Bad behavior and what are called “dark” personality traits can help you move up the corporate ladder, but ultimately they will do you in.
To be more precise, what psychologists call the dark side of personality is, by my lights, a character flaw. You can be congenial and outgoing without being manipulative. The first count as personality traits; the second makes them into character flaws.
People have lied, cheated and manipulated their way to the top, but, more often than not, Sue Shellenbarger explains, they do not stay there for very long.
It makes sense. If no one understands why you were promoted, you are going to have more difficulty commanding respect and exercising leadership. You might try to ply people to your will, but you will rarely get them to do their best work.
Shellenbarger offers an example:
Renee LeBouef cuts short any co-workers' attempts to gossip with her since an experience with a Machiavellian manager on a previous job undermined her relationships at the office.
The manager used flattery to make friends with Ms. LeBouef and other subordinates, telling them how attractive or talented they were and pressuring them to reveal personal information about themselves. The manager then used gossip to drive a wedge between co-workers, tighten her control over the team and promote herself with higher-ups, says Ms. LeBouef, a New Orleans sales and marketing manager.
Ms. LeBouef now shares only superficial details about herself—that she has a boyfriend and likes natural foods and holistic remedies—with co-workers. "They don't need to know anything further about my life outside the office," she says. She appreciates her current boss, because he shows enough interest in employees' lives to demonstrate that he cares about them, without meddling.
[For those who know French, I will agree that the woman’s name seems to be misspelled. “LeBouef” should probably be “LeBoeuf.” Yet, since the Journal repeats the same spelling three times, it might be the case that the family has chosen an idiosyncratic spelling for a fairly banal French name.]
In the case of Ms. LeBouef a boss who handed out too much flattery induced staff members to expose too much personal information. When someone possesses information about you that ought rightly to remain private, she can easily use the threat of exposure to manipulate you. People are more vulnerable to such manipulation when they live in a culture that promotes oversharing.
Employees are better managed when they are not encouraged to overshare. A good manager finds a mean between the extremes of complete disinterest and a prurient interest in gossip. He shows that he cares about his staff without meddling in their private affairs. He is more interested in hearing their ideas for improving company performance.
For what it is worth, the pronouns in Shellenbarger’s text tell us that the manipulative boss was a woman and that the caring boss was a man.
One understands how “dark” personality traits—i.e., bad character-- get rewarded. Narcissists often present well at interviews. They exude self-confidence, charm and personality. They look like they can step in and take charge.
When they do, however, they eventually encounter problems.
For a narcissist getting the job is far more important than doing the job. He will care less about whether the job is done well than about how he looks in his role. He will not care very much about the bottom line, but will be more interested in placing himself beyond blame. He will take credit for success and shift the blame for failure. He will use his skill at manipulating people to form alliances with others so he can convince them that he never does wrong.
In most cases, this strategy does not work out.
The careers of people with these characteristics tend to derail over time, in part because they tend to focus on short-term benefits for themselves rather than long-term results for their organizations. Colleagues may come to view them as hostile, harsh or arrogant, Dr. Spain says. And when present at extreme or clinical levels, these traits disrupt lives. One thing that trips people up, Mr. Ratley says: "They think the rules don't apply to them."
Good managers, like people who develop and sustain good relationships, play by the rules. They do not make of themselves a transcendent principle that can break the rules with impunity.