What are the characteristics of a psychopath

Are People With Psychopathic Traits Better Business Owners?

When we hear the word psychopath, vivid images of Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates immediately appear in our mind's eye. But at this point it should be said that psychopaths are not necessarily bloodthirsty killers who enjoy murdering us in the most brutal way possible. Despite the negative connotation of the term, researchers keep coming to the conclusion that people with psychopathic traits are better entrepreneurs. But why is that so?

A list as an identification tool

The methodological way to diagnose a psychopath has often been through the Hare checklist. Based on the characteristics listed there, the expression of these in patients is examined. Of course, the tool does not lead to a reliable diagnosis, but it can provide important clues. Here is a selection of the most common characteristics of psychopaths:

  • Quick wit and superficial charm
  • Cocky self-awareness
  • Constant need for stimuli and suggestions
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning
  • Manipulative Skills
  • Lack of remorse and guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Early behavior problems
  • impulsiveness
  • No realistic long-term goals
  • Parasitic lifestyle at the expense of others
  • Frequently changing sexual partners

What do entrepreneurs and psychopaths have in common?

A study by the Australian Business School links psychopathic properties with those of entrepreneurs. The willingness to take risks in two groups was compared: entrepreneurs and people with psychopathic tendencies. In fact, the results show some similarities. Participants in both test groups did not care whether they succeeded in the task or not. Despite mishaps, they were not deterred and kept trying, regardless of the consequences. Even if the consideration of the willingness to take risks is quite interesting, the study must be viewed with caution. It is very one-sided and does not include other characteristics.

Nevertheless, the field seems to interest many psychologists and private individuals. For example, author Jon Ronson described in his book that four percent of CEOs have psychopathy. That is four times more than the population average. And other research shows that one in 25 CEOs has psychopathic traits.

The psychopath's recipe for success

Another study was carried out by Mary Ellen O’Toole, advisor to the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. This examined why psychopaths seem to be so successful in professional life. One of their strengths is clearly their talent for manipulation. Because of this, psychopaths are sales talents and are recognized more quickly as leaders. This, coupled with cunning, creates a mask that blinds employees to the psychopathic quirks. In addition, the risk gives psychopaths a kick. They often seem fearless and determined when making decisions and are more likely to start their own businesses. The study also shows the advantages and disadvantages of the psychopathic properties:


  • Better handling of pressure due to lack of emotions
  • To be seen as a visionary through excessive ambitions


  • No long-term goals for the company due to impulsiveness
  • Lack of empathy towards employees

In general, the problem is that certain properties are misinterpreted by outsiders. And so it happens that employees see good leadership qualities in psychopaths, even though these are just a facade.

Do we have to fear psychopaths everywhere now?

But be patient before the conspiracy theorists rush off and test themselves and their superiors for psychopathy. The whole thing is a sensitive topic and therefore cannot easily be generalized. Even if some of the characteristics of the hare list apply to you or your boss, that doesn't immediately reveal a psychopath. In any case, a diagnosis can only be made by a trained expert. Also, it is often the case that a person does not have all of the features on the list, or none of them. Therefore, such a self-test is not very meaningful. Furthermore, the term psychopath is highly controversial among experts. This is because this does not represent a sufficient description. Instead, the research focus should rather be placed on the field of personality disorders.

Ultimately, we probably all find psychopathic properties in us. We only have to be concerned when our boss suddenly calls himself Norman Bates and opens a motel.