Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

Qualities of a CEO


When you think of a CEO, what personal qualities come to mind?

On the positive side, CEOs are typically smart, energetic, focused, driven, and hardworking. But so are a lot of people who don't rise to power. We know those qualities alone won't get you to the very top, at least for 98% of the people with talent and drive.

As a  typical CEO, you might be drawn to high risks. You might possess a good dollop of narcissism, and be fairly high up on the sociopath scale. Greed helps too. And I would imagine that a flexible view of ethics comes in handy. In other words, mental illness is the active ingredient that distinguishes the merely capable from the highly successful. The more mental illness the better, as long as it is the kind that is compatible with capitalism.

Suppose you put the following proposition to two talented young people: You can be a CEO someday, but the price is that you will have two failed marriages and you will barely know your own kids. You will fire dozens or even hundreds of people over your lifetime. Your success will come at the direct expense of others. And your pay will have more to do with your weasel skills at manipulating the board of directors than the long term health of the company. You will move several times, to the distress of your family and friends. On the plus side, you will be rich and respected.

What kind of young person takes that deal? Is it the person with good mental health who wants a life of balance and meaning, or is it the risk-taking, narcissistic sociopath?

We all want the good parts of being a CEO, especially the money and respect, but we could do without the mental illness. Unfortunately, if you want the top job, you're competing against risk-taking, narcissistic sociopaths who are just as smart and hardworking as you are. Some of them will self-destruct, but like the zombie apocalypse there will always be another coming at you. In the long run, the crazies always run the show.

I'm the CEO of my own company now (the Dilbert business), and that required me to work a ten year stretch, for about twelve hours a day, without a day off. Does that sound like good mental health to you? And had I stayed in the corporate world, I would have employed all of my mental dysfunctions toward clawing my way into the executive suite. I'm not too proud to admit I probably have just the right mixture of mental problems to pull that off:

Risk taking? (Check!)

Narcissism (I have the perfect amount!)

Sociopath (I call it compartmentalizing!)

Flexible moral compass (Yay for capitalism!)

OCD (It will look like hard work to you!)

I'll concede that many CEOs are nice people with perfectly acceptable mental health. But I know most of you are reading this post and nodding your heads when I say your chances of becoming a CEO are better if you have some mental abnormalities to complement your natural talent.

So, given this context of mental abnormalities in CEOs, what is the biggest question in the news this month? Answer: "How can we get more women into leadership positions?"

The lack of female CEOs has to do with a number of factors including sex discrimination, social conditioning, and the glass ceiling. But I would think some of it has to do with the fact that more men than women have mental health problems of the specific sort that are compatible with capitalism.

I'm enjoying Sheryl Sandberg's take on why there aren't more women in leadership jobs. She raises lots of good points. But I don't think we can ignore the mental health angle.

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Mar 19, 2013
Warning: This blog response is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post response or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

Are you familiar with the term, 'Limousine Liberal?' If not, please allow me to explain (I will use the initials 'LL' to save keystrokes).

An LL is someone who revels in the fruits of capitalism while actively disdaining the capitalist economic system. It can also be someone who demands others make sacrifices in the name of their causes that they would never make themselves.. This disdain can take a number of avenues. Let's take a look at a couple:

Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.: former Vice-President Gore is one of the leading proponents of the theory called Anthropogenic Global Warming. He ascribes to a number of interesting if controversial ideas. He believes that using fossil fuel is leading to disastrous climatic catastrophes. So what does he do to help?

Rather than take commercial flights, he flies around in a Gulfstream jet. It has been reported that his house uses nineteen times the energy of an average household. But the most egregious example comes from the money he is making from AGW. Gore helped form a business that will benefit from the carbon offset trading scheme. He is a much richer man as a result. If Cap and Trade ever gets passed, he is poised to become a multi-billionaire. Is he a saint trying to protect the earth from what he believes is a horrible evil, or is he a wolf in sheep's clothing trying to convince other people to take actions that will make him rich? You decide.

Michael Moore: This anti-establishment filmmaker is famous for bashing capitalism. He holds up Cuba as an example of an enlightened form of government. He loved the late dictator Hugo Chavez while constantly excoriating George Bush. In 2009 he released a movie titled, "Capitalism: A Love Story," in which he attempts to blame Wall Street, and capitalism in general, for every woe he could think of. Mr. Moore characterizes himself as a working-class stiff who grew up in a poor family. Neither of those two things are true.

In 2011, this poor, anti-capitalist man of the people sued financiers Bob and Harvey Weinstein for $2.7 million, saying that they had failed to pay him that amount in profits from his 2004 film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Mr. Moore is quite simply a hypocrite. He is a rich man thanks to the capitalist system he says he despises, and no matter how much money he has, he still wants to get as much more as he can.

Bill Maher: he is a comedian who is also a multi-millionaire. He hosts an HBO show called, "Real Time," in which he often bashes capitalists, people of religious faith, conservatives and just about anyone else with whom he disagrees. His excoriation of his own political party revolves around Democrats kowtowing to corporate paymasters and saying that there aren't enough 'real' liberals being put forth for election to office by the party.

