Do nice managers finish last?

Nice employees are often stopped from advancing to management positions. Why we put up with so many who are incompetent?

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 18 Dec 2013

In the corporate world, most organisations seem to have developed - involuntarily, of course - quite effective mechanisms for stopping nice employees from advancing to management positions.

Conversely, those who shout, bitch, bully and suck up to their superiors are immediately considered for promotion, despite having no talent for leadership.

Incompetent managers are the single most important reason for the high levels of employee disengagement. Gallup estimates that around 70% of people dislike their job and this estimate is based on data from organisations that actually run employee surveys, which means that the real baseline for disengagement is probably higher.

Competent managers, it seems, are as much of an exception as nice managers.

As it is probably harder to coach arrogant and incompetent managers to improve their leadership skills, we may instead consider training generous, trustworthy and altruistic employees - that is, those who should be in charge - to behave in a selfish, manipulative and self-centred manner, so that they can be considered for management roles.

This 'bastard etiquette' training would help them come across as more leader-like in the eyes of their bosses, who would probably admire these qualities, not least because they may possess them themselves. Narcissists are especially prone to liking people who are like them - it is an indirect way of practising self-adulation.

One way of piloting this new system could be to train women to display more abrasive, impulsive and greedy behaviours - in other words, getting them to behave more like stereotypical male managers. This may increase the probability of their being considered for management roles, especially in the corporate sector.

Once in charge, they may stop faking hubris and incompetence and actually exercise leadership skills. Eventually, we may see a shift in people's perceptions of leadership potential and the bastard etiquette can be abandoned.

So, to answer the question I posed in the title: no, nice managers don't finish last, but they are hardly ever invited to the race. When they are, they win - not least because most of their rivals are unfit for purpose. Not that they care: they are generally rewarded anyway, at the expense of their subordinates and anyone watching. In that sense, one cannot blame them for not letting more nice managers enter the race.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter: @drtcp

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