It’s not often when mental health experts and business management scholars start to sound alike, but a December workshop address by therapist Michael Britton and a recent business ethics article by marketing expert Clive Boddy seem to be very much on the same page. Both address the twisted psychological dynamics driving the current economic crisis.
Our manic economy
In the Don Klein Memorial Lecture at the annual workshop of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network held in December (blog post here), psychologist Michael Britton described our current economic condition in psychological terms.
Our economic system has taken on “bipolar” qualities, said Britton. Using terms and phrases such as “excited,” “frantic,” “crash and burn,” “disregard for reality,” and “disregard for empathy,” he described an economy grounded in constant consumption and concentrations of power.
Britton said that instead of worshipping at the altar of national GDP and high unemployment, we should “reduce resource stripping” and emphasize how everyone can contribute to society and live a “materially decent life.”
Of course, if our economy is psychologically ill, then we should search out the root causes. Clive R. Boddy of the Nottingham Business School believes that the behaviors of corporate psychopaths have fueled the economic crisis.
He makes the case in a 2011 article in the Journal of Business Ethics, “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Business Crisis” (link here). Here are a few snippets:
Although they may look smooth, charming, sophisticated, and successful, Corporate Psychopaths should theoretically be almost wholly destructive to the organizations that they work for.
…Researchers report that such malevolent leaders are callously disregarding of the needs and wishes of others, prepared to lie, bully and cheat and to disregard or cause harm to the welfare of others….
The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations, where they are able to influence the moral climate of the whole organisation and yield considerable power, have largely caused the crisis. . . . (T)he Corporate Psychopath’s single-minded pursuit of their own self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement . . . has led to an abandonment of the old fashioned concept of noblesse oblige, equality, fairness, or of any real notion of corporate social responsibility.
When presented to management academics in discussion, the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is accepted as being plausible and highly relevant. . . .The message that psychopaths are to be found in corporations and other organisations may be important for the future longevity of capitalism and for corporate and social justice and even for world financial stability and longevity.
Felons vs. Bosses
These commentaries echo a 2005 study conducted by psychologists Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon comparing individuals housed in a British psychiatric hospital who had been convicted of serious crimes to managers and executives. As reported by George Monblot for the Guardian (link here):
On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.
The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for.
As 2012 approaches
During the three years I have hosted this blog, I’ve written a lot about the devastating effects that bullying bosses can have on individual psyches and careers. As these commentaries and studies show, many of these individuals also are wreaking havoc on our larger economic and social infrastructures.
Personally, I’ve got nothing against enterprise, entrepreneurship, and even a fair profit. And I’m not looking for a witch hunt of bad managers and executives. Instead, maybe it’s time we use the language of human resources and simply say that our “plans have changed” and that “we’ve decided to go in a different direction.”
Heaven knows it’s time we did so.