x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Following Kim Jong Un's execution of his uncle, a required reading list on psychopaths, and the established link between psychopathy and leadership.

 The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson.


Kim Jong-un, the 30-year-old tyrant who rules North Korea, had his uncle executed last week. Jang Song-thaek was one of North Korea’s most powerful men thanks to his position as the husband of Kim Jong-un’s aunt. But just days ago the regime accused him of an attempt to “overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power”. He was killed by firing squad.

The execution is just the latest in a long line of brutal killings ordered by the Supreme Leader. In 2012 Kim had his deputy defence minister, Kim Chol, killed by mortar round for disrespecting his father’s memory. He also ordered the death by machine gun of members of the musical group Unhasu Orchestra, accused of filming themselves naked.

By any standards, Kim could be considered a psychopath. Lucky you don’t have to contend with any such characters in your life, right? If that’s what you think, you need to hit the books.

• In The Psychopath Test, the British journalist Jon Ronson goes in search of the psychopaths among us. Around one in 25 people is a psychopath, he learns. But there’s more: psychopaths make up a disproportionately high number of chief executives, political leaders and top athletes. That’s because some of the characteristics that are key to the psychopathic personality – including superficial charm, skill in interpersonal manipulation and an inability to feel regret – are also helpful when it comes to high achievement.

• So what to do if your colleague is a psychopath? Start by reading Office Politics by the leading psychologist Oliver James. He argues that it’s impossible to avoid office politics – including back-stabbing, lying and other dirty tricks – so learning how to navigate the waters is crucial to survival in the world of work.

• But if psychopaths are so successful, how can we ordinary, psychologically stable individuals learn from them? In The Wisdom of Psychopaths Kevin Dutton argues that psychopaths have something to teach us about focus and ruthless execution (that’s execution of tasks, not people). So go ahead — climb that corporate ladder like a psychopath! But please, spare your uncle when you reach the top.

* David Mattin