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Apparently psychopaths make good CEOs

Think about the worst boss you’ve ever had. Did they yell at you for no reason? Did their incompetence make your life worse? Was their vision for the company ruthless and unwavering in a way that was detrimental to their employees but very good for them? Were they charming? Smart? Dangerously upbeat? Surrounded by an inner-circle of lackeys that seemed impervious to their actions while everyone else suffered in silence?

Maybe they’re just difficult. Maybe they’re just extremely driven. Or, maybe, you’re working for a psychopath.

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A panel at SXSW takes on this very topic, presenting the thesis that many successful CEOs in, yes, Silicon Valley share a lot of psychopathic traits that are actually beneficial to running a company.

Here’s psychologist Michael Woodward, a man who has worked with psychopathic murderers in prisons:

A true psychopath is someone that has a blend of emotional, interpersonal, lifestyle and behavioral deficits but an uncanny ability to mask them. They come across as very charming, very gregarious. But underneath there’s a profound lack of remorse, callousness and a lack of empathy.

They have certain characteristics like fearless dominance, boldness and a lack of emotion. Many successful presidents have scored highly [on the psychopathy scale].

Okay, okay, sure, yep, this is bad. Who wants to work for a psychopath? No one. But, according to venture capitalist Bryan Stolle, psychopaths are so prevalent as CEOs because “it’s an irrational act to start a company.” You have to be uncompromising in your vision, which requires a hearty dose of both ego and persistence, and you have to be willing to sacrifice almost everything for success.

If you spin it one way, that’s ambition! If you give it a second and look a little closer, though, the bottom starts to fall out.

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