This paper was originally written for a class assignment for a college course on creating social change. While the paper was written in 2011, it is still very relevant today.
Predatory Leadership is a cruel legacy we bear because of the successful efforts of a small percentage of the population whose policies and agendas reflect their mental, emotional and subconscious investment into attaining their goals, openly or covertly, by any means, with complete disregard or concern for the impact of their actions upon others. On a personal, domestic, corporate, national and international level, elements of narcissistic behavior pervade all realms of predatory leadership
As a child, I hated hearing about conflict and injustice. As a mediator, I no longer hate conflict; I now understand that, like fire, when used properly, conflict has provided value and motivation for the evolution of humanity. Unfortunately, when conflict is misunderstood and misused, like fire, it can scorch the earth. Many leaders have demonstrated extraordinary skill in using conflict to control, manipulate, divide and negatively motivate their constituents.
Fifty years ago, at the age of fourteen, I graduated from the comics’ page to the front page of the local newspaper and found myself aghast at the incomprehensible malevolence and ignorance employed by leaders around the world who appeared either incapable or disinterested in resolving humanity’s worst problems including war, famine, corruption, poverty, racism, misogyny and systemic methods of economic exploitation including slavery and inhumane working conditions. I deeply appreciate the heroic efforts and sacrifices made by millions of people who donate their time, skills, resources and lives to help victims of these catastrophes. Sadly, often their efforts are akin to bandages applied after the damage is done. Until recently, I have never seen a cogent analysis revealing a core contributor to these problems, hence I see no sign of an effective program to identify, contain and fully mitigate the toxic inclinations of those who instigate these problems.
While I worked for over 25 years in the music industry, I never stopped exploring man’s inhumanity to man, gathering stories and studying insights into the psychology of the actors associated with these stories. In 1993, I began to transition out of the music industry and commenced training to become a professional mediator. The training included studies of the various personality types encountered in the practice of mediation. We learned how to work with angry clients, clients in various stages of emotional distress and clients who may be exhibiting symptoms of personality disorders. The worst scenarios involved clients who exhibited signs of narcissism, psychopathy and other types of abusive behavior. They would often be friendly and charming at the outset of the session but fairly soon, they would be employing an arsenal of techniques designed to either savagely discredit the other parties in the dispute or to sabotage any possibility of reaching a mutually fair resolution. The standard instruction when abusive behavior surfaces in mediation is to immediately end the session and refer the clients to get legal help.
Prior to my mediation training, my activist studies were focused on dictators of all types around the world, and on issues that revealed U.S. involvement in supporting and sustaining some of these dictatorships. I read about McNamara’s deceits as he advised Lyndon Johnson to proceed with aggressive tactics in Vietnam (Porter, 2009); Kissinger’s complicity in the brutal Indonesian invasion of East Timor (Burr & Evans, 2001); the involvement of ITT and the CIA in the violent overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile in 1973 (cia.gov, 2012), and the role of the U.S. and the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Banana) in supporting genocidal paramilitary efforts to destroy peasant labor movements in Guatemala (Chollet, 2013). Each of these events resulted in the deaths, and in some cases, torturing of thousands upon thousands of people.
On a separate track, I was motivated by my experiences in mediation to do my own research in the psychology of anti-social personality disorders on a domestic level. I became fairly adept at recognizing a set of behaviors associated with narcissism, psychopathy, sociopathy, domestic violence and child abuse including a lack of capacity for empathy; a lack of capacity for remorse or guilt (conscience); a narcissistic sense of self entitlement, and a mindset on the part of the abuser that he was the only victim in his worldview. The first three symptoms are on a list of twenty traits included in the PCL-R, an assessment tool developed by Dr. Robert Hare to rate degrees of antisocial tendencies (Hare, 1999). The fourth symptom, the victim oriented mindset of the abuser, comes from the work of Patricia Evans (1996), the author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship.
