Startling new research upends our assumptions about who winds up in the corner office.

For much of his career as an organizational psychologist, Cameron Anderson had been curious about a seemingly simple question: Does being a jerk help people ascend the ranks of power? But it wasn’t until November 2016, when voters elevated Donald Trump to the most powerful position in the world, that Anderson was spurred into action. 

“I couldn’t help but think, ‘OK, now is the time to finally do a proper study on it,'” says Anderson, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of California at Berkeley. “It’s just such a pervasive notion, that these egotistical narcissists and Machiavellians are the ones that make it to the top. It just seems like a given. It’s almost a truism.” 

From Ivan the Terrible to Elon Musk, there seems to be a well-documented pattern of assholes who wind up in charge. Surely, we think, they must have gotten ahead — at least in part — because of their despicable personalities. Even worse, all the cutthroat role models we’re surrounded by at work make us hesitant about being nice ourselves. We worry that the bullies and backstabbers will eat us for lunch as they march their way up the corporate ladder. 

But according to Anderson’s study, that’s simply not true. Using the results of a personality test taken by college and graduate students two decades ago, he and his colleagues tracked down the participants to see how they’ve fared in their careers. In the social sciences, the technical term for jerks — those who are combative, selfish, and manipulative — is “disagreeable.” Anderson found that the students with disagreeable personalities weren’t any likelier to rise to positions of power than their nicer counterparts. And their environment had no effect on the outcome: Even in the most toxic workplaces, being an asshole didn’t help people get ahead. 

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So does that mean that being good is actually the secret to success? Not necessarily. Anderson’s study revealed a surprisingly complex aspect to an age-old question about human nature: How do we amass influence in a community? The answer is as applicable to our 21st-century office lives as it is to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. As social creatures, we’ve always formed hierarchies, and where we rank on them can determine whether we struggle or thrive.

One theory of how we rise up the ranks posits that we rely on aggression to intimidate our peers into submission, the way gorillas and chimpanzees do. Call this the jerk way. Another theory asserts the opposite — that we build allies by performing acts of generosity, something that’s much more common in humans. Call this the nice-guy way. There’s a whole universe of research that looks into the relationship between personality and hierarchy, with ardent proponents and solid evidence on both sides. (There’s actually a third theory, that we amass power by exhibiting competence, but we’ll ignore that one for the moment, since it’s jerk neutral.) 

Anderson places himself …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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