Last night Pando Daily ran one of their “Fireside Chats” with the LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, hosted by Rackspace in San Francisco and sponsored by  TriNet and Atlassian.

It was an entertaining evening but also very educational.  Partly because Sarah Lacy, sassy founder of Pando Daily, was not afraid to answer to probing and off the wall questions – “So let’s start with grooming – how do often do you shave to get the stubble look?” – and because Jeff was happy to play along. Sarah got as good as she gave.

Not all of it was a surprise, as Jeff had recently been interviewed by Fortune magazine and his great attitude and philosophies come shining through. But it was great hearing him talk about how he think s about life, management and the vision of LinkedIn.

What came over is that Jeff is a very thoughtful, likeable and charismatic CEO.  In many ways, similar to the founder and Chairman, Reid Hoffman. So a refreshing change from the celebrity, egomaniac CEOs that populate Silicon Valley. We all know who these are and the worrying issue is that the younger up and coming CEOs are using the ego-CEOs as role models. To be successful, you clearly have to behave like and arsehole.

But what is more interesting, or scary, is the startling commonality between the ego-CEO traits and those of psychopaths.

Psychopaths lack empathy, are pathological liars, have an enormous sense of self-worth, are impulsive, irresponsible and won’t accept responsibility for their own actions.

They make up 1% of the total population, 25% of the criminal population. The Psy-Fi Blog in their blog Is your CEO a Psychopath? puts a strong case for as high as 4% of corporate boardrooms have psychopaths as inmates. I haven’t done the exhaustive research, but it feels like this is way too low when you look around the Valley.

Here are some traits to watch out for, or maybe aspire to if you want to make it to the top of the corporate world.

  • They have superficial charm: They are a smooth talker and very charming.
  • They are self-centered and think they are way more important than others, even if in reality they aren’t.
  • They have a need for stimulation and is prone to boredom.
  • Their behavior is deceptive: They lie and cheat without difficulty. They don’t mind being caught.
  • They manipulate others for personal gain.
  • They show little remorse or guilt. Sometimes They’ll say there sorry, just so others will stop bugging her/him.
  • Their emotional response is shallow.
  • They are callous with a lack of empathy. They feels no pity.
  • They lives off others or has a predatory attitude.
  • They have poor self-control.
  • They are promiscuous.
  • They had behavioral problems at an early age already.
  • They lacks the ability to set realistic long term goals.
  • They have an impulsive lifestyle. They are a risk-taker.
  • They behave irresponsibly.
  • They always blame others for their behavior.
  • They can only commit to short term relationships.

As this presentation from the UK’s Institute of Risk Management suggests there are a range of possible problems with psychopaths in the boardroom.  These include risky decision making, unethical behavior and a lack of loyalty to the company and stakeholders: does this sound familiar?  One of the problems with these people is they’re very good at managing upwards – they charm superiors, manipulate peers and abuse subordinates.  Once they get in senior positions it’s easy to see how problems could escalate.

So the argument is that the rise of the mantra of value maximisation, increased corporate instability and the ever increasing turnover of staff has allowed corporate psychopaths to flourish, further reinforced by the desire of the media to find ‘media-friendly CEOs’.  Whilst their PR teams massage their images as cuddly, empathetic leaders they are in fact ruthless and driven. And it appears it is fine line between the focused, driven leader and the psychopath.

But it doesn’t have to be so, as Jeff showed. In fact, it was summarised in his instinctive answer to the final off-the-wall question from Sarah.

What mediocre super-power would you like to have? The answer  – “infinite patience”.

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