The biology of leadership The relation between leadership, psychopathy and hormones



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5. Discussion


Results of this study, show that the described factors of leadership are higher in leaders, than in non-leaders. Leaders are more intelligent and think more creative, than non-leaders. Even though these results are significant, this finding could partially be a result of a grandiose sense of self-worth, a factor that is strongly present in boldness. Leaders score significantly higher on boldness and boldness is significantly correlated with both cognition factors. This suggests that a good sense of self-worth is important to emerge as a leader and to perform as a leader, as long as the good sense of self-worth does not turn into a grandiose sense of self-worth. On the other hand, leaders are significantly higher educated, which indicates a higher level of cognition in leaders. Leaders are significantly less agreeable, than non leaders. A high score on agreeableness is important for leadership performance (Judge et al., 2002; Bass, 1985) which is supported by the transformational and charismatic leadership theory. On the other hand, Judge et al. (2002) find that agreeableness has a negative relation with leadership emergence. It could be, because we used a leadership dummy, that the leadership emergence criteria is overwhelming the leadership performance criteria. Empathy did show a significant negative influence in the hierarchical regression analysis, but did not show a significant difference between leaders and the control group in the t-test. The lack of social cognition is a big issue in the corporate psychopathy literature (Boddy, 2010). The more self-centred attitude makes leaders able to move up on an organizational ladder. The lack of empathy could enable leaders to make decisions that negatively influence others, while letting it minimally effect the performance on other tasks. On the other hand, empathy is very important according to transformational and charismatic leadership theories (Bass, 1985, Goleman et al., 2008). The two hierarchical regression analyses show that empathy does not evolve over time, it is present in a leader, or it is not. The driver between the findings of the lower level of social cognition, could be the motivational factor, need for affiliation. Need for affiliation is positively correlated with empathy and agreeableness. Leaders have significantly less desire to be close to others. The absence and the presence of social cognition and the need for social contact have its benefits and its disadvantages for leadership emergence and leadership performance. Need for achievement is an important factor in leadership emergence, no significant differences were found between the leaders and the control group on the scores on need for achievement. An explanation could be, that the need for achievement is stronger in young people. The results have shown that the two groups significantly differ in age, leaders are significantly older. Additionally, age and need for achievement are significantly negatively correlated. Leaders do not score higher on disinhibition, nor do they score higher on meanness, which could be explained by the fact that disinhibition and meanness are more extreme factors, the traits measured by these factors could be less likely to be present in a normal population. Examples of these more extreme traits are: theft (disinhibition), fraud (disinhibition), physical-, relational- and destructive aggression (meanness). Boddy (2010), reports that only 3% of the top management is psychopathic, that could be an explanation for the low scores on disinhibition and meanness and the lack of the correlation with leadership. To sum up, leaders score significantly different on most leadership factors, which indicates that the factors are valid, at least for leadership emergence. The difference in psychopathy scores is less impressive, which can be caused by the nature of the questionnaire. Nevertheless, a strong relation between boldness and leadership is found.

