Before his untimely death, Heath Ledger put together an amazing performance as the Joker. He played a psychopath intent on creating mayhem as a part of his personal agenda in his warped sense of reality. We have developed a fascination with psychopathic behavior. Some of the most popular films and shows are focused on psychopathy: CSI, Criminal Minds, Silence of the Lambs, Friday the 13th, etc. We seem obsessed with it.

When this psychopathy leaves the large or small screen and enters our reality, we are appalled by it and can’t imagine how an individual could perpetrate such heinous acts. We become confused why someone would do this in such an arbitrary manner. There is one area in our society where this psychopathic behavior seems to have its place; not by acceptance per se but rather by proxy. Many organizations are the prototypical psychopath.

What makes a psychopath?

  • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
  • Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships
  • Deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit
  • Incapacity to experience guilt
  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors.

Think back about the antics of Charles Manson and read each one of these from that context. Makes sense, right? Now think of a company like Enron or Lehman Brothers and read each one of these from that context. Equally accurate, right? Focus on how your company operates and carries out its day-to-day business and read each one of these from that context. How does your organization fair?

How many of these symptoms does your organization have? How does that make you feel in your gut? Don’t misread this as a fire and brimstone judgment, but rather a way to re-contextualize your perception of your own organization. For example, the “incapacity to maintain enduring relationships” could easily reference your turnover rate. Under the guise and practical application of “It’s just business“, does your organization line up with the “callous unconcern for the feelings of other” in how it expresses this sentiment?

If the dominant institution of the past 100 years eerily resembles the characteristics of a psychopath, who bears the moral responsibility to effect change? An organization isn’t this inanimate entity that has no recourse to change. It’s so much more than walls, office equipment and spreadsheets. It’s a collective representation of the people who make the existence of the organization possible.

The real hope and power rests in the fact that there is always a choice to align with psychopathic symptoms or create a more positive alternative. Re-visit your values and how you choose to express those values. How do the priorities of your organization (based on actual behavior, not intent) perpetuate psychopathic symptoms? What can you do to make any adjustments that would distance your organization from these symptoms?

Profits are great. Growth is nothing short of delicious. Looking like some maniacal tyrant in the process is unacceptable.