Leading Amongst Corporate Psychopaths

When you hear the word psychopath what do you think of? Most people typically think of some of the more famous serial killers like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy, or maybe a Hollywood depiction like American Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But what about the psychopaths that live normal lives amongst the population? They could be your neighbor, your cousin, your coworker or even your significant other. According to the Law Enforcement Bulletin, it is estimated that approximately 1 percent of the general male population are psychopaths alluding that most people already know or will meet a psychopath during their lives (Babiak & O’Toole, 2012). Psychopaths are master manipulators and are skilled in portraying a version of themselves they want their victims to see. This is especially true for a subset of successful psychopaths that Babiak, Neumann, and Hare studied called corporate psychopaths. “Using a sample of 203 corporate professionals from seven companies scattered across the United States, the researchers reviewed records, conducted interviews, and administered the PCL-R, discovering that the prevalence of psychopathic traits was higher than that found in community samples (C & A Bartol, 2021, p. 221).” This research demonstrated what psychologists knew to be true; not all psychopaths commit crime or acts of violence. Hare was famously quoted saying that, “not all psychopaths were in prison, some were in the boardroom (C & A Bartol, 2021, p. 221).”

Since psychopathy is on a continuum and not an identical from person to person, the corporate psychopath may appear differently in each instance. “This personality disorder is a continuous variable, not a classification or distinct category, which means that not all corporate psychopaths exhibit the same behaviors (Babiak & O’Toole, 2012).” Psychopathy is sometimes difficult to identify for even the most skilled law enforcement officer and even psychologists, how is the average citizen going to be expected to recognize this in someone in their lives or their workplace? “According to Drs. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak, corporate executives are about three and a half times more likely to be psychopathic than members of the general public. Positions of power attract a disproportionate number of pathological individuals (not just psychopaths) (Hartley, 2016).”

The concept of corporate psychopaths making their way to the top of businesses has become a common theme in many mainstream media shows and movies. Some that came to mind were The Devil Wears Prada, Office Space, and Horrible Bosses. In each of these movies, it is portrayed in a comical or relatable manner that these highly manipulative and selfish individuals climbed their way to positions of power. Although these movies make light of the situation, this is a very plausible scenario since psychopaths can be highly successful in their professional lives. It is critical that others in leadership positions are able to identify these types of callous and deceptive individuals in order to ensure they do not continue to gain validation or influence.

In my professional career I have almost certainly met individuals that exhibited psychopathic characteristics. As a leader it is your job to protect your team, subordinates, and organization from toxic behavior regardless of how it presents itself. Most psychopaths will initially come off as powerful, smart, charming, and almost too good to be true. An experienced leader may be able to see through the façade, but most people will likely be under their spell initially. Although many of their skills like boldness, quick wit, and charm may initially impress those in a workplace, immediate supervisors, peers, and subordinates will likely see through the mask a psychopath is wearing. Therefore, as a leader it is critical to consider how subordinate and peers view others in your organization.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2021). Criminal behavior: a psychological approach (12th ed.). Pearson.

Paul Babiak, PhD., and Mary O’Toole, PhD. (2012). Law Enforcement Bulletin: The Corporate Psychopath, https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/the-corporate-psychopath

Dale Hartley, MBA, PhD. (2016), Psychology Today: 5 Ways of the Corporate Psychopath, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/machiavellians-gulling-the-rubes/201609/5-ways-the-corporate-psychopath

View all posts


  1. Hi Alexandrea!

    It is fascinating to start reading your post from such a straightforward question. It made me stop reading and first think what image of a psychopath I do have in my mind. I believe the first thought I had were this person being superficially charming (as exactly Ted Bundy was) and deceptively looking so normal since he lacks psychotic visible symptoms and any anxiety. I guess these factors make it so difficult to investigate cases involving psychopaths.

    Truly well written post, in my opinion!

  2. Hello Alexandrea, great post! I think the concept of “corporate psychopaths” is such a good reminder of just how psychopathy can exist on a spectrum, and not all psychopaths are the serial killers and violent criminals that may instinctively come to mind. I read a book a few years ago titled “Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight” by M.E. Thomas that I was reminded of while reading your post. From my memory, Thomas herself was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and rose to a very high corporate/legal position. The book is written entirely from her perspective, and to hear about how she perceives the world is so fascinating – I think her ego and lack of empathy are very clear through her narration, and it is almost off-putting. I believe she would fall into the category of psychopath that you describe, and would definitely suggest the book if you decide to research this topic any further.

    Thomas, M. E. (2014). Confessions of a sociopath: A life spent hiding in plain sight. Pan Books.

  3. Reading your post made me think of what we as a society reward and what we punish. Business ideals have strayed very far from the protection of employees or the customer and instead have moved to a narrative that favors the bosses who undercut and make money at all cost. In a Boston University Social Science class, my professor said there was no such thing as an ethical billionaire. That at some point, they had to have done something to undercut someone else. That they made the decision to put money over everything else. In this sense, I was brought to the conclusion that there are man-made psychopaths and real psychopaths. That we as a society, mold people into the most successful and domineering group because that is what is rewarded. Do you think this inclination to reward psychopathic behavior even in its most minor form has an effect on how they perceive the world around them? Great post!
    – Emiley Garcia-Zych

Comments are closed.