New research may support the phrase “Nice guys finish last,’’ made famous by baseball player Leo Durocher — at least when it comes to the workplace.
In a recent study from the University of Bern in Switzerland, researchers found that German employees with high levels of narcissism were linked to higher salaries, while those displaying “Machiavellianism’’ (traits related to manipulation and superficial charm) were tied to leadership positions and career satisfaction.
Researchers Daniel Spurk, Anita C. Keller, and Andreas Hirschi analyzed the effects of “Dark Triad’’ traits (psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism) on outcomes like salary and leadership positions, and found a correlation between employees demonstrating those traits and career success, even when controlling for the effects of demographics, job tenure, organization size, and hours worked.
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It’s worth noting, as Harvard Business Review points out, that the Dark Triad personality traits aren’t clinical diagnoses. They’re more like personality traits and are “normally distributed in the population.’’
Psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism can be measured by asking respondents to rate statements like, “I tend to lack remorse’’ and “I want others to pay attention to me’’ on a 7-point scale, and then adding up the total score, or focusing on specific traits.
Respondents can score high, low, or average and still function quite normally, both in his or her personal life, as well as the workplace.
But with “psychopathy’’ linked to dishonesty, recklessness, and cruelty, and “narcissism’’ related to an inflated sense of importance, it begs the question as to why workers with these disagreeable character traits finish first so often.
Psychopaths are so successful, in fact, some studies suggest levels of psychopathy are three times higher on corporate boards than the national average.
Earlier studies of the Dark Triad qualities suggests these negative traits often overlap with positive traits associated with career climbing, like extraversion, curiosity, and self-esteem, while other research links Machiavellian tendencies with the ability to seduce and captivate bosses, as well as intimidate co-workers.
People with strong moral compasses may find this news depressing, but there’s a silver lining.
As HBRnotes, psychopathic traits that help you succeed in the short term often have negative outcomes related to job performance in the long run. For example, Dark Triad traits are also related to behavior like Internet fraud, insider trading, embezzlement, and corruption.