Despite the body of research on#leadership that shows the importance of likability, there is a persistent myth that #jerks get ahead. But in exciting news for anyone who has dealt with difficult people, a new research study shows that being intimidating, manipulative or selfish does not help people get ahead after all.
In findings from Berkeley Haas and UC #Berkeley, evidence consistently showed that disagreeable people do not have an advantage at work. “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,” said study co-author Cameron Anderson in a press release.
To determine this, the study followed individuals over a 14 year time span. They started by surveying undergraduates from three different universities with personality assessments, rating them for disagreeable attributes. Then 10 years later, they assessed them again. This time they they asked the participants about the culture of their #workplace as well as their level of power and rank at #work.
Next, the researcher surveyed the participants coworkers. They asked them about how they were to work with, their behavior, and their rank in the workplace hierarchy.
The findings were clear: those who were generous, trustworthy, and generally nice are just as likely to have obtained power as those who scored high on disagreeable traits. Being manipulative or abrasive did not lead to greater success.
Why does the myth of the successful jerk persist?
According to the study, those most likely to get ahead were the #extroverts, which the authors attributed to their sociability. Extroverts who get along well with others, are assertive and have high energy tended to achieve the highest rank in the workplace.
But the jerks still ended up in positions of power, just no more often than anyone else. The study authors acknowledged the power boost that they get from intimidating people, but said it was offset by their poor interpersonal skills.
“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.”
That’s bound to happen, because there’s still such a dialogue in our culture around #successful jerks. Consider our narratives, and think of all the models of bosses on TV and in movies who are jerks. From movies like Wall Street and Office Space to TV shows like Damages, bosses so often seem to be selfish and intimidating.
And even more interesting is the narrative of who gets the better of the disagreeable #boss. Here we are again and again see the rogue, a variant of a jerk who disregards the organization to go their own way. Consider the iconic scenes in Office Space, when Peter Gibbons rebels against his obnoxious boss and comes back to work with a devil may care attitude. Immediately the consultants identify him as someone with top #leadership potential.
There are plenty of real life examples of jerks who end up in charge, leading to a perception that being intimidating led to their success. The study authors pointed to #SteveJobs as an example in the paper. They suggest that some who read his biography might think, “Maybe if I become an even bigger asshole, I’ll be successful like Steve.”
But beyond these examples, there is an even more specific dynamic when it comes to powerful women.
Successful women face the crazy/bitch stereotype
Jennifer Berdahl, a professor of leadership studies at the University of British Columbia, wrote a compelling piece about how women in academia are viewed. As a graduate student she noticed that junior female faculty tended to be viewed as “as up-and-comers, friendly, and good citizens.” Well it was true that each of them was generally identified as having an Achilles’ heel that was likely to hold back their success, such as having had children too young, they were still viewed more favorably than senior faculty.
When it came to senior #female faculty, they were few of them, and Berdahl noticed that each of them had a seemingly unique negative narrative about them. These whispered stories served to keep younger faculty and students like herself away. The junior faculty avoided them, because in their own way each of them was characterized as either “crazy” or a “bitch.”
At first, Berdahl bought into it, but then she noticed the same narrative around senior female faculty when she moved to another university, this time as a junior faculty herself. It led her to want to work with the #male faculty, the faculty that seemed to matter. Eventually, at a third university, where she began as junior faculty, she experienced a transition: “the feeling of being a promising “little sister” morphed into being a resented #wife, and after tenure, a despised #mom… Now I’m one of the bitches, crazies, and/or loathed mom types,” she wrote.
Berdahl’s article pointed out the unfairness and deeply rooted in nature of these female stereotypes, a stance echoed in the article “Why We Need to Stop Calling Powerful Women ‘Bitches’” in Cosmopolitan. It’s a false narrative, meant to undermine powerful women.
Upon reflection, I wondered if the crazy #bitch narrative does more than simply marginalize powerful #women. Doesn’t it also reinforce the idea that in order to be successful a #woman needs to be a bitch? In its own way it reflects the jerk narrative, that to rank highly in the work hierarchy you need to be selfish and aggressive.
Yet according to the Berkeley study, that is simply not the case.
Disagreeable behavior ignores key paths to success
“Disagreeableness is a relatively stable aspect of personality that involves the tendency to behave in quarrelsome, cold, callous and selfish ways,” the researchers explained. “…Disagreeable people tend to be hostile and abusive to others, deceive and manipulate others for their own gain and ignore others’ concerns or welfare.”
And that’s a problem because it ignores some of the key skills that do lead to success. In the study, the authors identified four pathways to power:
- Dominant-aggressive behavior: using fear and intimidation.
- Political behavior: building alliances with influential people.
- Communal behavior: helping others.
- Competent behavior: being good at one’s job.
The authors concluded that jerks may use dominant-aggressive behavior, but they cancel out any advantages this gets them by ignoring communal behavior. So selfish, aggressive people don’t have an advantage in getting ahead.
Highlighting the body of research that shows that when those in power prioritize their own self interests, they tend to create abusive and corrupt cultures, and cause their organizations to fail, Anderson said, “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.”
www.forbes.com – September 18, 2020