Sure, being assertive and developing thick skin may serve you well, but adopting a mindset in which you are only out for yourself might not be good for anything.
Whether people who are aggressive, scheming and selfish at the start of their careers are more likely to become more powerful than pleasant people is an age-old question that has “fascinated philosophers, scholars and laypeople alike for a long time,”
“Lots of people think nice people are the last to graduate,” said lead study author Cameron Anderson, professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.
The culturally persistent myth, the researchers found, has blinded us to the reality that there are actually people in power who have made it to the top without stepping on their desk neighbors.
“When we see someone in power who is an idiot … we notice it. It’s very noticeable,” Anderson said. “And I think we notice these (people) a lot more than people in power who are nice – these people kind of fade into the background. Examples of people in power who are just terrible people are in people’s minds more available. “
How this perception occurs and affects people’s approach to their careers is a phenomenon Anderson plans to investigate next, he said.
How personality types fare in the office
The researchers conducted two longitudinal studies that measured the personality traits of U.S. college students before they joined the workforce and the power they gained in their jobs by 2018, about 14 years later.
Participants reported their power, control over their subordinates, and their rank in the hierarchy of their company. These three factors were combined into an overall power rating. The subjects also rated their company’s willingness and size to fight, and how long they had worked there.
“It just seemed like it just didn’t help you, no matter who you are,” said Anderson, “acting in that angry, bullying, selfish way.”
How abused power can threaten relationships
Unpleasant people were more dominant and aggressive, but less social towards colleagues. The extroverts behaved in a dominant and aggressive manner, but they were also able to be generous with their colleagues. contribute and work harder; and find support for their ideas.
“Our results suggest that uncomfortable people, who would have been nicer and perhaps more communal with their peers, may have had a head start in competing for power,” said Anderson.
Bad relationships can threaten power because “everyone needs allies to be powerful,” added Anderson. “Very rarely can people have power and no strong alliances and no strong network. … And so the erosion of their alliances is a killer for unpleasant people.”
“Still, movies and TV shows are more likely to promote a ‘bad boss’ character than a transformation leader for that person in power,” added Cooper, who was not involved in the study and founder of the Cooper Strategic Group, a management consultancy. “While they can get the job done, the environment is hostile and promotes insecurity.”
Good news for the nice boys and girls
The bad news from this study is that an idiot does not affect your chances of assuming power, as organizations employ unpleasant people in powerful positions as much as they do pleasant ones.
“The reason this is such a problem is (because) there is a lot of research into what awkward people do when they’re in these positions, and it’s all bad,” said Anderson. “There’s sort of a shopping list of studies showing how toxic you can be as leaders, either in teams, departments, or organizations.”
It’s also good to know that being considerate of others can benefit your relationships and thereby increase your power in the workplace. “So when you combine this very generous behavior with being assertive – where you also take care of yourself and push to get things done – that’s the magic combination,” he added.
People who understand their strengths and opportunities are the best leaders, said Cooper Hakim. By focusing on people, leaders can leverage the strengths of each team member to get a job done together.
So note: even though the times we live in are especially challenging, you don’t have to play dirty to be the leader of the pack.