A sociopath is, simply, someone who acts without conscience. So can an organisation be a sociopath? After all, it isn’t ‘a someone’ is it!
Well, as far as the law is concerned, a modern corporation is a kind of someone. It has most of the rights and responsibilities that an individual possesses. And a (for-profit) corporation is set up with the goal of acting in its own interest. It cannot be genuinely concerned about anybody, except its shareholders.
The law enforces this position, and has done so as far back as 1916, when Henry Ford was sued by the Dodge brothers. Ford believed that the company was making too much money and had an obligation to benefit the public, employees and customers. The Dodge brothers contended an ‘improper altruism’ motivated Ford, and the court agreed.
Altruism is now permitted…as long as it’s likely to provide direct benefits to the corporation and shareholders! So, for example, over recent years corporate social responsibility has become a way of doing ‘good’ business that has a built-in value to the company, through the halo effect. Still, the short-term, solipsistic, entrenched inward focus of the sociopath is enshrined, both in practice and in law.
Astride this paradigm sits the charismatic, confident leader. We’re convinced by their certainty, impressed by their cool, unemotional strength, inspired by their drive and single-mindedness. We allow them a lie here and there, forgive them their peccadilloes, turn a blind eye if they cheat on those they say they love. For all the talk of alternative leadership models, this character still holds sway. The sociopath has us charmed.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts
When sociopathic behaviour, whether from an individual or an organisation, is accepted as the norm, revered even, it’s hard to see it as corrupting. In fact, it’s hard to see it at all, when it’s hidden in full sight. So our rational mind may not always be able to pin these behaviours down. But human intuition, our gut, our health will all give us clear signals when we’re working with – or within – a sociopath.
Remember – it’s estimated that 1 in 25 of the population are sociopaths, and they generally rise to the top when the societal mindset favours them, as it currently does. If our inner wisdom is contradicting our received wisdom it would be wise to check our sources, and decide which we find more trustworthy.
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