If you want to make it to the top, you've got to embrace your dark side, right? Turns out, maybe not.
If "American Psycho," "House of Cards," and "The Wolf of Wall Street" taught us anything, it's that the key to financial success is a mixture of callousness, manipulation, and a soupçon of narcissism. But while psychopaths make excellent television characters...
GIF from "House of Cards"/Netflix.
...it turns out that in the real world, they're not as successful as one might think.
A new study of hedge fund managers found that, contrary to popular wisdom, psychopathic tendencies might actually make you suck at your job.
Leanne ten Brinke is a researcher at the University of Colorado and a former forensic psychologist who got interested in psychopaths after a conversation with a colleague. They couldn't agree about what makes someone a successful leader, so they decided to put certain personality traits to the test.
To figure this out, ten Brinke's team scrounged up 101 recorded interviews with hedge fund managers; rated each one with an eye for attributes that approached the "dark triad" of psychopathic, narcissistic, and Machiavellian tendencies; and compared the final results with assessments of each manager's career success.
The conventional thinking might be that more callous risk-takers would be the most successful, right? But the more psychopathic personalities actually ended up generating about 15% less money for their shareholders. And the more psychopath-like the managers got, the worse they did.
While this might go against what Hollywood tells us, these results lined up with previous research ten Brinke and her colleagues did on U.S. senators, which revealed that darker personalities attracted fewer co-sponsors for potential bills.
In general, psychopathic tendencies don't make for good leaders.
"They're not very good team players," said ten Brinke. "They tend to make their subordinates' lives kind of miserable. Which doesn't exactly bring out the best in people." While they can talk the talk, when it comes to actually producing results, things fall apart.
"They look really confident and like they're very capable, but when you actually look at the performance, it tends to be poor," ten Brinke said.
This has implications for anyone looking to promote an employee, elect a leader, or work under a new boss.
Television might make us think that a company's success relies on employing someone like Gordon Gekko, but as ten Brinke noted, "When we have the chance to choose our leaders, we should check our assumptions."
So what did make someone a better leader? There wasn't a single trait, but if you zoom out, ten Brinke said that her previous senator study suggested that good old fashioned virtues like courage, wisdom, and a sense of justice win out.
Score one for the good guys.