The Psychopath in the C Suite: Redifining the SOB

40 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2012

See all articles by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Date Written: November 23, 2012


Meet the SOB — Seductive Operational Bully — or psychopath “lite.” SOBs don’t usually end up in jail or psychiatric hospital but they do thrive in an organizational setting. SOBs can be found wherever power, status, or money is at stake. Outwardly normal, apparently successful and charming, their inner lack of empathy, shame, guilt, or remorse, has serious interpersonal repercussions, and can destroy organizations. Their great adaptive qualities mean they often reach top executive positions, especially in organizations that appreciate impression management, corporate gamesmanship, risk taking, coolness under pressure, domination, competitiveness, and assertiveness. The ease with which SOBs rise to the top raises the question whether the design of some organizations makes them a natural home for psychopathic individuals. This article begins with an elaborate example of such an individual, and notes the deep divide that distinguishes people without a conscience from the general population. Most studies have resorted to a deficit theory to explain psychopathic behavior — something has gone with the wiring in the emotional part of the brain. Here, however, I suggest that nurture can also play a role in the etiology of psychopathy. The article explores ways of identifying and dealing with SOBs from an organizational and individual perspective, and recommends a clinical orientation to organizational diagnosis and intervention.

Keywords: SOB Executive, Psychopath "lite", Sociopath, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Toxic Leadership, Narcissism, Neurotic Organization, Clinical Paradigm Temporary Abstract

Suggested Citation

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., The Psychopath in the C Suite: Redifining the SOB (November 23, 2012). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2012/119/EFE, Available at SSRN: or

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise ( email )

Fontainebleau Cedex, F-77305

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