US psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed that people personally develop through six stages and three progressive levels of moral reasoning:
- The lowest Pre-Conventional level of moral development involves people, especially primary school children, making moral decisions based on obedience to an authority figure (obedience and punishment orientation) and the prospect of avoiding punishment before progressing to prioritising achieving their own desires (self-interest orientation).
- The second level is that prevalent in society, hence termed Conventional, associated initially with adolescents gaining the approval of others (interpersonal accord and conformity orientation or ‘good girl/good boy’) and as they progress to adulthood accepting and internalising society’s customs or norms of right and wrong while respecting and abiding by law and order, without deep reflection on their fairness (authority and social-order maintaining orientation).
- The highest Post-Conventional level involves a minority of people who make moral choices based on social contracts from a genuine interest in others and respect for laws which if unjust may need changing (social contract orientation). An even smaller minority progress to the highest level where they can generalise moral principles beyond their own specific interests (universal ethical principles). Such people could be described as being principled and having a social conscience.
Dirty Dozen Traits
Combined from Prof Robert D Hare’s “Without Conscience” & Dr Martha Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door”:
Taking a cross-section of a dozen of the traits identified by Hare and Stout’s many decades of research and clinical experience with those displaying evidence of one or more Personality Disorders and comparing these with Kohlberg’s 3 levels, roughly considered as
(a) avoiding punishment and prioritising self-interest,
(b) appreciating society but rigidly obeying laws & rules with little reflection on fairness, and
(c) universal ethical principles and social conscience beyond personal interests,
would not appear to suggest such people have progressed in their moral development beyond the self-interest level, indeed that associated by psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists with primary school children.
Yet they are nevertheless still chosen for responsible roles throughout global society which their deep irresponsibility and profound disinterest in other people should disqualify them from even consideration for, if only they were less “invisible” by way of many of their observable behavioural traits become better associated with a range of Personality Disorders and indeed a fundamental character flaw, rather than being mistaken for “strength of leadership” which intimidation in its many forms should never be associated with.
Research has proven their inability to experience and respond to fear or anxiety in the manner that most people can (due to a dysfunction in and between areas of the brain including the Amygdala, Ventromedial Pre Frontal Cortex or vmPFC and other elements of the Default Mode Network), neural regions also associated with “empathy” and the related “moral decision-making”, both of which research has unsurprisingly also shown to be impaired in psychopaths.
As they are relatively un-encumbered by (to them inconvenient or irrelevant) matters such as morality, conscience and indeed feelings for other people, they lack the internal behavioural controls which might otherwise prevent them from behaving in a fear-inducing manner towards others, especially impulsively when their self-interest or simply “getting their own way” is threatened, behaviour which many others in society just could not even consider, and certainly not as a matter of routine.
Indeed those who seem to lack a “sense of what may be wrong” may well have “something wrong” with them, even if many others (due to no fault of their own) fail to appreciate what “something wrong” or “something missing” could actually be – a “Personality Disorder” – which (for the moment anyway) can appear to be one of the world’s best kept secrets.
- EMOTIONAL POVERTY/SHALLOW EMOTIONS: This subgroup or cohort of society “seem to suffer a kind of emotional poverty that limits the range and depth of their feelings”, with “no emotional attachments to other people, none at all”, and for whom the “feelings of other people are of no concern”, who are “not genuinely interested in bonding with anyone”, “cannot love”, “cannot worry about other people”, “care nothing for others”, [are as] “cold as ice… with fundamentally scary iciness”, are “incapable of gratitude toward anyone, can derive no real joy from being with [their children] or watching them grow up”.
- LACK OF EMPATHY: whose “profound lack of empathy” contributes to a “stunning lack of concern for the devastating effects their actions have on others”, who are “not deterred by the possibility that their actions may cause hardship or risk for others”.
- LACK OF GUILT & REMORSE: who are “consistently irresponsible with no remorse”, who “can do anything at all without feeling guilty”, for whom “lack of remorse or guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalise their behaviour” and “will greatly minimise or even deny the consequences to others”.
