WHU General

"Successful Psychopaths" Coping with the Crisis

WHU researchers investigate the success of dark personality traits.

What do Elon Musk, Donald Trump, and Boris Johnson have in common? Many would answer this question with a reference to their polarizing personality traits, often documented by corresponding tweets. Musk, Trump, and Johnson share not only their eccentric streak but also their success: they have managed to achieve positions in which they can change the course of history for many.

So far, psychologists and management researchers have been studying the disadvantages of so-called "dark" personality traits - traits that are generally seen as negative - such as psychopathy and narcissism. But can managers with darker personality traits also bring benefits to their organizations? In their study, the researchers Professor Dr. Lutz Kaufmann and Dr. Stéphane Timmer from the Chair of International Business & Supply Management I at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management examine this question specifically with regard to managers who control the fragile global supply chains of companies. The charisma and persuasiveness of narcissistic leaders make it easier for them to implement difficult reforms. This is particularly the case when there are disruptions in the supply chain, as is currently the case with Corona.

Kaufmann and Timmer, whose study was published in the renowned Journal of Supply Chain Management and in the practitioner magazine Beschaffung aktuell, among others, summarize: "Purchasing managers who show characteristics of the 'successful psychopath' type, i.e., who tend to react impulsively and want to punish unexpected behavior, can adopt a tactically more favorable negotiating position by skillfully managing their emotions and cooperating with business partners on short notice. As an example, the researchers cite the case in which a supplier opportunistically and unexpectedly increased prices by 30 percent. The respective purchasing manager - one with psychopathic traits - first wanted to take direct revenge for this action, but then considered that it was strategically smarter to "cooperate" with the supplier. "The decisive strength of managers with dark personality traits is that they are very calculating despite having little empathy and are much better at manipulating people than their colleagues without dark traits", explains Timmer. 

In practice, the experts recommend that chief purchasing officers (CPOs) and managers should also consider dark personality traits when selecting personnel, using personality tests and direct assessments. Besides, behavioral training and manager courses in "behavioral code shifting" - the ability to adapt to the respective context in full awareness of one's own autopilot - can provide appropriate support in channeling emotions and acquiring acceptable reactions. If managers are not only aware of their character traits and related behavioral patterns, but also able to learn to actively combine these with other behavior, they can, for example, master crisis situations more successfully and achieve significantly better company results. In their study, Lutz Kaufmann and Stéphane Timmer spent a year in Asia analyzing the structures and decisions of purchasing and operations managers in the face of negative unexpected events in supply chains such as strikes, supplier problems, and crises. 

Academic article:
Do managers’ dark personality traits help firms in coping with adverse supply chain events?
Stéphane Timmer, Lutz Kaufmann
Journal of Supply Chain Management 55 (4), 67-97

Article in practitioners-magazine Beschaffung aktuell:
Persönlichkeitsmerkmale im Einkauf
Beschaffung aktuell, 4/2020, author: Sabine Ursel, publisher: Konradin Mediengruppe, www.beschaffung-aktuell.de