How ruthless are successful business people

Professional life: why not only self-centered careers

Steve Jobs was arguably one of the most colorful company bosses of the 20th century. He made Apple a global corporation, and to this day he is considered a legend for his innovative design ideas. The American, who died in 2011, is said to have been a power man who manipulated those around him and was closest to himself. Jobs' personality is now an example of an old question in organizational psychology: Do disgusting packages in particular make a career? In other words: do you have to be ruthless and self-fixated to get up in the world of work?

A team led by Cameron Anderson from the University of California at Berkeley answered this question with a yes and no. Incompatible people with a tendency towards dominant and aggressive behavior do not necessarily have more success than sociable contemporaries, write the psychologists in the journal »PNAS«.

This article is contained in Spectrum Psychology, 1/2021 (January / February)

On the other hand, the professional world does not manage to completely keep questionable characters away from positions of power. This is how some of them succeed in career advancement. The bottom line is that the psychologists attribute the fact that they do not seem to be more successful than more sympathetic competitors to a kind of zero-sum game: Reckless behavior could bring advantages, but a lack of helpfulness and the ability to work in a team destroy these in part.

In total, the team at three US universities questioned almost 700 test persons during and 14 years after their studies and recorded, among other things, the personality traits known as the “Big Five”, including tolerance. However, it does not seem to have a measurable effect on professional success, the researchers report: Incompatible people were not more likely to get up than tolerable ones. Instead, the psychologists found another indicator of professional progress: extraversion. This quality facilitates the ascent, among other things because extraverts network better in the course of their professional life than introverts, who find a high level of personal contact to be exhausting.