Do the bad guys and gals actually win, and the nice folks finish last, in organizations? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, writes about this interesting question in an HBR blog post today. He examines the "dark triad" of personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.
Chamorro-Premuzic reviews the literature about these three traits. He writes:
It should be noted that, unlike clinical personality traits, these traits are normally distributed in the population – e.g., you can score low, average or high – and perfectly indicative of normal functioning. In other words, just because you score high doesn’t mean that you have problems, either at work or in your personal life. And despite the antisocial implications of the dark triad, recent research has highlighted a wide range of career-related benefits for these personality characteristics... An impressive 15-year longitudinal study found that individuals with psychopathic and narcissistic characteristics gravitated towards the top of the organizational hierarchy and had higher levels of financial attainment. In line with those findings, according to some estimates, the base rate for clinical levels of psychopathy is three times higher among corporate boards than in the overall population.
Why do the bad guys and gals rise to the top of many organizations? He points out that these folks tend to have higher self-esteem. Moreover, they tend to be extroverted and charming. They are curious and competitive. They can seduce and intimidate. Self-esteem, charm, curiosity... these are not bad things. In short, there's a "bright side to the dark side." The problem is when you are extreme with regard to this "dark triad" of psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. In that case, the bad guy or gal may succeed in getting to the top, but at the expense of organizational effectiveness.