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Turns Out Nice Folks Don’t Finish Last After All

December 15, 2020
by Maddy Weinberg

When it comes to business, being a jerk doesn’t necessarily help.

Turns out nice folks don’t finish last, after all. A UC Berkeley-led study published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that “disagreeable individuals,” defined as those with combative, selfish, and manipulative traits, don’t achieve greater career success than their kinder counterparts. 

So, how does that explain the rise of a bully like Donald Trump?  According to the study’s lead author Cameron Anderson, a professor of organizational behavior at the Haas School of Business, the research showed that while, “disagreeableness did not help people attain power, … it also did not hurt their pursuit of power.” 

To conduct the study, Anderson and his research team assessed participants’ personalities prior to entering the workforce, then measured the power that they had attained more than a decade into their careers. According to the findings, there are as many jerks at the top as there are gems. This result held true across a variety of industries, despite differences in gender, ethnicity, and intellect. 

So why do we persist in believing that jerks prosper? “That’s what I’d like to know!” says Anderson, who hopes to tackle the question in a future study. “One possibility is that when we see someone in power who is disagreeable, like Trump, that example really stands out. … But for now, it’s still a mystery.”

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