Psychopaths Achieve More Professional Success According to Science

According to psychologist Robert Hare, 1 in 100 people meet the criteria for psychopathy. However, beware, because many of these men and women end up being our bosses at work.
Psychopaths Achieve More Professional Success According to Science
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Manipulators, creators of lies, experts in seduction, lovers of risk, and narcissists. We all know people like this. In fact, you probably see one or more every day at work. Apparently, this is no coincidence. Because science claims that psychopaths achieve more professional success.

Robert Hare is possibly one of the most prominent figures in the study of the psychopathic personality. He’s written books like The Wisdom of Psychopaths and he established the PCL-R scale for evaluating this factor. In fact, this doctor of psychology and emeritus professor at the University of British Columbia claims that 1 in 100 people meet the criteria for psychopathy.

Furthermore, some studies claim that it’s common to find this kind of personality in the highest positions of organizations. This has been an accepted fact since the 1980s. However, nowadays, we recognize the need to develop more empathetic and skilled leaders with qualities of emotional intelligence.

“Society can’t defend itself from psychopaths, they’re the ones who make the rules.”

-Robert Hare-

Co-workers on which psychopathic personalities achieve more professional success

Why do psychopaths achieve more professional success?

If there’s one thing that defines the world of organizations and business, it’s uncertainty. That and competitiveness. This has long led to the assumption that certain leadership characteristics are the most suitable in such contexts. For example, it’s understood that having a leader who takes risks, and who’s cold, persuasive, and controlling brings greater benefits to a company.

The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan conducted research in which it coined the term ‘corporate psychopathy’. This concept helps us to highlight and try to understand why psychopathic personalities tend to achieve more professional success.

Let’s take a closer look.

Psychopaths have ‘qualities’ that allow them to climb the corporate ladder

As we mentioned earlier, a psychopath may be more successful in being selected for high positions due to the fact that, to this day, there exists a completely wrong idea of what a good leader is. Indeed, these harmful profiles remain prevalent in many organizations today.

As a rule, these are the supposed qualities that drive psychopaths towards greater professional success:

  • They’re highly competitive and fearless.
  • They stay calm under pressure.
  • They’re the kinds of managers who prioritize reason over emotion.
  • Their lack of empathy allows them to make quick decisions. Furthermore, they always prioritize the needs of the company over those of human capital.
  • Their guidance is always instrumental. In other words, they only seek to obtain benefits.
  • They don’t hesitate to take risks.
  • They use any means to achieve a goal, even if it’s unethical.
  • They’re great architects of lies and manipulation.
  • They’re often viewed from the outside as organizational experts. That’s because they’re charismatic and know how to win people’s trust through being dishonest.
  • They’re good communicators with the gift of theatricality.
  • They know how to control their work teams. However, that control is based on authoritarianism.

One of the reasons psychopaths achieve more professional success is because of their insatiable hunger for power.

As a matter of fact, psychopaths never stop competing. For instance, while other people may weigh up other factors, like their family, when choosing whether or not to accept a promotion, the psychopath only considers themselves.

People with psychopathic traits are great social chameleons. They don’t hesitate in adjusting their personality to fit with whom they’re interacting. This allows them to use manipulation to their benefit.

Angry man symbolizing that psychopathic personalities achieve more professional success

The psychopathic leader: Ethical problems and business failures

It’s true that psychopaths achieve more professional success. However, there are nuances that must be taken into account. For example, the lack of empathy, fearlessness, and cold mentality that makes them take risks has an undeniable cost for the organization. In fact, corporate psychopathy directly affects the emotional and social climate of a company, to the point of jeopardizing its stability.

A bad leader is like a bad captain of a ship: they’re more likely to end up adrift or shipwrecked. For this reason, the characteristic of good leadership should be completely reformulated. As a matter of fact, the psychopath isn’t suitable for any work or professional scenario.

Psychopaths achieve more professional success, but can cause a company to fail

We know that psychopathy manifests itself differently between the sexes. For example, men tend to exhibit an ‘antisocial pattern’ and women a more ‘histrionic’ profile. Nevertheless, both have a serious impact on the rest of the workforce. This is because:

  • They tend to apply harassing, intimidating, and threatening behaviors.
  • Their leadership raises stress and anxiety levels of the employees. Consequently, productivity is reduced.
  • Their treatment of staff is unequal.
  • They experience difficulty in forming teams.
  • They’re often hostile and aggressive.
  • They end up losing the trust of their employees and colleagues.
  • They often make high-risk and unethical decisions. This has serious consequences for the company itself.

It’s true that corporate psychopaths gravitate in many organizations, especially the most prestigious ones. However, in the long run, their personality and behaviors are more counterproductive than beneficial.

Therefore, it’s high time we looked at other types of leaders. Leaders who are more empathetic, intuitive, and democratic and are skilled in emotional intelligence.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

    • Eisenbarth, H. (Interview) Do people with psychopathic tendencies achieve more career success?, December 7, 2021.
    • Eisenbarth, H., Hart, C. M., Zubielevitch, E., Keilor, T., Wilson, M., Bulbulia, J., … & Sedikides, C. (2022). Aspects of psychopathic personality relate to lower subjective and objective professional success. Personality and Individual Differences, 186, 111340.
    • Lasko, E., & Chester, D. (2020, April 24). What Makes a ‘Successful’ Psychopath? Longitudinal Trajectories of Offenders’ Antisocial Behavior and Impulse Control as a Function of Psychopathy.
    • Irtelli, Floriana & Vincenti, Enrico. (2017). Successful Psychopaths: A Contemporary Phenomenon. 10.5772/intechopen.70731.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.