When you think of a criminal, you imagine a down-and-out: a drunk committing petty crimes in corner stores and holding people up at gunpoint. The image couldn’t be more different from the polished CEO’s persona, striding into board meetings, telling his executives what they need to do next.
But behind the superficial differences, there are striking similarities in thought processes and behaviours. Entrepreneurs and criminals are more alike than you might think.
CEOs, for instance, have disproportionate brushes with the law. They’re much more likely to get into trouble with the police than their rank-and-file. They’re not afraid to take risks or outright lie to get what they want. The same is true of criminals, except these behaviours are more explicit.
The Path To The Dark Side
Entrepreneurs don’t start in life with higher criminal tendencies than anyone else. But, over the course of their work, the pressures start to get to them, bringing out their shadow side.
Right from the start, entrepreneurs have to endure full exposure to the law. Most employees never see the burden of rules and regulations from a hyperactive state, but it is something that bosses must contend with every day.
This stress and strain typically lead to drug and alcohol use. There is only so much that a human being can bear without having to resort to substances.
Of course, the moment this happens, their moral compass starts to go haywire. When they use substances, they begin to do things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do. And that’s when trouble can start.
Business leaders already have a fierce desire to overcome the constraints that society imposes on them. With the addition of substance-based coping mechanisms, that desire becomes less inhibited. Eventually, they break and have a brush with the law.
Ultimately, entrepreneurs can puff themselves up and believe their grandiose stories about themselves. These feelings, however, are almost entirely internal. They don’t reflect the cold, hard realities of the external world.
This trajectory sounds familiar. Take out the odd word here and there, and it looks like the mind of a criminal. Both are the actions of a person who is prepared to take extreme risks to get the rewards they believe that they deserve.
People Love To See The Mighty Fall
We live in a society that likes to see the mighty fall. There is something cathartic about the idea that somebody who has it all can fall prey to the same mistakes as regular people.
As Matthew Leyba points out, convictions don’t always follow arrests. But brushes with the law seem to be a staple of people at the top of business. And nothing gratifies the legal system more than showing that it can dominate the heroes of industry.
Most CEOs commit entirely non-violent crimes (unlike mainstream criminals). And, in many cases, they don’t actually hurt anyone. Sometimes, though, their desire to pursue their goals runs up against the law. Many are willing to break it to get what they want.