- IRRESPONSIBILITY & DENIAL: who are “unlikely to spend much time weighing the pros and cons of a course of action or considering the possible consequences”, “infamous for their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decisions”, who “shrug off personal responsibility for actions that cause shock and disappointment to [those] who have played by the rules” and “have handy excuses for their behaviour, and in some cases deny that it happened at all”.
- LIVE BY THEIR OWN RULES: who prefer to “make their own rules” and “consider the rules and expectations of society inconvenient and unreasonable”, for whom “obligations and commitments mean nothing” and “do not honour formal or implied commitments to people, organisations or principles”.
- DECEIT AND MANIPULATION: are “deceitful and manipulative”, for whom “lying, deceiving and manipulation are natural talents”, who lie “artfully and constantly with absolutely no sense of guilt that might be given away in body language or facial expression” and “when caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, are seldom perplexed or embarrassed, they simply change their stories”.
- IMPULSIVE AND LACK SELF-CONTROL: who display poor behaviour controls, are impulsive requiring “immediate satisfaction, pleasure or relief”, “do things on the spur of the moment” and are “impulsively aggressive with a reckless disregard for the safety of others” yet can also be sensitive and proud, being “highly reactive to perceived insults or slights”.
- RISK TAKERS with a “preference for risky situations and choices, and their ability to convince others to take risks along with them”,”a greater than normal need for stimulation,” and so “often takes big risks and guiltlessly charms others into taking them too.”
- WINNING & CONTROLLING: who are “intellectually gifted, fabulous at the gamesmanship of business”, for whom the “only thing [they] really want is to win”, for whom “life is reduced to a contest, with other human beings nothing more than game pieces”, who are “brilliant at winning, can dominate and bend others to [their] will” and for whom “playing the game” & “controlling others – winning – is more compelling than anything (or anyone) else”.
- SELF-CENTRED: who “see themselves as the centre of the universe”, with “a narcissistic and grossly inflated view of their own self-worth and importance, a truly astounding egocentricity and sense of entitlement”.
- CHARMING AND ARTICULATE: yet who are “often witty and articulate”, “can be amusing and entertaining”, are “often very likeable and charming”, “fast-talking, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless”, and who use “their charm and chameleon-like abilities to cut a wide swath through society and leave a wake of ruined lives behind them” while “refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem”.
- CONSCIENCE-FREE: who “secretly has no conscience”, “the pesky inner voice that helps us to resist temptation and to feel guilty when we don’t”; whose “most impressive talent is the ability to conceal from nearly everyone the true emptiness of his heart and to command the passive silence of those few who do know”, because “being devoid of conscience is impossible for most human beings to fantasise about” with the consequence that “conscienceless people are nearly always invisible to us”.
These “Dirty Dozen” behavioural traits were extracted and combined (during 2015/16) from a variety of chapters from two highly recommended books on the “hidden” dangers associated with psychopathy, which both Stout and Hare have done a superb job in “revealing” so that “conscienceless people may be less invisible to us”.
None of these dozen combined traits associated with “Disordered Leaders” who (mal)practice “Destructive Leadership” display aspects of humanity which decision-makers would advocate or willingly select in those chosen for any form of supervisory, managerial, leadership or indeed any responsible role in any area of global society, due to their considerable degree of “consistent irresponsibility”.
Yet these are positions in society they are considered to be well capable of not only seeking and holding, but also progressing further personally from, even to the very top of organisations and nations, given that these “charming liars” can be:
“found in every race, culture, society & walk of life.” (Hare)
It was for these and many others reasons, not least having worked with over 50 highly narcissistic people during his own career and seen first hand the harm they can do both to other people and the organisations which employ them, but for 25 years being unaware that the discomfort and trouble they brought and their inability to be loyal to anyone but themselves could be due to a “personality disorder”, which led EBENI chair Julian Clarke to start studying psychology in 2010, personality disorders from 2013 and propose the following definition of a “Disordered Leader” at the US IVBEC Business Ethics Conference in 2019:
“Someone trusted with supervisory, managerial or leadership responsibilities who, due to what may be indicative of a mental and/or personality disorder(s), could be considered to be incapable of consistently responsible, trustworthy, harmonious, prosocial and accountable management or leadership with integrity, including prioritising the interests of stakeholders other than themselves, especially when this may impede satisfying their self-interest.”
