• Heartful Academy

Are many CEOs really psychopaths, or are we just psychologically untrained?

Moving beyond the stereotypes, and embarking on a genuine exploration of the psychology that is at play at the workplace, in order to learn how we can all become more empathetic and effective leaders, managers and colleagues.


In recent years a number of popular books, articles and experts have made the point that a surprisingly high number of CEOs and business leaders are psychopaths. Here are just a few of the headlines from mainstream media outlets:


“Crazy at the wheel: psychopathic CEOs are rife in Silicon Valley, experts say” - The Guardian

“CEOs often have psychopathic traits”- Business Insider

“21 percent of CEOs are psychopaths. Only 21 percent?” - Washington Post

“1 in 5 business leaders are psychopaths—here's why” - CNBC

“The Psychopathic CEO” - Forbes


Admittedly, such accounts and arguments make for an entertaining read, and many of us nod in agreement as we think of a previous (or current) boss that has given us a hard time.


After indulging in a bit of judgment this way, we might feel a less pleasant idea sneaking up on us. “I wonder if there have been instances where my own behaviour has been a bit psychopathic?” Can we honestly say that we have always, also in the heat of the moment, been able to think, act and speak with empathy, consideration and respect for others? Have we sometimes manipulated our way to achieve an outcome that we really wanted, and have there been occasions where our ability to distinguish right from wrong was compromised?


Maybe labels are less useful, and what is really needed is more psychological training for all of us. Especially those of us that are, or seek to become, leaders, managers or influencers at the workplace. A lot of suffering is going on, with only 15% of the global workforce actually enjoying their work, according to Gallup.


Is the way to more workplace wellbeing, as well as increased performance and success, a higher level of understanding of the inner workings of the species we call homo sapiens?


At Heartful Academy we believe that psychology is important. The business of business is... people! We cannot lead people to their best performances if we don’t understand them. Still, most business education, as well as on-the-job training, leaves the stones of psychological understanding largely unturned. This is why we need inspiration from thought leaders and experts such as Marianne Bentzen.


For the past two decades, Marianne Bentzen has trained and inspired thousands of psychotherapists, as well as leaders and organisations, on topics such as Neuroaffective Developmental Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, System-Oriented paradigms, and much more. Marianne has delivered more than 40 keynote talks, written academic articles and books that have been translated to many languages, and hosted events and trainings across much of Europe. She has served as the Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee in the Danish Psychotherapy Association, and worked to resolve ethical and professional conflicts when they arose between the Danish psychotherapists and their customers and clients. Marianne also has more than 30 years practice of mindfulness and is comfortable with Buddhist and Christian esoteric frameworks. Today, she combines her academic and professional background with her spiritual practice and understanding.


Some of the questions we asked Marianne to address during this Heartful Academy session:

  • Why is it important for a leader to invest in psychological skills and expertise?

  • Can you give examples of some psychological “mistakes” that you have seen happen in workplace settings?

  • What are the negative effects of such behavior?

  • In your experience, when leaders act without empathy, in a manipulative or selfish way, why do you think they do it?

  • What is, in your view, the best remedy for more psychological understanding among leaders, and at the workplace in general?

  • Can you give an example of a psychologically healthy and mature way that you have seen a leader act? Something that inspired you.

  • Why do you think that human psychology and business leadership are viewed as two separate domains that have very little to do with each other?