LEADERS, POLITICIANS, AND PSYCHOPATHS

Kevin Dutton does not present us with the most inspiring opening sentence in an article about leadership, but it certainly captures our attention.  But then again, with an article title of, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised (Scientific American October 2012, pp. 76–79):

“Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders.” (p. 76)

Dutton’s article derives from his new book of the same title.  His work explores the overlap behaviors or characteristics of various leaders and politicians with outright psychopaths.  He shares some gripping examples:

1—Saddam Hussein, moments before his execution, states stoically to one of the attending staff, “Do not be afraid, doctor. . . . This is for men.” (p. 76)

2—A brilliant neurosurgeon with a laser-like focus on his intense work to the point of refusing to engage with his patients emotionally, states, “I have no compassion for those whom I operate on. . . . That is a luxury I simply cannot afford.  In the theater I am reborn: as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw.” (p. 78)

3—Jon Moulton, one of London’s finest venture capitalists, in discussing his personal attributes that render him so successful, identifies one of them as insensitivity.  In his words, the most attractive thing about insensitivity is, “it lets you sleep when others can’t.” (p. 79)

Wow!  So where do we go from here?

The way I see Dutton’s work is not that we should all become psychopaths if we want success.  Rather, as successful people, we just might happen to share certain characteristics with psychopaths.  But that is unavoidable.  Some psychopaths drive cars, some are pretty or handsome, some shop at Wal-Mart, some like to swim, some work in zoological research, some use iPhones, and we could go on and on.

Therefore, we should not necessarily feel apprehension or shame for possessing any of the characteristics that have contributed to our success.  Dutton simply reminds us certain skills can be harnessed by the noblest or evilest among us.  Do not let Dutton’s thesis condemn all of us who seek success.

Rather, simply and significantly recognize the moral and ethical obligation we all have to use all our skills in the noblest manner possible.  That is the most important outcome.  I find that tends to be a fulltime job, don’t you?





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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger.

I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.


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