More Research on Why Nice Guys Lose

(Hemera)

A couple months ago, we wrote about a study by researchers from Notre Dame and Cornell that showed how “agreeableness” negatively affects monetary earnings, particularly for men. Translation: it pays to be a jerk. Well, not exactly, but it apparently doesn’t pay to be overly nice.

Now, a recent paper from a host of researchers (from Stanford, Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon) fleshes out this notion by showing why nice guys who watch out for others generally fail to become leaders. The study looks at how contributing to the public good (i.e. taking care of outsiders, and even others in your own group) influences a person’s status on two critical dimensions of leadership: prestige and dominance. People who shared resources with their group were seen as prestigious, while those who protected their resources and even sought to deprive members of another group were seen as dominant.

From the abstract:

We predicted that contribution behavior would have opposite effects on two forms of status – prestige and dominance – depending on its consequences for the self, in-group and out-group members. When  the only way to benefit in-group members was by harming out-group members (Study 1),  contributions increased prestige and decreased dominance compared to free-riding. Adding the  option to benefit in-group members without harming out-group members (Study 2) decreased the  prestige and increased the perceived dominance of those who chose to benefit in-group members via intergroup competition. Finally, sharing resources with both in-group and out-group members decreased perceptions of both prestige and dominance compared to sharing them with  in-group members only (Study 3). Prestige and dominance differentially mediated the effects of contribution behavior on leader election, exclusion from the group, and choices of a group  representative for an intergroup competition.

The results of several group experiments showed that dominant individuals were more likely than prestigious ones to be elected leader of a group in competition with another group. Individuals with high prestige were seen as submissive compared to those striving to maximize personal gains. So in times of competition, we devalue altruism in our leaders.

From a Stanford press release:

“Our findings show that people want respectable and admired group members to lead them at times of peace, but when ‘the going gets tough’ they want a dominant, power-seeking individual to lead the group,” said Nir Halevy, lead author and acting assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 10

View All Comments »
  1. Frank Gondo says:

    “I’m sorry, Tom, but you’re not a wartime consiglieri.”

    http://www.reverbnation.com/gondo

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
  2. JJzD says:

    Is this “people” or “Americans”? Maybe not a huge issue for the most readers of your blog, but the US scores very high on power and masculinty:
    http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_united_states.shtml

    Although current politics in europe seem to follow the same logic, this is in the context of european leadership an interesting issue.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1
    • GumbyBum says:

      I second your concern. In fact, I strongly suspect cultural bias in this research. Having lived in Scandinavia and the United States, I have experienced a noticeable difference in what I would term “the competitive mindset,” which appears to be far more prevalent in the US than in the more cooperation-oriented nations of Northern Europe. The Hofstede research is an excellent resource for understanding these vast cultural divides.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Soothsayer says:

    So that’s why we have assholes as bosses

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2
    • jdieqzx says:

      “So thats why we have assholes as bosses” HAHA, soo true. But wouldn’t the Leader who shares with HIS group but deprives the OTHER group be the most dominant of all? I don’t see that option anywhere. Our greatest known leaders (how about Norman Schwarzkopf or captain sully sullenberger), real heroes are praising of their own crew and modest in their assessments of themselves! And Norman was viciously demeaning of the enemy, but not of his own troops. This seems pretty easy to figure out without a study.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. Mike B says:

    I think that there might be some conflation between the traits of being selfish and being dominant. Good leaders need to be dominant, especially in times where failure to reach a decision is as bad as (or worse) reaching the wrong decision. Looking after one’s self tends to be a fairly easy decision to make. It comes naturally. Those who try to look after the group (especially in the form of giving the group an equal voice) will have to be more deliberative, setting aside their own needs for the group’s need and if the two are aligned, making sure there is no conflict. Therefore this deliberative process can result in weak leadership.

    What one needs is a dominant altruist. Someone who has a vision for group prosperity, but does not include the actual decision making process in that vision. Because of the inherent conflict between these goals this combination of traits is somewhat rare.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1
  5. Corrado says:

    What about the situation where there is a correlation between being dominant and “when the going gets though”? Wouldn’t that false the results of this study?
    I mean, obviously if our leader is dominant we are going to be more often in the zero sum game situation and need to take resources from other groups in order to increase ours

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
  6. James says:

    The unasked question, in two parts: A) Why would anyone want to be a leader? B) Why do so many people seem to want/need leaders? I can find my way just fine, all by myself :-)

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  7. Mike S says:

    This study seems to stand for the exact opposite proposition. It says “When the only way to benefit in-group members was by harming out-group members (Study 1), contributions increased prestige and decreased dominance compared to free-riding. Adding the option to benefit in-group members without harming out-group members (Study 2) decreased the prestige and increased the perceived dominance of those who chose to benefit in-group members via intergroup competition.” So basically if the only way to benefit the group was to be a dick to people outside the group, dominance went down. On the other hand if you could benefit the group without harming others, dominance went up (and the group was more likely to make you a leader). This makes it seem like nice guys finish first (that is if you have to be a dick to benefit the group, you are less likely to be made a leader). Or am I misreading this somehow?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Bhante Jhanarato says:

    It’s true. I’m a Buddhist Monk and rate highly on the Agreeableness on the Big-Five scale. My income: $0.00

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0