make
Corporate Psychopaths hard to spot because constant
movement makes their behaviour invisible and
combined with their extroverted personal charisma
and charm, this makes them appear normal and even
to be ideal leaders.
The knowledge that Corporate Psychopaths are
to be found at the top of organisations and seem to
favour working with other people’s money in large
financial organisations has in turn, led to the development
of the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the
Global Financial Crisis. The Corporate Psychopaths
Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate
Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions
within modern financial corporations, where they
are able to influence the moral climate of the whole
organisation and yield considerable power, have
largely caused the crisis. In these senior corporate
positions, the Corporate Psychopath’s single-minded
pursuit of their own self-enrichment and selfaggrandizement
to the exclusion of all other considerations
has led to an abandonment of the old
fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness,
or of any real notion of corporate social
The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global
Financial Crisis is that changes in the way people are
employed have facilitated the rise of Corporate
Psychopaths to senior positions and their personal
greed in those positions has created the crisis. Prior
to the last third of the twentieth century large corporations
were relatively stable, slow to change and
the idea of a job for life was evident, with employees
gradually rising through the corporate ranks until a
position was reached beyond which they were not
qualified by education, intellect or ability to go.
In such a stable, slowly changing environment
employees would get to know each other very well
and Corporate Psychopaths would be noticeable and
identifiable as undesirable managers because of their
selfish egotistical personalities and other ethical
Changing companies’ mid-career was seen as
being questionable and inadvisable and their rise
would therefore be blocked both within their original
employer and among external employers who
would question their reasons for wanting to change
However, once corporate takeovers and mergers
started to become commonplace and the resultant
corporate changes started to accelerate, exacerbated
by both globalisation and a rapidly changing technological
environment, then corporate stability began
to disintegrate. Jobs for life disappeared and
not surprisingly employees’ commitment to their
employers also lessened accordingly. Job switching
first became acceptable and then even became
common and employees increasingly found themselves
working for unfamiliar organisations and with
other people that they did not really know very well.
Rapid movements in key personnel between corporations
compared to the relatively slower movements
in organisational productivity and success
made it increasingly difficult to identify corporate
success with any particular manager. Failures were
The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis 257
not noticed until too late and the offending managers
had already moved on to better positions
elsewhere. Successes could equally be claimed by
those who had nothing to do with them. Success
could thus be claimed by those with the loudest
voice, the most influence and the best political skills.
Corporate Psychopaths have these skills in abundance
and use them with ruthless and calculated
In this way, the whole corporate and employment
environment changed from one that would hold the
Corporate Psychopath in check to one where they
could flourish and advance relatively unopposed.
As evidence of this, senior level remuneration and
reward started to increase more and more rapidly
and beyond all proportion to shop floor incomes and
a culture of greed unfettered by conscience developed.
Corporate Psychopaths are ideally situated to
prey on such an environment and corporate fraud,
financial misrepresentation, greed and misbehaviour
went through the roof, bringing down huge companies
and culminating in the Global Financial Crisis
that we are now in.
Writing in 2005, this author commentating on
Corporate Psychopaths predicted that the rise of
Corporate Psychopaths was a recipe for corporate
and societal disaster. This disaster has now happened
and is still happening. Across the western world the
symptoms of the financial crisis are now being
treated. However, if the Corporate Psychopaths
Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is correct, then
this treatment of the symptoms will have little effect
because the root cause is not being addressed. The
very same Corporate Psychopaths, who probably
caused the crisis by their self-seeking greed and
avarice, are now advising governments on how to
get out of the crisis. That this involves paying
themselves vast bonuses in the midst of financial
hardship for many millions of others, is symptomatic
of the problem. Further, if the Corporate Psychopaths
Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is correct
then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed,
it is only the end of the beginning. Perhaps
more than ever before, the world needs corporate
leaders with a conscience. It does not need Corporate
Psychopaths. Measures exist to identify Corporate
Psychopaths. Perhaps it is time to use them.
When presented to management academics in discussion,
the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the
Global Financial Crisis is accepted as being plausible
and highly relevant. It provides a theory which
unifies many of the individual interpretations of the
reasons for the Global Financial Crisis and as such is
worthy of further development. The message that
psychopaths are to be found in corporations and
other organisations may be important for the future
longevity of capitalism and for corporate and social
justice and even for world financial stability and
longevity. Stemming from this belief that the message
concerning psychopaths in corporations is
important, an aim of this paper has been to get the
work that psychologists have been doing on psychopathy,
and on ‘successful psychopaths’ and
Corporate Psychopaths in particular more widely
known to management researchers and to managers
themselves. In particular the paper presents a theory
concerning the Global Financial Crisis which may
throw considerable light on its origins.
Implications for further research
The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global
Financial Crisis is a theory that would benefit from
further development and research. This research
could be into the personalities and moral reasoning
aptitudes of the leaders of the financial institutions
that are most associated with the Global Financial
Crisis. Simultaneous research into the brain chemistry
and connectivity of these people may prove to
be highly enlightening in helping to establish the
nature and extent of their psychopathy.
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Nottingham Trent University,
Room 621, 6th Floor,
Nottingham Business School, Burton Street,
Nottingham NG1 4BU, U.K.
E-mail: crpboddy@gmail.com
The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis 259

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