Written by Dr. Robert Hogan and Dr. Kimberly Nei
In a fascinating and counter-intuitive paper, two Harvard economists (Housman and Minor) suggest that it makes better financial sense not to hire toxic workers than to hire star performers. Toxic workers engage in theft, property damage, sexual harassment, and workplace violence and destroy the culture of the workplace. Not all toxic employees are delinquents, however. Housman and Minor examined data from over 50,000 workers across 11 firms and found that narcissistic, self-regarding people are also likely to be terminated for toxic behavior. They also note that toxicity in one employee breeds toxicity in others.
To illustrate how toxic workers impact organizations, consider the NFL, whose teams spend vast sums of money chasing top talent. The money mostly goes to star performers who are easily identifiable using objective metrics (e.g., yards per carry/reception, touchdowns, interceptions, sacks). However, few teams pay attention to how these stars will impact their organizational culture. Supremely talented but difficult athletes such as Terrell Owens and Greg Hardy run up their own individual numbers while decimating team morale. Even though Terrell Owens was fired by the San Francisco 49ers for being disruptive, the Philadelphia Eagles thought they could control him, and failed. Then the Dallas Cowboys signed Owens and had the same problems. The Cowboys made a similar mistake in signing Greg Hardy, who had previously derailed with the Carolina Panthers. Dallas’ willingness to put up with Hardy’s toxic behavior on and off the field (e.g., fighting with teammates and coaches, skipping practices) may have caused them to miss the playoffs in 2015. Further, Dallas continues to attract negative publicity for not controlling Hardy. Toxic workers are often highly productive individual contributors who force organizations to choose between toxicity and productivity.
Housman and Minor suggest these NFL hiring practices parallel the willingness of investment banks to recruit star traders who ignore trading rules when doing so is profitable. This has predictable consequences: one star, Bruno Iksil of JP Morgan, cost the firm billions of dollars. Similarly, Housman and Minor argue that Jack Welsh made a huge positive impact on General Electric as CEO from 1981 to 2001 by removing toxic workers despite their productivity.
Housman and Minor show that companies profit more from avoiding toxic hires (by more than 2:1) than from recruiting star performers. This demonstrates the value of screening out potentially toxic employees and highlights the benefit companies can derive from developing their current workforce.
Hogan created the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) to identify the toxic behavioral tendencies that derail performance. Recent research by Woo, Chae, Jebb, and Kim (2016) shows that the HDS strongly predicts deviant behavior (e.g., policy violation, theft, falsifying company records, missing work without notice). Using personality assessment, organizations can select productive but non-toxic employees, something not possible with measures of cognitive ability.
It may be the secret of our of success or the root of all evil, but the dark side of our personality fundamentally shapes who we are as leaders. The latest issue of Talent Quarterly focuses on how this dark side can create brilliant success or tragic failure. The world-class lineup of authors in this issue describe how to understand and manage this challenging but powerful force. Take a look at some article exerpts or purchase the full publication.
"Reflections on the Dark Side" by Robert Hogan
Robert and Joyce Hogan coined the term “Dark Side of Personality” and in this article Robert describes the concept and its origins. He details the good news and bad news about the dark side, and tells us under what conditions people can change their personality and “lighten up” the dark.
"Crazy. Stupid. Mean: The Reason Leaders Behave Badly Matters" by Peter Harms
Harms tells us why we should consider the origin of a leader’s poor behaviors. He offers the very helpful framework of those behaviors stemming from unpredictable actions (Crazy), insufficient mental function (Stupid) or hostility (Mean). Harms illustrates those categories with references to popular movie characters and political figures.
"The Bright Side of the Dark; The Dark Side of the Bright" by Nassir Ghaemi
The Director of Tuft University’s Mood Disorders Program urges us to redefine what’s meant by normal by describing the productive behaviors found towards the fringes of traditional definitions. Ghaemi explains how mildly manic moods allow people to think quickly and perhaps more creatively than others, while mild depression supports a very realistic and practical view of the world.
"Dealing with the Dark Side" by Rob Kaiser
We can’t avoid the dark side of our co-workers, clients and ourselves, so psychologist Rob Kaiser provides practical strategies to deal with it. Kaiser uses the Hogan framework of “dark side” behaviors to show the strengths and weaknesses that each behavior brings, and discusses how to identify and correct when you’re likely to show those derailing behaviors.
"Leaders can be Lethal" by Michael Maccoby
From one of the world’s leading researchers on narcissism and poor leader behaviors, Leaders can be Lethal describes how our quest for, and trust in, leaders is often to our detriment. Maccoby presents historical examples including the bad (Napoleon, Hitler, etc.) and the good (Hewlett & Packard, William Mayo), and challenges us to consider whether today’s workforce will put up with leaders who offer protection at such a serious price.
The two keys to success when it comes to running an effective business are money and people. Organizations tend to recognize that money is important to running a successful business, but often times they fail to focus on the people side of the equation. Unfortunately when companies do consider the people side they often get it wrong. They use informal assessment techniques and often focus on the wrong characteristics when identifying and developing talent. Political and social skills tend to get people noticed, but most jobs require much more than that in order to be a successful performer. In addition, jobs are rapidly changing and what’s required for success at Time 1 may differ from what’s needed at Time 2. As such, it is critical that organizations understand what candidates bring to the table to understand where their development needs lie based on the future job context. The good news is developing employees can be an easy process, so long as you use the proper techniques and assessments to understand people.
