We love our heroes. In sports, it’s Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Exploration? Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook. Business? Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch are revered by millions. No matter how fast, far or rich, how ruthless, mercenary or arrogant – it seems we can’t get enough.
The question is, are we creating heroes or monsters?
In the play Antigone, Sophocles draws Creon as an autocratic dictator, interested only in political order and public obedience to the state. His stubbornness renders him unable to feel the injustice of his decree and ultimately rewards his blindness with personal tragedy.
Could it be that Sophocles is asking us to question the qualities of unwavering focus, resolve and commitment – celebrated by many as being vital attributes of effective leadership (Avolio, 1999)? Qualities which in the case of Creon, may also be categorised as sociopathic or even psychopathic (Babiak & Hare, 2006).
Sub-clinical socio/psychopathic traits such as narcissism, impulsivity, superiority, low-empathy and self-promotion are ironically also those that may assist individuals in rising to the top of the corporate or government ladder (Boddy, 2009). Paradoxically, these traits are often accompanied by the more positively held attributes of charisma, ambition and opportunism (Andrews & Furniss, 2009).
As our leaders become ever more exposed and scrutinised, important questions arise concerning the way in which we encourage, promote and celebrate leadership. Research on the link between psychopathic behaviour and leadership abounds (Pech & Slade, 2007), with many calling for a complete re-think of our societal addiction to hyper-masculine role models (Bennis, 2007).
By rewarding the above behaviours with fame, money and adoration, are we unconsciously guaranteeing for ourselves leaders for whom the line between right and wrong is forever blurred? Are we right to place the blame on the individuals who rise to the top under such a system, or should we accept collective responsibility for creating them in the first instance?
As we move from an industrial-age, hierarchical and militaristic model of leadership towards a creative, collaborative and egalitarian style, is it time for us to re-define our expectations of 21st Century leadership?
Andrews, H., & Furniss, P. (2009). A successful leader or a psychopathic individual? Management Services, 53(4), 22-24.
Avolio, B. (1999). Full leadership development: Building the vital forces in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Babiak, P. & Hare, R.D. (2006). Snakes in Suits, When Psychopaths Go To Work, Harper Collins: New York.
Bennis, W. (2007). Challenges of leadership in the modern world. American Psychologist, 62(1), 2-5.
Boddy, C.R. (2009). Corporate Psychopaths in Australian Workplaces: Their Influence on Organisational Outcomes, Curtin University of Technology: Perth, Australia.
Pech, R.J., & Slade, B.W. (2007). Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why? Society and Business Review, 2(3), 254-269.