Speaking to Andrew Bock of The Age, the Chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Peter Wilson, said that political candidates in Australia should have their psychological profiles assessed much in the same way top corporate executives are today. It definitely sounds like a good idea, but will this ever be a “thing”? In Australia at least, some parties seem to welcome the idea, but without institutional mandates to do so, I’m afraid we’ll still be seeing affairs run their typical course. But wouldn’t be great if psychopaths were barred from office?
“The parties are employers. They hire these people and it would be valuable for the parties to know more about their candidates,” Mr Wilson said.
“That collateral damage is a very positive reason why caucuses and parties would benefit from understanding the psychology and personality of who they have as candidates,” Mr Wilson said.
Fortune 100 companies, or the Australian equivalent ASX Top 100, use complex psychological screening to select the absolute best matches for senior leadership positions. That’s because companies have learned that bad leadership can cost a lot of money or damage reputation. But while the wrong executive can cost the company millions, a wrong politician could cost a whole country billions. The very lives of people could be at stake (and yes, I’m looking at you and your healthcare, US).
In this sort of tests, psychologists assess communication skills, critical thinking skills, people skills, leadership and motivation, resilience and ability to cope with stress and conflict.
“The risk you run at the moment, without psychological assessment, is that someone who gives a great speech to the pre-selection committee, and has done a few months wining and dining the right people may give a misleading presentation,” says Associate professor Denise Jepsen, an organisational psychologist at Macquarie University.
Jepsen claims that these sort of behavioral assessments are “a way of testing for minimum competencies and potentially filtering out or filtering in candidates with those competencies.” Well, I don’t think anyone can disagree with this. After all, if your company forces you to take a behavioral test, you (the voter) should also have a rightful claim of forcing political candidates to take the same test, at least. Consider half the candidates at recent elections in Australia had not had a job outside the political system. You really ought to know if these people are really incompetent for that position. Graduating from prestigious universities and holding party positions is definitely not an indicator of successful leadership.
The UK is actually making some progress in this respect. In 2005, organizational psychologists helped the UK Conservative Party set up its Parliamentary Assessment Board – an assessment center for pre-selection candidates still in operation today.
The US does no such thing. Newly elected president Donald Trump has a personality which attracted some and horrified others. For psychologists, it’s hard to talk about Trump without saying the word “narcissism.” Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, and George Simon, a clinical psychologist who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, say Trump’s behavior is remarkably narcissistic. Simon went as far as to say that Trump greatly helps him in his study, saying that the president’s behavior is “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of narcissism. “Otherwise I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.” But that’s just the start of it.
As The Atlantic reports, when local residents refused to sell properties that Trump needed in order to finish the golf resort, he ridiculed them on the Late Show With David Letterman and in newspapers, describing the locals as rubes who lived in “disgusting” ramshackle hovels. He likes to insult people and overall shows extremely little empathy. Trump lies (a lot) and generally calls whatever he dislikes “fake news.” Citing other notable psychologists, a Huff Post article flirts with the word “psychopath” — which is definitely within the realm of possibility. Donald Trump is the living, breathing example of why leading politicians should have their psychological profiles drawn out. But in most countries, that’s not even on the table.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.