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July 7, 2011

News & Opinion: Psychotic Psummer!

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 3:01 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Last night, I watched the film version of author Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho. While the film has many limitations compared to the book, the gist of the story remains: Powerful people in powerful positions can have powerful problems. Those of you that might have stomached Ellis' book (it published in 1991, and I felt sort of awful for a week after reading it), might be thinking the story is indicative of a work of fiction. Not necessarily so, say authors like Jon Ronson and Nassir Ghaemi. Ronson's book (published in May), titled The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, saw him beginning his research in an asylum, which lead him to interview a CEO and other business leaders who had more going on in their heads than financial strategy and vision for their products. Ronson's book, however, isn't just an analysis of powerful people with bad ideas, but also how, more and more, ordinary people are defined by traits of madness. It's a highly interesting and compelling read, sure to make you think differently about your boss (and even yourself!). Here's a taste: "He (Al Dunlap) fired people with such apparent glee that the business magazine Fast Company included him in an article about potentially psychopathic CEOs. All the other CEOs cited were dead or in prison, and therefore unlikely to sue, but they took the plunge with Dunlap anyway, referring to his poor behavioral controls (his first wife charged in her divorce papers that he once threatened her with a knife and muttered that he always wondered what human flesh tasted like) and his lack of empathy (even though he was always telling journalists about his wise and supportive parents, he didn't turn up to either of their funerals)." Hey, my boss isn't so bad after all :) Ghaemi's book will be published in August. Titled, A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, his book looks at powerful historical figures and their disorders, some of which we might find surprising: Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and more. What's interesting about his research is that he makes the connection that the qualities of the mood disorders each person had, actually helped to make them the great leaders they were. Part history, part psychiatric research, Ghaemi's book clearly shows how characters such as in Ellis' book might not be that fictional after all. Here's a note from the intro: "Great crisis leaders are not like the rest of us; nor are they like mentally healthy leaders. They're often intelligent, prone to poor physical health, the products of privileged backgrounds, raised by parents in conflict, frequently nonreligious, and ambitious. All these personality traits and experiences are also associated with mental illness, like mania and depression, or with abnormal temperaments, like hyperthymia. Much of what passes for normal is not found in the typical political and military leader. Homoclites usually don't run for president, and when they do, they often don't make good ones." Disturbing? Yes. Fascinating? Totally. In any case, these are some great summer reads that will lead you a bit deeper into the psychological end of business. But be careful how far down the rabbit hole you wander. Though we specialize in bulk orders of books, we'd not recommend you start handing out copies of the Ellis book to co-workers...

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.