(Proposed at the 26th IVBEC or “International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference” entitled “Capitalism and Ethics” held in Dublin in October 2019 by EBENI Chair Julian Clarke during his presentation “The Leadership Fallacy: The Challenge Posed by Self-Centred Leaders”).
Just like it can appear to be well-nigh impossible to tell a selfish person that they may be self-centred, given that they may not be able to see this for themselves, it can be equally difficult to inform someone lacking the wonderful facility of (emotional or affective) empathy that they may be deficient in a quality they may never have possessed.
Indeed one of the aspects of a variety of Personality Disorders is that the disordered person believes that they are entirely normal, believing and blaming the many problems they create for both others and themselves on anything and everyone else, given that:
“his monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder.” (Cleckley, p383)
It is matters such as those subsequently described by Hare (1993) and Stout (2005) and briefly outlined in this “Dirty Dozen” which led the earlier pioneer Prof Hervey Cleckley to write in his seminal work “The Mask of Sanity” (5 editions from 1941-1985):
- “The psychopath’s unreliability and his disregard for obligations and for consequences are manifested in both trivial and serious matters, are masked by demonstrations of conforming behaviour, and cannot be accounted for by ordinary motives or incentives.” (p342)
- “Despite the extraordinarily poor judgment demonstrated in behaviour, in the actual living of his life, the psychopath characteristically demonstrates unimpaired (sometimes excellent) judgment in appraising theoretical situations. In complex matters of judgment involving ethical, emotional, and other evaluational factors, in contrast with matters requiring only (or chiefly) intellectual reasoning ability, he also shows no evidence of a defect. So long as the test is verbal or otherwise abstract, so long as he is not a direct participant, he shows that he knows his way about. He can offer wise decisions not only for others in life situations but also for himself so long as he is asked what he would do (or should do, or is going to do). When the test of action comes to him we soon find ample evidence of his deficiency.” (p346)
- “Be it noted that the result of his conduct brings trouble not only to others but almost as regularly to himself. To take still another point of view and consider him on a basis of those values somewhat vaguely implied by “intellectuality,” “culture,” or, in everyday speech, by “depth of mind,” we find an appalling deficiency.” (p39)
- “I think, however, that the roots of this attitude lie deeper, probably in the core of the psychopath’s essential abnormality – perhaps in a lack of emotional components essential to real understanding.” (p173)
- “His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.” (p386)
- “The psychopath feels little, if any, guilt. He can commit the most appalling acts, yet view them without remorse. The psychopath has a warped capacity for love. His emotional relationships, when they exist, are meagre, fleeting, and designed to satisfy his own desires. These last two traits, guiltlessness and lovelessness, conspicuously mark the psychopath as different from other men”. (p410)
- “He is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters. It is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art. He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humour have no actual meaning, no power to move him… He is, furthermore, lacking in the ability to see that others are moved. It is as though he were colourblind, despite his sharp intelligence, to this aspect of human existence. It cannot be explained to him because there is nothing in his orbit of awareness that can bridge the gap with comparison… He can repeat the words and say glibly that he understands, and there is no way for him to realise that he does not understand.” (p40)
- “The psychopath shows a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions.” (p341)
- “He gives the impression that he is incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves… Typically he is at ease and unpretentious in making a serious promise or in (falsely) exculpating himself from accusations, whether grave or trivial. His simplest statement in such matters carries special powers of conviction. Overemphasis, obvious glibness, and other traditional signs of the clever liar do not usually show in his words or in his manner. Whether there is reasonable chance for him to get away with the fraud or whether certain and easily foreseen detection is at hand, he is apparently unperturbed and does the same impressive job… Candour and trustworthiness seem implicit in him at such times. During the most solemn perjuries he has no difficulty at all in looking anyone tranquilly in the eyes.” (pp342)
- “Let us remember that his typical behaviour defeats what appear to be his own aims. Is it not he himself who is most deeply deceived by his apparent normality? Although he deliberately cheats others and is quite conscious of his lies, he appears unable to distinguish adequately between his own pseudo-intentions, pseudo-remorse, pseudo-love, and the genuine responses of a normal person. His monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder.” (p383)
- “These people called psychopaths present a problem which must be better understood by lawyers, social workers, schoolteachers, and by the general public if any satisfactory way of dealing with them is to be worked out. Before this understanding can come, the general body of physicians to whom the laity turn for advice must themselves have a clear picture of the situation. (p14) Interest in the problem was almost never manifested by the patients themselves. The interest was desperate, however, among families, parents, wives, husbands, brothers, who had struggled long and helplessly with a major disaster for which they found not only no cure and no social, medical, or legal facility for handling, but also no full or frank recognition that a reality so obvious existed.” (Preface – first edition).