Overall, the results show many correlations between the leadership factors and the psychopathy factors. Creative thinking and boldness are correlated (as mentioned earlier). Another correlation found is the correlations between agreeableness and meanness. This is obvious, because it is very acceptable that agreeableness, which is also labelled as friendliness (Barrick, 1991), is negatively correlation to meanness. Charm and boldness are positively correlated. Superficial charm is a trait that is not included in the questionnaire of Patrick, but the trait is included in the PCL and PCL-R. Therefore it is very likely that charm has a significant correlation on a factor level. The correlation between empathy and boldness is more surprising, because the lack of empathy trait is included in meanness instead of empathy. Empathy showed a positive correlation with the psychopathy traits dominance and persuasiveness, which are included in the boldness factor. This could mean that a certain level of empathy is needed to be persuasive and dominant. Need for achievement and meanness are also correlated. The positive correlation between meanness and need for achievement is in line with the statement of Boddy (2010). Boddy describes the process, where corporate psychopaths move themselves up the organisational ladder, at the cost of co-workers, this correlation supports that statement. Taking charge is correlated with boldness. This is very logical, because psychopathy traits persuasiveness and dominance are included in the boldness factor, which are traits that are need for being in charge. Need for affiliation and meanness are also correlated, which means that a person that has less desire to be close to others is more likely to be mean. Risk taking is correlated to both disinhibition and meanness, which can be explained by the fact that the trait excitement seeking is included in meanness. Risk taking and excitement seeking are related, because risk taking presumably provides a certain level of excitement. This excitement resolves a certain level of boredom, which is included in disinhibition. Nearly every leadership factor is correlated to at least one of the psychopathy factors, which proves that leadership factors and psychopathy factors are highly related, as Babiak & Hare (2006) and Boddy (2010) suggested. In the end, we still see many resemblances and connections between psychopathy and leadership. All leadership traits except for intelligence are related to psychopathy.



The expectation is that leaders score lower on cortisol and higher on testosterone, based on the theories of psychopathy (Boddy, 2010; Babiak and Hare, 2006), leadership and the HPA and HPG axes (Terburg, 2009). The results showed that leaders have a significantly higher level of cortisol, instead of the expected lower level. A possible explanation is that the visibility of the hormone baseline is overestimated. Situational factors might have a higher influence on hormones, than expected. The environmental factors stress and uncertainty positively influence cortisol and negatively influences testosterone (Coates, 2008). This could explain the higher cortisol levels of leaders and lower testosterone levels at measurement points 3, 4 and 5. The issue is that measurements of time point 3, 4 and 5 are not significantly different, for both cortisol and testosterone, this is caused by a drop in hormone levels after time point 2. The biggest difference is found in measurement points 1 and 2, the morning peak of hormones. This can be explained by a the assumption that leaders are exposed to stress for a long period of time. If stress is present for a longer period of time, then cortisol levels can be high for a longer period of time, explaining the high levels of cortisol in the morning and in relation to that, possibly the lower levels of testosterone compared to the expected high values. Expected was that testosterone is significantly higher in leaders, this expectation was not met, possible because of the interference of stress, which increase cortisol and reduces the functionality of the HPG system by decreasing the functioning of GnRH, FSH, LH and the production of testosterone in the gonads (Terburg, 2009). Significant correlations between hormones and leadership factors have been found, despite results of the hormone levels that differ from the expectations. Cortisol is positively correlated with two out of three social cognition factors, empathy and charm. Empathy correlates with cortisol 1, C/T3, AUCgCT and negatively with AUCiC. The results show that a high cortisol level at the early measurement points is related to higher scores on empathy. This finding supports the theories of Babiak and Hare (2006), Boddy (2008) and Terburg (2009). Boddy and Hare report that psychopaths have a lack of empathy and Terburg connect psychopathy to high testosterone levels and low cortisol levels. Therefore, it is very likely that cortisol is the driver of higher levels of empathy or social cognition. The explanation for charm is exactly the same. Babiak and Hare connect superficial charm to psychopathy, which should be related to lower cortisol levels. This suggests that superficial charm and charm have a different driver, high testosterone compared to high cortisol. Another correlation found is the correlation between risk taking and testosterone, this finding is in line with the psychopathy theories of Hare (1991), Babiak and Hare (2006) and Boddy (2009) and confirms the relationship between psychopathy, leadership and hormones.

In general, the findings of the hormones are opposite of what the literature review suggested. Possibly, situational factors have too much influence on hormone levels, which undermines the base-line of the hormones. It suggests a relation between high levels of stress and leadership. This means that active stress reduction is desirable, because of lowered leadership and job performance related to higher cortisol levels and stress levels. The results still support the connection between leadership and psychopathy, because there is a significant correlation between nearly all of the leadership factors and at least 1 psychopathy factors. It suggests that a mild presence of psychopathy factors is desirable, because of the correlation.


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