By John Salak –
Go ahead. Be a nice guy. Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine in your professional and personal life and probably be ahead of all those cutthroats jerks you crossed along the way.
At least that’s the findings of two studies that tracked men and women for more than a decade from college or undergraduate school through the first part of their professional careers.
“I was surprised by the consistency of the findings. No matter the individual or the context, disagreeableness did not give people an advantage in the competition for power – even in more cutthroat, ‘dog-eat-dog’ organizational cultures,” reports University of California Berkeley Professor Cameron Anderson, who co-authored the study, along a doctoral student and other professors with Berkeley and Colby College.
The conclusions were based on two studies of people who had completed personality assessments as undergraduates or MBA students at three different universities. More than a decade later, these same people were surveyed about their current positions as well as the culture of their organizations. These participants also asked their co-workers to rate their rank and workplace behavior.
Somewhat amazingly, the results found that those with selfish, deceitful, and aggressive personality traits did no better than people who were generous, trustworthy, and generally nice.
Some jerks did excel professionally. They just didn’t move ahead faster than others for all their annoying traits. The researchers found that any power boost jerks got from intimidation generally were offset by their poor interpersonal relationships. Extroverts, in contrast, were the most likely to have advanced because they were social, energetic and assertive.
“The bad news here is that organizations do place disagreeable individuals in charge just as often as agreeable people,” Anderson said. “In other words, they allow jerks to gain power at the same rate as anyone else, even though jerks in power can do serious damage to the organization.”
The findings deal with critical issues for managers because as Anderson notes ample research underscores that jerks in positions of power are abusive, prioritize their own self-interest, create corrupt cultures and ultimately cause their organizations to fail. They also serve as toxic role models for society at large.
“My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership,” Anderson said. “Prior research is clear: agreeable people in power produce better outcomes.”