Narcicists, Psychopaths and Other CEOs

Wed, Oct 26, 2016

Coaching, leadership, risk, Winning


There is ample evidence that recruiting and vetting a new leader is, at best, a 50/50 proposition (fewer than 1 in 2 perform to expectations), even when an intense effort is carried out. Why is that?

My Vistage CEO Peer Advisory Board has years of top-grading their leadership teams with new C-suite executives and two have recruited successors and moved to Chairman. They confirm the 50/50 nature after taking unique steps (e.g., after signing an NDA, candidates were asked to prepare and present to the board their stratplan for the company; dinners were help with spouses and board members; screening included behavioral interviewing about moral choices, stress, and conflict; essays were written about pros and cons of working for the founder and more). Why is the record so fraught?

Some of my private equity deal partner clients report a similar belief that selecting a new CEO, sometimes a first-time CEO but even a serial CEO is chancy. Why?


Prof. Furnham has authored 60 books! Most are on subjects of psychology and leadership; over decades he has amassed considerable insight and wisdom by consulting and coaching to major league companies and leaders. After an initial discussion of narcissists and psychopaths and the number of CEOs in prison (really!!), after a conversation about what traits can and cannot be coached and improved, we turned to the subject of vetting. 

Here are a few notes from our exchange at a small gathering sponsored by my friends at Halkyut (a research and advisory firm) who themselves have developed and are continuing to develop a body of work in leadership behavior and behavior modification (see below).

  1. Over-focus on desired abilities and traits vs. “de-railers:” traits and experiences that can lead to catastrophic impacts on people as well as decisions
  2. Over-focus on self-reporting by the candidate in interviews and documents vs. vetting “every which way.” There are all sorts of sources of data and more than one type of practitioner to do the exploration. By way of illustration:
    1. Personality profiles (e.g., Berkman, Enneagram, Imprint) that identify strengths that can be de-railers
    2. Background check companies who can identify “signals” worth follow up in public records
    3. Reference checks by more than one type of questioner and with more than one type of reference with different perspectives (e.g., people lower down in the candidate’s company)
    4. Interview questions more likely to lead to useful disclosures (questions about long term relationships – successes and failures, failures at work, conflict at work, worries, complements they most want to hear, criticism with which they have the most problem, even traffic violations). Professor Furnham was subjected to a 30 minute interview by an intelligence agency – the experience confirmed how much ground can be covered in 30 minutes with the right questions.
  3. Not enough people (from the company seeking the leader) engaged in the process who possess elevated emotional intelligence, intuition and an understanding of company culture


My friends at Halkyut have developed a global practice in “human intelligence (finding out what people are thinking)” but in a broader field of leadership behavior and HR. Here is what Wikipedia has on them(the Haklyut website has contact information):

Re Haklyut

That’s just my view. What’s yours?




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What Made jack welch JACK WELCH

How Ordinary People Become
Extraordinary Leaders

by Stephen H. Baum (Random House)

Most leaders of American companies started out as ordinary people. What prepared them for the top job?

Countless more ordinary people of equal talent never developed the leadership core required to run the show. Why not?

"Lessons for life about the core leadership traits of character, risk taking decisiveness and the ability to engage and inspire followers."
--Jim Clifton, CEO, The Gallup Organization


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