I tell my employees “I’ve been an employee longer than I’ve been a CEO,” and it still rings true as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary this year.
As an employee in the dot.com craze, I still remember conversing with other employees on how our bosses were sociopaths or psychopaths and then debating about it. And yes, I’m totally guilty of referring to them as ‘psychos’ in short.
What I’m here to say now is that it’s probably not that your CEO is ‘psycho’ but that it’s more like they have to be delusional to do their job, and that the best ones are aware of and good at it.
Facts & Figures Out of the Way
Clinically only 1 in 100 people are psychopathic (or 1 in 4 when looking at federal correctional facility populations) (Source). Even when looking at how few people get to CEO roles, chances still are that the 1 in 5 statistic is grossly inflated. Most CEOs and business owners aren’t psychopaths or sociopaths.
Add to that the fact that 137,000 businesses give birth every day or 5 million per year. Doing the math, that means 90% of them fail, 123,300 fail every day and, in the time you were reading this, 85 businesses probably went out of business.
Charisma does not equal psychopathy. But in order to succeed you do have to adopt psychopathic behaviors when needed: calculating, cold and manipulative. A CEO that retains employees and inspires loyalty cannot be psychopathic all the time. But if you want job security, you’ll also want the CEO’s that can turn it on and off. Second of all, it’s pretty statistically improbable that we’d have that many psychopaths say, in Silicon Valley even. Thirdly, let’s NOT define people by popular misconceptions. “American Psycho” anyone? That was good, but Hollywood good.
Charisma also does not equal sociopathy. High-functioning sociopaths do have above average intelligence, tend to have narcissistic qualities, so what you see is someone who is a chameleon: They innately know what people want to hear and scheme based on that. Their social skills are at a level where you might only ‘know’ someone that is this engaging, this trustable, and inspire so many people maybe once in your lifetime. Only one out of 100 people are true sociopaths.
Successful CEOs are passionate, full of heart, full of hustle, full of loyalty, and most importantly, full of delusion. CEOs are the Peter Pans of the business world — they inflict and manifest self-imposed delusion. Why?
Because in order to have your company succeed, you need the ability to scale and it shows in your business’ longevity. If I had to choose to look before leaping, or just making a decision and sticking to it, I go for the latter. Indecisiveness is not a trait of a successful business owner, and what others see as impulsivity you know isn’t. They can’t account for what you’ve learned in hindsight, they can’t truly understand how much your experiences allow you to make decisions quickly. You can’t go with research over gut. If you did, you’d never get anywhere. And you’d be failing in the first 5 years like most other businesses.
Would you rather have a boss with willful ignorance or willful delusion? I’ve seen the best of the best these last two years, as we’re now working with venture capitalists, corporate investors and the wealth management teams investing in our clients. You need a leader who is delusional if you want job security.
Say you just witnessed an epic production failure internally…five minutes before the biggest sales presentation of your life. Delusion and the ability to shut all of that off is what separates the best from the average. And I don’t believe average succeeds long-term.
Let’s say you just found out someone on your senior team has been working against you. The best CEOs are loyal to a fault, which makes them highly susceptible to emotional breakdowns when disloyalty is shown in those you considered ‘inner circle’. This happens five minutes before you present to a board to get funding in order to keep a possible senior team you can’t trust anymore employed. Yet, you can shut all this out and fight the good fight because you believe in what you do, the businesses you help grow, and in yourself.
These situations happen all the time, from the CEO to the VP of Sales, to the founders and business owners every week. On really bad weeks it can happen twice in the same week. Do you want a boss who kills it in the boardroom or one that either cancels the meeting or goes in there all emotional? You want the charismatic boss that yes, is delusional. What you don’t know is the best CEOs are delusional because they’re going into that boardroom aware of all the employees they are responsible for and are aware that they’re fighting to keep their employees employed.
Having the innate ability to act like a sociopath or psychopath is key to succeeding and not crumbling. It’s also good for my mental health. I don’t know about you, but dwelling on something negative is a hindrance; It’s the opposite of opportunity. I always tell our clients that we brand build based on where they want to be in five years. You will it, you put in the work and more opportunities will present themselves. You can’t do this if you’re thinking too much. The innate ability to block things out (like a psychopath) is the game-changer — from scalability to longevity. No emotional outbursts and no ego ever helped me or my clients.
We aren’t psycho. We’re actually fighting the good fight for you. It’s just easier for us to adopt traits of psychopathy because we have to. The deals I’ve closed after hearing about the worst mistakes internally, within the span of 3 hours, have been the most epic ones. Ones that changed the course of our business. When you compete with yourself, these situations show you just how much fight you have in you. It’s something to be proud of.
And if you don’t understand what I mean after this type of confession, maybe seeing other entrepreneur realities will help clear things up. All I’ll say is this:
Be prepared; the objectives I set are stupid high.