A lot has been written about entrepreneurs, psychosis, and psychopaths especially more recently in the context of corporate and national leadership and success.

What traits differentiate someone who is a psychopath from an entrepreneur? And what about this other word we hear about – psychosis; where does that fit in? If I go into business for myself do I have to become a psychopath to be successful?

Let’s look at these three individually and then have a look at the links or similarities, where and why.



An entrepreneur by definition is a person who starts a business (sees an opportunity or potential), invests their time taking on financial risk in the hope of a making a return. In the entertainment industry, an entrepreneur sees talent (opportunity and potential), invests time and money (the risk) in hope of a reward – financial and making the talent into a “star”. As another example in the third or charity sector, a person sees a need (the opportunity), invests time and effort raising awareness (and support funding) and reaps the reward of resolving /meeting the need and the satisfaction of having done so.

Characteristic Traits of Entrepreneurs

According to Ruchira Agrawal, CEO of Inner Veda Communications, the characteristics of an entrepreneur can be summarised as follows (I have shortened her article published in Monster):

  1. Motivated: Enthusiastic, optimistic, future-oriented, believe they’ll be successful; risk their resources in pursuit of profit, high energy levels, sometimes impatient, always think about their business and how to increase market share.
  2. Creative and Persuasive: Have the creative capacity to recognize and pursue opportunities; possess strong selling skills, persuasive and persistent.
  3. Versatile:  Will wear several different hats, including salesman, telephonist, secretary, book-keeper and so on.
  4. Superb Business Skills: Able to set up the internal systems, procedures, and processes to operate the business. Focus on cash flow, sales and revenue; rely on their business skills, know-how, and contacts.
  5. Risk Tolerant
  6. Drive: Proactive to everything, a doer, willing to take the reins.
  7. Vision: To decide where your business should go.
  8. Flexible and Open-Minded: Facing a lot of unknowns, ready to tweak any initial plans and strategies.
  9. Decisive: No room for procrastination or indecision.



Psychosis is a mental disorder where the affected person perceives and/or interprets events differently, their thought processes and emotional well-being are impaired and they lose contact with reality. A notable point about psychosis is that our main source of information about it tends to be the media. We hear and read stories of the behavior of people having a psychotic episode who have injured or killed other people. Then there are the films based on mentally ill people like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. The truth is that people having a psychotic episode are more likely to be the victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

Looking at statistics the charity Mind refers to a report that suggests that only 0.7% of the population was affected by a psychotic disorder in the last year and 7.7% of people may be affected by bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder in their lifetime – of these 25% recover completely after the first episode. It is important to remember that early treatment enhances the chance of a full recovery but affected people usually have no idea they are actually very ill.

Someone suffering a psychotic episode may show some of the following symptoms:

Hallucinations Sight, hear, feel, smell or taste
Delusions – an unshakeable belief in something that is not true Muddled thoughts; confused, disturbed thoughts, strong beliefs not shared with others or based on reality (such as being watched, or a conspiracy to harm them), paranoia
Changes in behavior Hyper-focus, social withdrawal, lack of functioning in everyday tasks, lack of personal hygiene, not eating regularly, altered sleep patterns, not going to work. Emotionless, flat. Short fuse, get angry. Anxious
Lack of insight and self-awareness Jumbled or rapid speech making conversation difficult. Not in touch with reality

 Types of Psychosis

  • Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive disorder) – Bipolar 1 Disorder, Bipolar 2 Disorder, Cyclothymia
  • Schizophrenia, Schizophreniform Disorder, schizoaffective Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Mixed Affective Disorder
  • Delusional Disorder
  • Post-natal Psychosis – extreme post-natal depression


The word psychopath is not one usually used in psychology. It is certainly used in the judicial system and in the media. It is a mental disorder, more specifically an antisocial personality disorder (hence the term sociopath). It may be sub-clinical (as in un-diagnosed) or clinical (diagnosed). It is a chronic (persisting for a long time or constantly recurring) mental disorder showing abnormal and/or violent social behavior. Psychopaths seek opportunities for personal satisfaction (the end justifies the means and the fall out is irrelevant).

Symptoms of psychopathic behavior revolve around three key behaviors – boldness, disinhibition, and meanness. Examples of each of these are included in the following table.

Motivated Flexible Driven
Decisive Vision Risk tolerant
Persuasive High risk taking Paranoia
High Energy Not in touch with reality Social withdrawal
Delusions Hyper-focused Emotionless, flat
Egotistical Lack insight and self-awareness Lack empathy
Low anxiety Have issues with “truth” Aggressive
Disregard for the rights of others Above the law No guilt or remorse

  Key: Entrepreneur Psychotic


 This table is where the behaviors get interesting due to their overlap into the behaviors of both entrepreneurs (blue) and those suffering a psychotic episode (red).

Stress is usually found at the route of psychosis. So it is important for an entrepreneur to remain grounded and remember to take enough time off for rest and recuperation.