I experienced a significant “Eureka” moment in 2002 while reviewing reports of the behavior of Slobodan Milosevic while he was on trial in The Hague for war crimes. I noted that while he was acting as his own attorney, his behavior towards witnesses on the stand was abusive, threatening and intimidating but when he was on the stand himself, he suddenly became a victim, complaining that he had done nothing wrong and that others were to blame for the crimes for which he was being accused (Kalman, 2002). As a victim, he felt no remorse for the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men, women and children because, as a victim, he was innocent. Everything was somebody else’s fault.
This is exactly the behavior ascribed to abusers in cases of domestic violence. Abusers may say to their victims, “If I hit you, it is your fault; you made me do it.” As the old cliché goes, “a light came on” and I suddenly realized a correlation between domestic violence and international violence. Parents who abuse their children, and spouses who abuse their partners exhibit the same symptoms as dictators who manipulate their countries into war.
Reorganizing my research to integrate this correlation, I came up with the following conclusions:
• Psychopaths comprise one percent of the general population but in positions of power and control, they may occupy four percent or more of those positions (Hare, 2012). Because of their lack of conscience, psychopaths are better equipped to outcompete potential leaders of conscience and compassion for those ultimate positions of power. However, as we have seen in the behaviors of many politicians, winning the race does not mean that you will be a good leader.
• Psychopaths operate along a spectrum of behaviors; often invisible among us, most people do not recognize the early signs of psychopathic behavior; as a result, psychopaths are able to remain invisible as they manipulate their way into relationships and into positions of power. (Kramer, 2012).
• Aberrational behaviors and conditions such as war, slavery, racism and exploitive economic systems may have been originally instigated by psychopathic leaders but over the centuries, these conditions are eventually accepted as normal and inevitable consequences of human behavior. This includes the presumption that in order to be an effective leader in government, politics, and in the corporate arena, one needs to be able to make cold, hard decisions without regard for their impact upon others (Halevy, Chou, Cohen & Livingston, 2011).
Metaphorically, consider the status of the profession of medicine in the twelfth century. Centuries before the invention of the microscope, well meaning doctors knew nothing of the existence of viruses and bacteria. Hence they had no idea they were actually complicit in the spreading of disease. I believe, both as a world traveler and a student of human nature, that on a global basis, most people are kind and well meaning. Our positive traits and our lack of awareness of the early stages of psychopathic behavior make us vulnerable to the machinations of that small percentage of psychopaths among us (Pewsey, 2012). Thus, when it comes to recognizing the symptoms and consequences of psychopathic behavior most of us are still in the twelfth century. We can teach our children to recognize a hot stove, the danger of a car racing down the street and to be wary of a python in our back yard but we don’t know how to protect them from marrying a psychopath, promoting one up the ranks at work, or electing one who will gut the treasury of our local city hall. In short, psychopaths seem to have an innate ability to exploit the best of our humane attributes to enable them to profit from exercising the worst of humanity’s sins.
For many years, I felt alone with these revelations. I suffered somewhat from a deficit of ego. Out of billions people on the planet, how could I think I had found a uniquely cogent explanation for the source of human misery? And, considering myself as a non-alpha male, did I have the ability to inspire and lead others to join me in the monumental task of convincing the world that the knowledge of predatory leadership could lead to solutions to ending it, thus transforming civilization into a friendlier, more nurturing paradigm than we are currently experiencing? Friends found the information intriguing but were not motivated to come aboard and join me in the research. I tried giving the hypothesis away to academics in the hopes they would develop it further. I received positive responses from notable researchers, such as Jean Lipman-Blumen, author of The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We. Can Survive Them (Blumen-Lipman, 2004). As other academics had told me, she felt the hypothesis had merit and deserved further research but it was outside her particular niche of expertise. I eventually realized that I have to become the academic I am seeking.