- “Few medical or social problems have ever so richly deserved and urgently demanded a hearing. It is still my conviction that this particular problem, in a practical sense, has had no hearing… How to inform their relatives, the courts which handle them, the physicians who try to treat them, of the nature of their disorder has been no small problem… The psychopath presents an important and challenging enigma for which no adequate solution has yet been found.” (Preface)
Those who see nothing wrong in words, deeds and actions which many others couldn’t even countenance, who seem to operate within their own parameters of what may be right and wrong, especially when others may see these as being confused and bizarre but they believe to be entirely normal and the way they have always lived life and dealt with other people, thriving on deceit, manipulation, discouragement, disagreement, disloyalty, dissent, disruption, disharmony and even outright conflict rather than harmonious cooperation, may indeed have something wrong with them.
Yet we continue to make such people leaders, most visibly due to what this research refers to as their “ICE characteristics” of Intelligence, Charisma and Eloquence.
This can be despite:
1 their (possibly delusional yet clever) words lacking any connection with real intent, action or even reality,
2 their charm transpiring to be skin-deep, grandiose, insincere and perhaps even insecure, especially when their extraordinary DISLOYALTY to anyone but themselves surfaces, and when
3 their intelligence lacking any semblance of a genuinely emotional element or interest in anything or anyone but themselves,
given their fundamentally “ICE-cold” nature, lack of warm, caring, sharing emotions and anything passing as EMPATHY, which permits them to act in a quite “RUTH-LESS” manner, which actually translates as “sympathy-free”, not known to be that which most people best respond to.
The salutary lessons to be learned from the crises which “Disordered Leaders” create (and the many often unsung successes achieved by way of cooperation under “Constructive Leaders”) is that:
“As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world is of little or no value, if none of it is emotional.”
Why do we continue to trust those with responsibility for the lives and emotions of others, who cannot even seem to manage their own?
Indeed for some in society, the question needs to be asked whether self-interest is a rational choice or a “state of mind”, a cognitive prerogative which appears to impulsively over-ride all other mental processes, irrespective of the consequences for other people, the entity (mis) led and (extraordinarily) even themselves?
It is for reasons such as these that at the 2019 US IVBEC business ethics conference EBENI Chair Julian Clarke proposed at least FIVE STEPS which the rest of society needs to take to protect itself from such people, especially when holding responsible roles including leadership:
- IDENTIFY these abnormal people, by way of their own “Destructive Leadership” behaviour, as being different from the norm,
- STOP them achieving positions of influence & responsibility throughout global society, or if already in situ
- LEARN how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”),
- ADAPT to (not) respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions & reactions (evident due to their “maladaptive” inflexibility), to
- MINIMISE the damage & havoc they will inevitably create and preferably replace them with far more responsible people who do meet the “Constructive Leadership” criteria, knowing they will “do whatever it takes” and go to any lengths irrespective of the consequences to maintain the power they should never have been trusted with in the first place.
“Cleckley’s Dozen” extracted during 2017 from:
Cleckley, H. (1976). The Mask of Sanity. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby.
with further extracts here.
“Dirty Dozen” extracted and combined during 2015/16 from:
Stout, Martha, 2005: The Sociopath Next Door, Broadway Books / Random House
Hare, Robert D, 1993: ‘Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us’, Simon & Schuster & Guilford Press, 1999