But when it comes to HIS money, his own rules don't apply. While sitting on a panel discussion on the liberal MSNBC network, host Rachael Maddow said (speaking of Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed federal budget), "The Ryan budget is a document that says the big problems in America right now are that rich people do not have enough money. . . They need relief from confiscatory tax rates." To which Mr. Maher replied, "You know what? Rich people - I'm sure you'd [pointing to former Republican Congressman Tom Davis) agree with this - actually do pay the freight in this country." He went on to say, "I just saw these statistics. I mean, something like 70% [of federal taxes are paid by the rich]. And here in California, I just want to say to liberals - you could lose me. It's outrageous what we are paying - over fifty percent. I'm willing to pay my share, but yeah, it's ridiculous." Hypocrite? You decide.

Now, lest you think I only excoriate rich liberals because they're liberal and not because they're most often hypocrites, let me give you an example of one extreme rich liberal whom I greatly respect: actress Daryl Hannah. She lives as she believes. Google her, and you will see what I mean.

Now, let's look at one more LL: Scott Adams. Mr Adams is the creator of the Dilbert cartoon series, is a best-selling author and CEO of a corporation he built around the aforementioned cartoon series, is also a multi-millionaire. Mr. Adams is a believer in AGW, which belief he often champions in his posts.

Mr. Adams has come up with a unique way to explain the dichotomy of his wealth versus his political beliefs, to wit: he is insane.

It's not his fault, because he is a narcissistic sociopath with obsessive-compulsive disorder who has a flexible moral compass that allows him to embrace that which he seems to consider immoral: the economic system of capitalism.

Among his LL peers, Mr. Adams has been, as far as research has shown, the only one to date to use this creative excuse. My hat is off to him. I think this very imaginative excuse for being rich while still excoriating capitalism will stand as a beacon of new hope for LLs such as Bill Maher, who are beginning to question their liberal orthodoxy when it's their ox that is being Al Gored.

I propose we call this the "White Queen" excuse. You will recall that the White Queen from Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" was said to remark, "Why, sometimes I've believed in six impossible things before breakfast." Of course she could - if she were insane.

Scott Adams has broken new ground. He is truly a pathfinder, leading the way to find a cure for that most paralyzing of liberal afflictions: liberal guilt. There's no reason to feel bad any more about being a millionaire, limousine liberals. Scott Adams has given you an out: you're all insane. Congratulations.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 19, 2013
"Sociopathy" might be a strong word (or open to various interpretations), but I agree. Even when I worked in management at a Fortune 50 corporation (on an executive track, no less), I always said I didn't want the CEO job (a VP, perhaps), because it required an unbalanced life.

And I think life choices are indeed the largest determinant of gender pay differential. Sure, there's some discrimination (though this may be more than offset with affirmative action policies); old boy network (probably a bigger issue); and social norms; but studies have shown that for childless women, there is no pay differential. Men are more likely to be workaholics, and sacrifice family/personal life for professional advancement.

But, by being less competitive and more balanced, perhaps women are the more sane ones. How many women have gotten themselves killed in a duel, knife-fight, or even showing off?

As more women get to the top, perhaps it will become more collaborative than competitive.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 19, 2013
@CodeJammmer: I'm definitely taking it out of its full context. Not being a psych major, I'm not qualified to discuss it in depth. When I've seen it boiled down and taught in management training, it's largely about being internally detached for the purposes of manipulation. In those management classes, they call it emotional intelligence instead of calling a spade a spade.
Mar 19, 2013
Unfortunately I can imagine a lot of young people taking the path of a CEO given a choice. Too many CEO's have been glorified in the press without a whole lot of light shining on the personal price they've paid.

Maybe they would end up thinking, in the words of Cypher in The Matrix, "Why, oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill!"
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 19, 2013
"You might possess a good dollop of narcissism, and be fairly high up on the sociopath scale. Greed helps too"

Are those high really high risk behaviors or is that just what unsuccessful people call it to provide themselves an excuse for not succeeding? I contend that someone that wants to succeed will develop those attitudes/behaviors because that's what it takes to succeed.

@CodeJammer: I would say that emotional intelligence is sociapthy but women have traditionally utilized it in other aspects of their life that were important to them. As more women see their careers as a primary focus then they will utilze their own sociapthy to succeed just as much if not more than men and we will see more women ceo's of large companies. I think instead of calling those behaviors high risk let's call them what they are: ingredients for success. They're not a mental dysfunction anymore than genius is a mental dysfunction.
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 19, 2013
Hahahaha! I had no idea that the whole thing was a lead in to the "why there aren't as many women at the head of large corporations" question. Classic.

Whether you call it mental illness or something else, I think there's definitely a predisposition of men towards that sort of thing that women are much less predisposed to. Moral crusaders on the left prefer to ignore the innate mental differences between men in general and women in general, and so if there isn't exactly 50% of men and 50% of women somewhere, they automatically conclude that evil men are discriminating against women and keeping them down. Does that happen? Sure? Did it used to be true a lot more than it is today? Absolutely. But like Scott said it can't be the only or even the majority explanation.
Mar 19, 2013
@rambis: I don't think "emotional intelligence" means what you think it does. Emotional intelligence is not a management concept (although it can be a useful skill to have in management), it comes from psychology and other social sciences. If emotional intelligence was equivalent to sociopathy, by extension of Scott's argument, we would see a disproportionate number of women in management as they tend to excel in this area of cognition.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 19, 2013
The euphimism for sociopathy in management is "Emotional Intelligence". The rebranding is sociopathic in and of itself.
Mar 19, 2013
Crap, I'm not enough of a risk taker to be a CEO. Great, now the only I'm probably qualified for is congress.
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