In the past few years, I have found out that I am not alone. Other researchers do not use the term “predatory leadership” but they have made the correlation between the infestation of psychopaths into all aspects of society and their disproportionate contribution to the relentless and seemingly insurmountable problems plaguing the world today. Andrew Lobaczewski (2006) called it “pathocracy.” Some, such as social scientist Joe Brewer, suggest that there is an evolutionary argument to support the existence of 70,000,000 psychopaths throughout the world and that we would do well to study them from that perspective (Brewer, 2012). Social anthropologist Christopher Boehm (2010) posits that in our earliest prehistoric history when humanity was comprised of small family tribes, the “cheaters” could be recognized early and be marginalized or eliminated before they could do much harm. But when humans began to gather in larger towns and cities, they could quietly and invisibly gather sufficient power and resources to eventually overpower any opposition to their goals.
I firmly believe the hypotheses developed so far in the study of Predatory Leadership can, over time, be helpful as a resource for developing ways to eliminate war, violence, oppression and economic exploitation. At the very least, if taught in age appropriate ways throughout primary and secondary education, they can be applied to greatly reduce the incidence of domestic violence and child abuse. Without this information, humanitarians will be unable to create effective and sustainable solutions for ending humanity’s greatest problems.
I am working on my Bachelor’s in psychology at Walden specifically to support my research and increase the resources in my tool kit to create positive and sustainable change in the human condition. I was very enthused to have found my previous class on Communication for Social Change; it provided strategies and templates for bringing this dialogue into the public forum as a first step towards social change. Successful development in any community requires a multiplicity of approaches at all levels addressing conditions in a manner relevant to people’s needs in those situations (Servaes, 2008, p. 18). As I think about different ways to reach as many people as possible with tools and insights relevant to addressing predatory leadership, I envision myriad approaches including books, articles, comic books, lectures, and social media to name a few. While there are difficult tasks ahead, if we can conquer the affliction of predatory leadership, I fully believe that our descendants will enjoy a quality of life akin to my definition of utopia: a society in which no child is ever denied the opportunity to achieve her or his greatest potential.
Blumen-Lipman, J. (2004). The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians – and How We. Can Survive Them. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Boehm, C. (2010). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism and Shame. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Brewer, J. (2012). How Will the 99% Deal with 70 million Psychopaths? Retrieved from: http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/blog/2012/07/24/how-will-the-99-deal-with-70-million-psychopaths/
Burr, W. & Evans, M. (2001). East Timor Revisited. Retrieved from: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/
Chollet, D. (2013). Historical Background of Guatemala. Retrieved from: http://facultypages.morris.umn.edu/~cholledl/anth1111/guatemala.html
cia.gov. (2012). CIA activities in Chile. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/chile/
Evans, P. (1996). The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation.
Halevy, N., Chou, E., Cohen, T. & Livingston, R. (2011). Nice Guys Finish Last. Retrieved from: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/nice_guys_finish_last
Hare, R. (1999). Without Conscience:The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Hare, 2012). The Wall Street Ten Percenters. Retrieved from: http://www.hare.org/comments/comment2.html
Kalman, I. (2002). Slobodan Milosevic – Bully or Victim? Retrieved from: http://bullies2buddies.com/Articles/slobodan-milosevic-bully-or-victim.html
Kramer, M. (2011). Predatory Leadership. Retrieved from: http://predatoryleaders.com
Lobaczewski, A., (2007). Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes. Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada: Red Hill Press
Pewsey, M. (2012). One of the main tactics a psychopath uses to win the trust of even the most intelligent and intuitive people is what I have come to term the Ice Breaking Technique. Retrieved from: http://inquiringminds.cc/one-of-the-main-tactics-a-psychopath-uses-to-win-the-trust-of-even-the-most-intelligent-and-intuitive-people-is-what-i-have-come-to-term-the-ice-breaking-technique
Porter, G. (2009). McNamara’s mindset. Retrieved from: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=3996
Servaes, J. (2008). Communication for development and social change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.