University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Shining a Light on the Dark Side: How the Global Financial Crisis Exposed the Dark Side of Leadership

Andrews, Holly, Francis-Smythe, Jan and Jellis, Matthew (2015) Shining a Light on the Dark Side: How the Global Financial Crisis Exposed the Dark Side of Leadership. In: 6th Global Business Conference: The Possible Positive Aspects of Economic Crises, 30th September - 3rd October 2015, Sibenik, Croatia.

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The global financial crisis has had innumerate outcomes around the globe. Whilst most of these are generally perceived to be negative, there are outcomes which could be considered positive for society. One such outcome is the spotlight that the financial crisis has shone on corruption within organisations and in particular, the role that destructive leaders play in the promotion of negative behaviours within organisations. This interest in identifying so-called ‘dark-side’ traits in leaders is a positive step both academically and practically. Academically, there is a limited research examining individuals with ‘dark-traits’ within organisations (Mahmut, Homewood & Stevenson, 2008). Practically, most leader derailment can be attributed to ‘dark-side’ traits and leaders with such traits are implicated in a host of issues for organisations including poor staff morale and satisfaction, bullying, poor levels of productivity, high staff turnover, unethical behaviour and even white collar crime (e.g. Boddy,2010; 2011; Lesha & Lesha, 2012; O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks & McDaniel, 2012; Sanecka, 2013). This paper focuses on one of the ‘dark-side’ traits; psychopathy.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by guiltlessness, incapacity to experience love, impulsivity, shallow emotions, superficial charm and an inability to learn from experience (Cleckley, 1941, 1982). Research has found that individuals with high levels of psychopathy can be found working within organisations and experiencing some degree of career success (e.g. Babiak, Neumann & Hare, 2010; Board & Fritzon, 2005; Boddy, 2010; Lilienfeld, Latzman, Watts, Smith & Dutton, 2014). These individuals are theoretically thought to be attracted to careers which offer power, status and monetary rewards. In particular, the finance industry has been suggested as an ideal work place for the organisational psychopath. Some authors go as far as attribute organisational psychopaths a key role in the financial crisis (Boddy, 2011). However, little research has been conducted to explore whether levels of psychopathy in employees differ across industries and what careers might be most attractive to individuals with high levels of psychopathy.
This paper presents the results of a large scale survey of 265 alumni of universities in the Central England region of the UK. The survey was conducted to assess the link between levels of three factors of psychopathy (Egotism, Callousness and Antisocialism) with occupation as defined by Holland’s RIASEC model. Participants completed Brinkley, Diamond, Magaletta & Heigel’s (2008) revision of Levenson’s Self-Report Psychopathy Scale and responded to questions regarding their current occupation. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to assess whether levels of Egotism, Callousness and Antisocialism were predictive of occupation.
The results showed that when compared to individuals who occupy job roles within the Social sector of Holland’s model, individuals with higher levels of psychopathy were more likely to be employed within Realistic, Investigative, Enterprising and Conventional roles. When comparing Social and Realistic roles, more Egotistical individuals were likely to be employed within Realistic roles. When comparing those employed in Social roles to Investigative, Enterprising and Conventional roles, individuals with higher levels of Antisocialism were more likely to be employed within the latter three occupations than within Social roles.
This suggests that individuals with psychopathy do gravitate towards certain career paths. Social roles where job incumbents are required to be caring and interact with others to a large extent appear to be unattractive to individuals with high levels of psychopathy. Social roles are also associated with lower monetary rewards and are generally less prestigious (Henley, 2001). These individuals instead seek out occupations where there are higher levels of risk, power and reward. Roles in the Realistic category include those which include high levels of risk e.g. fighter pilot, fireman etc., (Cohen, Meir, Segal & Amar, 2003). Investigative careers hold the highest level of prestige and ranking. Enterprising roles include management positions where power is wielded over subordinates and sales roles, where customers can be manipulated (ACT, 2009). Conventional roles include those within the finance industry, which include some of the most financially lucrative positive available (Babiak & Hare, 2006).
The above suggests that individuals with higher levels of psychopathy may be seeking to satisfy their self-centred natures by selecting careers which provide them with high levels of reward in one way or another. Alternatively, these individuals may select roles where their traits can be accepted. The importance of Antisocialism in predicting occupation may be testament to the importance of finding a career which ‘fits’ such traits. Antisocialism is generally associated with negative outcomes in the workplace (Ettner, MacLean & French, 2010). Therefore, finding environments tolerant of antisocial tendencies may be a priority for individuals with high levels of these traits. The results suggest that Enterprising, Investigative and Conventional work environments may be tolerant of Antisocialism in employees and Realistic environments tolerant of Egotism.
Academically, the results show that there is value in studying ‘dark-side’ characteristics in organisations. Individuals with higher levels of psychopathic traits, do not appear to randomly enter employment. Instead, they appear to gravitate to careers which meet their needs and/or tolerate their traits. It is important to further explore what industries and positions are particularly attractive to individuals with higher levels of psychopathy and what makes them attractive to these individuals. Such knowledge is important for practitioners to be able to advise organisations as to the likely level of risk they face of employing organisational psychopaths and to enable organisations which are particularly attractive to highly psychopathic employees to design selection systems which detect undesirable traits in candidates. Furthermore, organisations can examine their culture to assess whether traits such as antisocialism are tolerated (or even rewarded) and what the implications of this are.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Global Financial Crisis, leadership, corruption, psychopathy, organisational psychopathy, occupational choice
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: College of Business, Psychology and Sport > Worcester Business School
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Holly Andrews
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2016 06:41
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 17:12

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