There is some research to support the proposition that personality traits that are particular to sociopaths are very similar to ones demonstrated by strong leaders. I went on the net again to find just such research to see whether politics attracts people who aren’t ethical or whether people lose their ethics by being involved in politics,
Some research out of Emory University found that the character trait of Fearless Dominance that is normally associated with sociopathy may predict presidential performance.
“Certain psychopathic traits may be like a double-edged sword,” the study’s lead author Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory, said in a written statement. “Fearless dominance, for example, may contribute to reckless criminality and violence, or to skillful leadership in the face of a crisis.” “Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths.”
This would explain why we end up with so many ethical scandals in politics. They’re all like that and it just takes a little time for problems to become visible.
But politicians are only one type of leader and there are all sorts of leadership situations that may not for instance require Fearless Dominance as a personality characteristic.
Back to the old issue of causality then. Do you need to be a sociopath to be a political leader or do you become a sociopath from being a politician? And furthermore, do you need to be a bit of a sociopath to be any other type of leader?
From time to time a leader comes along who has their finger of the pulse of society – makes decisions and creates policies that benefit the majority. We tend to dislike or lack confidence in these leaders at first, but time can prove that their choices were the correct ones, and we celebrate their legacy once they are gone. We can even overlook their fallacies (i.e. Jack Leyton and the “Massage Parlour,” Bill Clinton and his strange penchant for cigars, JFK and Marilyn Monroe – can you blame him!) as they are generally harmless moral infringements that the opposition will spin into catastrophic offenses.
We will find that the “sociopathic” (not a term to be used lightly) leaders reach the top position because it is close to impossible for them to follow. They have no tolerance for uncertainty, so are easy to get behind because of their decisiveness and charisma – in the beginning. Once the precedent is set, buckle up for the glaringly obvious risky decisions, ones fraught with collateral damage that there will be plenty of scapegoats for. The kind of leader with a “If you’re not with me, you’re against me” philosophy.
I think of Alexander the Great. History reveres him to be a great scholar and explorer – and he was. But other research suggests he was a terrible tyrant – focused solely on expanding an empire without much thought of the risks to his human capital.
While one’s legacy can be manipulated, the truth always tends to surface. My question to all the leaders is, do you want to be celebrated at first and hated at the end (Julius Caesar, Richard Nixon, Hitler), or greeted with uncertainty, but leave a legacy of greatness (Margaret Thatcher, Pierre Trudeau)?
Today’s leaders cannot afford to be the prior (thank you news media). The massive ego that takes these “Sociopaths” to the top can also be their demise (J. Clifford Baxter – Enron).
I would reply by quoting the legend of Icarus but Seth Godin has ruined that for all time.