Saturday, August 1, 2009

Defensive Sociopathic Behavior

This week at the office was difficult and long.  Three events which I caused created an enormous amount of trouble.  Two of them were for a very good reason, and the other was for a very bad reason.  As we evaluate our personal behavior, the litmus test for performance is the “repeat offender” quiz.  Could this event occur again?  If I had the chance to do it over, would I change what I did?

Regardless of how well we perform, even making the right decisions can be stressful as we evaluate personal needs vs. corporate needs.  In my own case, I didn’t sleep much last week.  When I spoke with a friend about it, he cautioned me against taking such events too personally.  He’s right in many ways.  The higher a person’s responsibility, the more stress they will encounter during the course of making decisions…even if they are the right decisions.  A good leader who becomes paralyzed as a result of making difficult but necessary decisions is destined for burnout.

On the other hand, meltdowns at large companies such as Enron and Tyco have elicited the same question from different people: “How do such self-righteous, uncaring people become CEOs?"  In light of my week and the advice I outlined above, is it really possible for someone who doesn’t exhibit some of these behaviors to be an effective CEO?  How long would it take them to burn out? 

Robert Hare, creator of the Psychopathy Checklist observed that a surprising number of corporate executives scored quite high when his checklist was applied to them.  Are these officers sociopathic before they become powerful, or do they change as they gain power?  What if the sociopathic behavior displayed by corporate officers is defensive?  Is it possible that they endure so much stress that their defense mechanism is to stop allowing themselves the luxury of stress?

Incidentally, Mr. Hare has written a book about his observations titled Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To work.  Perhaps he should consider writing a book about environments that foster psychopathy as well!