No, your boss isn’t a psychopath: Iowa State assistant professor contributes to CEO study


Photo courtsey of the Iowa State news service

Marcus Credé, assistant professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers from the University of Alabama to investigate claims regarding CEOs and psychopathic tendencies. 

Megan Teske

A study involving an Iowa State assistant professor has discovered that the claims saying one in five CEOs are psychopaths are false.

Marcus Credé, Iowa State assistant professor of psychology, along with Peter Harms and Karen Landay from the University of Alabama, recently conducted a study to find out if the myth that 20 percent of CEOs are actually psychopaths is true.

“There’s a psychopath, and then there are psychopathic tendencies,” Credé said. “We were interested in people who score a little bit higher on some characteristics [of psychopathy].”

Credé said psychopathic tendencies are characteristics such as a lack of empathy, impulsiveness and fearless dominance, which means they do not really experience fear as much as regular people do, especially in social situations. Psychopaths are comfortable with telling people what to do and taking over leadership positions.

The study was conducted by doing a meta-analysis, which includes reading all previous information and studies regarding the topic and using the findings to get a new viewpoint. Credé and his colleagues used what he called the ‘puzzle pieces’ from past studies and put them together to reach their conclusion.

After looking at 92 different studies and tens of thousands of people in leadership positions, they found that the relationship between having psychopathic tendencies and becoming a leader, or being effective at it, was a pretty weak relationship.

“There was a little bit of a pattern,” Credé said. “If you have higher levels of psychopathic tendencies, it makes it a little more likely that you become a leader, and makes it a little less likely that you are judged to be good at being a leader.”

Credé and his colleagues also found men are getting away with these tendencies more than women are, and women tend to get punished more for their lack of empathy. The reason for this is because society still expects women to be more empathetic, and when they’re not, it seems abnormal, whereas there is not an expectation for men to be empathetic.

The study also showed people tend to be reluctant to come forward about their bad bosses and their behavior. The study found that there is a history of people getting punished for coming forward and losing their jobs, so people think they should just deal with it rather than speak up.

Credé found this kind of behavior is not good for the employees working for them, and it can have toxic effects like an increase in stress, burn out and psychological downfalls.

“[Stopping this behavior] has to happen at the hiring stage,” Credé said, “looking out for those behaviors and be aware of those behavior patterns and say we’re not going to hire these people or if we do hire them not promote them to a level of management.”

Overall, Credé said the outcome of the study came slightly as a surprise to the team.

“We expected [the relationship] to be stronger,” Credé said. “But we were also pleased that it didn’t turn out that way.”