Corporate psychopaths: motivation is about being firm but fair not ruthless and rude

A few years ago the Journal of Business Ethics published an article on “corporate psychopaths”, identifying several senior figures in the financial sector as typifying this approach to management.

Examples of such people exhibiting this rude, ruthless and cold-blooded behaviour include Dick Fuld, former, former CEO of the Lehman Brothers, and, the late Steve Jobs in the earlier days of Apple.

However, particularly when a business is in difficulty and hard decisions may have to be made for it to be restructured to survive, it is often necessary to have the support of employees if changes are to be implemented.

More than 20 years of research by Professor Christine Porath of Georgetown University have shown that actually to get the best out of people, regardless of whether a business is in trouble or doing well, shouting, rudeness and lack of empathy from the business’ leaders is actually counter-productive.

Her evidence has shown that this kind of aggressive behaviour can result in higher staff sickness rates, can stifle creativity and can also affect staff retention.

Shouting at people, she says: “robs people of focus and they don’t perform”. Frankly it undermines them and will not get their support even when shouting appears to work.

While it may be understandable that the senior management and CEO of a business under pressure will be worried and stressed and therefore prone to aggression, such behaviour is not likely to help the business to recover.

Firm but fair is likely to go further towards getting the best out of others, whatever the situation, than being ruthless and rude.

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