Ever wonder what leads a lavishly compensated C.E.O. to cheat, steal and lie? Perhaps he’s a psychopath, and now there is a test, the B-Scan 360, that can help make that determination. The B-Scan was conceived by Paul Babiak, an industrial psychologist, and Robert Hare, the creator of the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathic features in prison inmates. The B-Scan is the first formalized attempt to uncover similar tendencies in captains of industry, and it speaks to a growing suspicion that psychopaths may be especially adept at scaling the corporate ladder.
Indeed, Babiak and Hare could not have chosen a more propitious moment to roll out the B-Scan, which is now in the trial stage. The recent rash of damaging corporate scandals — combined with legislation making boards far more liable for executive malfeasance — has given companies good reason to screen current employees more rigorously.
According to Babiak and Hare, white-collar psychopaths are not apt to become serial rapists or murderers. Rather, they are prone to being ”subcriminal” psychopaths: smooth-talking, energetic individuals who easily charm their way into jobs and promotions but who are also exceedingly manipulative, narcissistic and ruthless. The purpose of the B-Scan is to smoke out these ”snakes in suits.”
The individual being evaluated does not actually take the test. Instead, it is given to his or her superiors, subordinates and peers. They rate the subject in four broad categories — organizational maturity, personal style, emotional style and social style — and 16 subcategories, like reliability, honesty and sincerity.
Babiak and Hare say that decisions to promote or dismiss ought not to be made on the basis of the B-Scan alone and that it is possible, with good coaching and training, to turn a talented executive with mild psychopathic tendencies into an effective manager. They acknowledge too that strong corporate leadership may require a certain degree of guile, egoism and callousness.
But they point out that the frenzied nature of modern business — the constant downsizing, the relentless merging and acquiring — provides a very fertile environment for havoc-wreaking psychopaths, who thrive on chaos and risk-taking. As Hare put it in one interview, ”If I couldn’t study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock Exchange.”
The thing is, the people commissioning these tests are going to be largely psychopaths themselves, if they’re typical CEOs…