Performance Management Blog

Psychopaths tend not to “procrastinate or take things personally”

The title comment was a one-liner in a SmartPlanet post by Charlie Osborne entitled:

The key to business success: Becoming a psychopath?

It is an interesting thought. You can read her whole article here.

The basic idea covers some research by Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton and his work on success and behavior. He argues that adopting some psychopathic tendencies could be beneficial to your success in life. But remember, this leadership stuff is all about balance!

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Ruthlessnessfearlessnessself-confidencefocus,mental strengthcharm and charisma are all traits of a psychopath according to Dutton and the reality is that these factors are also all competencies for a successful business career.

The tipping point where you become a problem is when, “all these traits are turned up too high, and that’s when you start getting individuals who are dysfunctional.” It then can become an issue of control:


Adopting certain psychopathic characteristics can help many managers improve their performance. Psychopathics, for example, tend not to, “procrastinate or take things personally,” and don’t wallow in regret or sorrow if something doesn’t go according to plan. A lack of empathy can also be useful in certain jobs such as surgery and Human Resources!. (Just kidding about that last comment, I think!)

Dutton believes that many people with these characteristics in balance are suitable for high-profile careers, including CEOs, medical professionals and lawyers — they are necessary for demonstrating confidence and making hard decisions are key to the role. But not everyone goes along with that concept and these people tend not to be good team players as a general rule.

The full article that Charlie references can be found here:

And the picture the BBC uses is this one:

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with the comment: “If this is your manager’s normal behaviour, you may want to consider your career options”

My view is more like Dutton’s in that balanced sociopathic /psychopathic is not that unusual in society, and that some of the more manipulative and power-hungry people DO demonstrate some of these same behaviors though slightly less “enthusiastically.” People normally expressing these kinds of behaviors just have a different way of looking at things and reacting to events and others. They can be “highly functional” in psychological terms — but just not “normal.”

“Successful” politicians will display these sociopathic traits, as these “elected representatives of the people tend to be remorseless at implementing policies in the face of reasonable judgement and doing things like preventing universal healthcare or cutting food stamps or Medicaid benefits to the poorest Americans. Cutting social security, given that more than half of the elderly get most of their income from that program? Not allowing an increase or even eliminating the minimum wage? You be the judge if the discussions of Benghazi (and Clinton) are more important than focusing on improving jobs and the economy.

If you have ever read a text in abnormal behavior, understand that most of us see ourselves as mostly everything crazy. Guess that is only normal. It is only when these kinds of behaviors move to the extreme that there tend to be problems.

Are you hearing voices yet? (grin)

My suggestion is that teambuilding and group processes are very useful in building more normative behaviors and commitments to overall workgroup performance. We offer some of the best team building exercises in the world focused on shared visions, shared goals and collaboration among individuals and workgroups. Check out The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, for example, at our website.

I guarantee you will find it to be a powerful and effective tool for your organizational improvement efforts,

For the FUN of It!

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Scott Simmerman, Ph.D. — a psychologist by degree — is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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1 Comment

  1. binsager

    I have no doubt in my mind that these traits – the very first 7 traits you mentioned – are what it takes to become a leader, and a successful leader they shall become with these qualifications. I see it around work or meetings, or even around random gatherings. The aggressive, disruptive and loud individuals were the ones who didn’t quite cut the mustard. However, those nonchalant, composed characters who seemed aloof at times, yet ooze a vibe of imperviousness – like as if not influenced by intimidation, exasperation or whatever challenge is thrown their way – unsurprisingly got things done their way.


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