Selfish And Combative People Don’t Actually Get Ahead At Work

Image of the von Hammerstein-Equord management model

This was the title of a recent article by Emily Reynolds in the Research Digest of the British Psychological Society that you can access here.

The article quotes a 14-year longitudinal study from the University of California Study by Cameron Anderson that tracked 457 university graduates over 14 years.   The students was first given a Five Factor Model (FFM) personality test.  Then fourteen years later, when those participants were in the workforce, the team assessed participants’ power in the organisation, their view of their influence in the workplace, and organisational culture — how aggressive, criticising, political or selfish a participant felt it was.

Those who were most disagreeable at the first measurement did not have more power at the second, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity — suggesting that selfishness and aggression do not result in higher levels of power or attainment.

In the second study, the team looked more closely at workplace behaviours in another group which had been followed in a similar way. Behaviours were grouped into four categories: dominant behaviour (e.g. “I am willing to bully others to achieve important goals”), political behaviour (e.g. “I build alliances with important people”), communal behaviour (e.g. “I care about others’ wellbeing”) and competent behaviour (e.g. “I make important contributions to my team’s success”).  The results showed that those who engaged in more dominant, political, communal and competent behaviour had higher levels of power than those who were just disagreeable.

While I can understand the hope that nice people don’t finish last, I am sorry I disagree.  I think a major reason for the results of this study is the use of the FFM.  The problem is that the model states that is it is personalities that are low in the Agreeableness factor who are competitive and display dominant behaviour.

As I have blogged before the big advantage of the 7MTF over the FFM is that it includes two other factors that are often found in managers and leaders, the GoGetter and the Politician.  It is these two factors that drive their success, not low Agreeableness.  These two factors are less common than the other five which correlate strongly the FFM.

Recently I was introduced by one of my coaching clients to Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord management theory.  He was a German general who served for a period as Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr. He is regarded as “an undisguised opponent” of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime and is famous for this quote about who one should promote.

“There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.”

This is a wonderful description of the GoGetter personality in action and how von Hammerstein was regarded.  He had a reputation for independence and indolence, favouring hunting and shooting over the labours of administration.  Many of our current leaders follow this model.

This blog was first posted on LinkedIn on 5 October 2020.



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