Plenty of jerks were in positions of power, but it wasn't because they manipulated their way into it.
Machiavellian behavior has been part of the lexicon for 500 years, but in contrast to modern claims that jerks in positions of power are abusive, prioritize their own self-interest, create corrupt cultures, and ultimately cause their organizations to fail, selfish, arrogant, and abusive behavior instead seems to be idolized. Look at Steve Jobs of Apple.
Instead, the results show that people get jobs more often because they are competent, not because others like them. In science, everyone knows a difficult, cranky scientist who is not well-regarded, but they are well-respected. Yet a whole field of psychological papers claims instead that agreeable people in power produce better outcomes.
Not really. Personality only seemed to matter on the positive side. Positive extroverts were the most likely to have advanced in their organizations, based on their sociability, energy, and assertiveness, while difficult people succeeded despite their traits.
The participants had all completed the Big Five Inventory (BFI), an assessment based on general consensus among psychologists of the five fundamental personality dimensions: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. In addition, some of the participants also completed a second personality assessment, the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R).
In the first study, which involved 457 participants, the researchers found no relationship between power and disagreeableness, no matter whether the person had scored high or low on those traits. That was true regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, industry, or the cultural norms in the organization.
The second study went deeper, looking at the four main ways people attain power: through dominant-aggressive behavior, or using fear and intimidation; political behavior, or building alliances with influential people; communal behavior, or helping others; and competent behavior, or being good at one's job. They also asked the subjects' co-workers to rate their place in the hierarchy, as well as their workplace behavior (interestingly, the co-workers' ratings largely matched the subjects' self-assessments).
This allowed the researchers to better understand why disagreeable people do not get ahead faster than others. Even though jerks tend to engage in dominant behavior, their lack of communal behavior cancels out any advantage their aggressiveness gives them, they concluded.
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