Mean people suck. Mean people with power are even worse.

Recently, we've had a bunch of examples of business leaders behaving badly--doing things that really seem morally wrong, even if they're often (but not always!) perfectly legal.

Most despised was this guy: Martin Shkreli, the "bro"-ish pharmaceutical CEO who raised the price of a drug that treats malaria and other infections by 5,455 percent (from $13.50 to $750 per tablet). When the news broke, he was described as "Big Pharma's Biggest A**hole," "the most hated man in America"--and "the poster child for evil scum."

He may have backpedaled a bit, but he did a great job of highlighting a common pattern of habits that the most-hated leaders often display--from big-company CEOs to micromanaging middle managers. It goes a little bit like this:

1. Put numbers ahead of people.

Great business leaders want to make money, sure--but they also want to improve the world and the lives of their followers. The most-hated businesspeople don't exactly follow that route. What matters more, money or helping sick people get well?

2. Assume people are stupid.

When he was called on the internet carpet over his price-gouging, Shkreli called a reporter who questioned his motives a "moron," and gave interviews in which he suggested that it was unreasonable even to question his decision. It's a well-used playbook. (See Enron.)

3. Prevaricate.

Related to number 2, why be truthful when you assume people are stupid? The worst of the worst have no more regard for the truth than they do for their customers, employees, or other stakeholders.

4. Flaunt it.

Shkreli was rich--like, hedge-fund-manager rich--long before he got into the pharmaceutical industry as a CEO. Now, having money is definitely better than the alternative. But maybe if you're going to be a wealthy businessperson and make decisions that negatively impact other people's health, don't use this kind of photo on your Twitter profile.

5. Offer a non-apology.

After the deluge, Shkreli was a little bit conciliatory, saying he was surprised at the backlash his move had caused and proposing that he would lower the price of the drug a bit. But this really goes back to number 2 again--assume that you can offer conciliatory words after the fact that don't necessarily mean anything, and the controversy will go away.

6. Dodge the fire.

For a short time there, Shkreli was on virtually every news show that would have him. Then he disappeared--hid his Twitter profile, stopped giving interviews, and basically battened down the hatches. Even the most oblivious hated businessperson realizes occasionally he or she has overreached. Then the game plan is usually just to ride out the storm.

7. Repeat as needed.

The greed of the world's worst businesspeople doesn't die, and they don't fade away. In fact, once they realize they've gotten away with their actions, they often double down. Remember their names--you'll probably be hearing them again.

Published on: Oct 2, 2015