Is your new CEO trustworthy? 6 key questions for a personal risk assessment

19 June 2017 -


Graduate trainees undergo a detailed selection process, but outside of that cohort and fact-checking seems to go out the window. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t come back to bite you

Guest blogger Adrian Furnham

It’s only in very particular jobs that assessment seems to involve the selecting out, rather than selecting in. People with access to arms, large sums of money, or secrets of the business or state variety seem scrutinised more carefully than others. Many associates are contacted, the web is scrutinized, the information carefully weighed. The stakes are high so the risk-analysis thorough.

There are those who, therefore, specialise in personal risk assessment. They have to be psychologically minded and they have to be perceptive. It is their job to look for certain “markers” or predictors of problems such as breakdown, derailment or dishonesty.

They need to know how a person might respond to being bribed or blackmailed; to coping under extreme pressure and to a range of indiscretions

One of the great mysteries and paradoxes of the business selection world is that there seems to be no correlation between job level and person scrutiny. Indeed the relationship seems very negative. That is HR people seem to spend more money and effort on the likes of graduate trainees than the CEO.

No-one would dare give a prospective CEO an intelligence test, nor it seems do any serious CV checking. This may be changing with recent scandals, however.

If you are in the business of personal risk management what should you look out for? There are probably around six traits or syndromes worth spotting. They are all well known to clinicians though they might use rather different language. Each issue deserves serious consideration and perceptive questioning:

1. Relationships

Is there good evidence that the person can initiate and sustain happy, healthy relationships inside and outside the workplace? This may be a real can of worms, but it is very diagnostic.

It extends from relationship with parents from childhood to adulthood. Some people may be rather dependent on others; some very solitary but the major issue is in forming and maintaining any social relationships. Others may be cold, callous and manipulative and essentially use people. Some may be excessively shy or bold but probably very low on EQ, empathy and engagement. This must be bad news: the higher you go in business, the more it is actually all about relationships. Does the individual have healthy, happy, long-term relationships?

2. Impulsivity and Immaturity

Again this has many manifestations. One sign is that they are easily bored and poor at self-control. The impulsivity issue concerns instant gratification, little planning and self-indulgence. The immaturity is about prototypical teenager behaviour: fragile, over-sensitive, restless, moody; moving from arrogant cockiness to demoralised helplessness in minutes.

They are also nearly always self-indulgent. Being successful in business (or indeed anything) requires one to be organised, planful and strategic. Postponement of gratification is a simple but powerful marker of all sorts of success as we saw in the famous Marshmellow test.

3. Machiavellianism and Manipulativeness

Beware the rebellious charmer who pays little attention to rules and regulations. If both bright and good looking, their seductive charm can make them lethal. They can be superficial, glib, flippant and inconsistent. But they are also all things to all people.

They are often amoral and immoral and deeply indifferent to the feelings and needs of others. There are many books now on the “corporate psychopath” and the destruction they leave behind them. The experts say they are bold, disinhibited and mean.

4. Angry, Resentful and Negative Oriented

There are many forms of negativity. There are the ‘passed over and pissed off’; those with a generally negative world view. There are the passive-aggressive and those who see doom and gloom everywhere.

Most are in the blame-game for all their misfortunes. They see the world as unjust and often feel victims on many levels. They report a history of negativity. For many their chief aim is revenge for real or imagined actions over long time periods

5. Extremes of Self-Belief

Psychologists have hundreds of self-words from self-actualisation through self-esteem to self-handicapping strategies. Self-awareness is a key indicator of mental health and adjustment.

Some problem people have a strange self-image and issues around self-esteem. Some try to cover up low self-esteem with grandiose overcompensation. Some have a succumbed to self-aggrandising therapy that equates delusions of grandeur with mental health.

Know thyself. To thyself be true. Indeed. Much is to be gained therefore from references as opposed to interviews and particularly in the disparity between the two. A simple test is self-other disparity: do others share the views of a person’s ability, motives and personality.

6. Inflexibility, Rigidity, Obsessionality

Beware the over-dutiful and diligent, the over-cautious and over-careful. Rigid people are deeply change averse and often strictly routinised. They are made fearful and nervous unless everything is clear, orderly and predictable but alas it can never be.

They are intolerant of ambiguity and avoid uncertainty. They can easily become fetishistic about the oddest things. Some are paralysed with ambiguity and can’t move until they have some clarity that may never arrive.

Powered by Professional Manager