Jonas Enge
Jonas Enge@maccyber
Are Disagreeable People More Likely to Gain Power at Work?

Are Disagreeable People More Likely to Gain Power at Work?

3 min read

In the realm of work and leadership, there's a lingering myth that being aggressive and manipulative—traits often perceived as disagreeable—might actually help one climb the corporate ladder. This notion suggests that being a "jerk" could be a ticket to gaining power and influence. However, a comprehensive study led by Cameron Anderson from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, alongside his colleagues, challenges this assumption with robust empirical evidence.

The Essence of the Study

The researchers embarked on a journey to understand if there's a real advantage to being disagreeable in professional settings. Over approximately 14 years, they tracked individuals from their college days into their careers, analyzing their personality traits and the level of power they achieved within their organizations.

Key Findings: Disagreeableness Doesn't Pay Off

The results were quite revealing: being disagreeable—characterized by traits like selfishness, combativeness, and manipulativeness—does not correlate with gaining more power at work. Contrary to what some might expect, the study found that these individuals did not ascend to higher positions of power more than their more agreeable counterparts.

Interestingly, while disagreeable individuals often engaged in more dominant-aggressive behaviors that might seem beneficial for climbing the hierarchical ladder, they simultaneously exhibited fewer communal behaviors like generosity and cooperativeness. This lack of communal behavior, essential for building robust professional relationships, offset any potential gains from their aggressive tactics.

Extraversion: A More Reliable Path to Power

The study contrasted the effects of disagreeableness with those of extraversion—a trait characterized by energy, sociability, and assertiveness. Unlike disagreeableness, extraversion was consistently linked to higher power within organizations. Extraverts, with their propensity to be outgoing and energetic, were more likely to attain influential positions, probably because they engage more effectively in networking and building alliances, which are crucial in most business environments.

Why Understanding This Matters

The implications of these findings are significant for several reasons:

  • Career Development: Individuals aiming for leadership positions might consider focusing on developing positive interpersonal skills like collaboration and empathy rather than resorting to aggression or manipulation.
  • Organizational Culture: Understanding that disagreeable traits do not necessarily equate to effective leadership can help organizations foster a more supportive and healthy work environment.
  • Leadership Training: Training programs can emphasize the importance of positive social interactions and the development of traits that genuinely contribute to obtaining and maintaining leadership roles.

A Call for a Shift in Perception

This study serves as a crucial reminder that while the media or popular culture may occasionally glorify the "tough, ruthless leader," the reality is starkly different. True leadership encapsulates the ability to motivate, inspire, and maintain positive relationships within an organization.


Being a jerk doesn't get you ahead in the workplace. Aspiring leaders would do well to invest in their social skills and ability to positively engage with others. Ultimately, it's the supportive, extroverted, and collaborative individuals who are more likely to rise to the top—an encouraging thought for anyone aspiring to lead with integrity and positivity.

In the journey of career growth, let's remember: kindness and assertiveness are not mutually exclusive but can be powerful allies in climbing the professional ladder.


disagreeable personalities
career development
organizational culture
workplace behavior
power dynamics
employee relationships
leadership training
professional growth