The first step to developing employees is to understand their core values. By starting out with a validated assessment that measures an employee’s values you can understand what motivates their behavior, what type of environments will be a good fit, and the culture the employee will create if they are leading a team or project. A quality values assessment uncovers how a person’s decisions are influenced by his or her values. With a greater understanding of an employee’s values, it’s easier for a coach or manager to link developmental plans back to the core motivators of the employee.
The second step to developing employees is to help them understand how they approach decision-making and how they respond to feedback about their decisions. High potential employees and leaders are responsible for critical decisions facing a business. These decisions must be made in real time with limited information; the reality, however, is the first plan or decision is rarely the best option. Often times, what separates “good” from “great” employees comes down to the quality of the decisions they make and how quickly they can adapt their decisions based on feedback. Once you’ve considered the underlying motivators of an employee, you can start to look at how this influences their decision-making process. A quality decision-making assessment tells you how people prefer to process information (e.g., quantitative vs qualitative), their pre-decision tendencies (e.g., risk averse vs reward seeking), and their post-decision reactions (e.g., accepting feedback vs denying feedback). It is at this stage where you can link decision making back to values to drive strategic self-awareness.
The final step to developing employees is to help them gain a better understanding of their reputations in the workplace. The values we hold and our approach to decision-making help mold our personalities and ultimately shapes our reputations at work. Everyone has two components of their personality: a bright side and a dark side. The bright side of our reputation is on display when we are self-monitoring. This is the side of ourselves that most people see on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, when we stop self-monitoring (e.g., when under stress) is when the dark side of our reputation emerges. This is when we let our emotions get the best of us, or when we overplay our natural strengths. These dark-side tendencies are often what lead to career derailment. Considering both bright- and dark-side components can help employees uncover blind spots, tap hidden potential, and prevent strengths from turning into areas of weakness.
Focusing on these three steps provides the awareness employees need to develop their careers. Adding rigor into the assessment process and implementing a structured approach to employee development can help organizations harness areas of strength and identify areas of opportunity as it relates to their human capital.
What makes a great chief executive? Although leadership is one of the most studied subjects in academia and the business world, there is no clear answer to this question, in part because so little research has been done examining what separates CEOs from the rest of us.
To answer this question, Hogan partner Winsborough Limited analyzed a database of New Zealand chief executive applicants along three dimensions: bright-side, or normal personality, values, and dark-side personality, or derailers.
Winsborough research describes three types of CEOs, their typical derailers, and the development needs of most CEOs.
Occupying the top role is not the same as being effective in it. This research identifies the characteristics of the average CEO. However, these are not necessarily characteristics of a successful CEO. A good team can carry a mediocre CEO. A good CEO cannot carry a mediocre team. Thus, good CEOs build high-performing teams.
To find out how CEOs are different from us, read the white paper.
When thinking about personality, one thing that we know is there is no such thing as a good or bad personality. It really depends on the job and situation. This is a point that we regularly emphasize to individuals and organizations. Along these same lines, we know that high scores on personality assessments do not inherently mean good things, and low scores do not always mean bad things – there are positives and negatives to both ends of the continuum. Having stated that, our scores do represent our reputations. Over the course of time people come to expect certain behaviors from us based on our past performances.
One of the main goals of personality assessment is to provide individuals with strategic self-awareness. Through feedback, we can help the individual understand his or her tendencies and reputation in the work environment. As such, we can help the low Prudence individual understand that others view him or her as being impulsive and lacking attention to detail, or aid the high Prudence individual with recognizing that he or she may be somewhat inflexible and resistant to change. Having stated that, we are not out to change personality, rather we are looking to make people more aware of their tendencies so they can change their behavior moving forward.
Nevertheless, change is a difficult and ongoing process. To illustrate this point, take a minute to write a few sentences using your opposite hand (i.e., your right hand if you are left-handed and vice-versa). At first, it’s a challenging and awkward thing to do. However, with practice this behavior will become easier to execute. This analogy represents what we are trying to accomplish with feedback and coaching. We should not be trying to convert lefties to righties, and the same is true with personality. We are not trying to convert the low Prudence to high Prudence (or vice-versa), rather we are aiming to help individuals understand their strengths and shortcomings of what their scores represent, and provide developmental tips to leverage these strengths and mitigate these shortcomings.
So, the next time you are confronted with a challenging situation, don’t throw up a white flag and hide behind your personality scores. If you’re low Prudence and the project requires attention to detail, or are high Prudence and the project demands flexibility and openness to change, don’t allow your personality to be a barrier to your success. Instead, take some time to reflect on your natural response tendencies and decide if this is the most advantageous response option given the situation, or if a different course of action would be more beneficial. Through persistence and ongoing coaching, we can learn to overcome the dark side of our personality and let the bright side shine.
You make what seems like a promising hire – good resume, relevant experience, and solid references. And, at first, her performance matches that promise.
As time wears on, however, you start to hear grumbling around the water cooler. Nobody likes to work with your new hire. Her coworkers start to pull away, her work unit shows signs of waning engagement, and her performance starts to flag. Just like that, your promising new employee turns into a nightmare. Why? Odds are, your new hire is succumbing to the dark side of her personality.
Dark side personality characteristics emerge during times of increased stress, like the often-intense pressure to perform during the first several months of employment. If unchecked, these characteristics can disrupt relationships with a person’s coworkers and subordinates, which can impede their chances at success.
The Hogan Development Survey measures dark side personality along 11 characteristics, which can be grouped into three distinct reactions to conflict:
Unfortunately, dark side personality characteristics are nearly impossible to detect in a normal hiring process, making this story all too familiar. However, you can use targeted personality assessment to identify candidates’ dark side characteristics and focus onboarding efforts to ensure that you don’t wind up with a hiring horror story.
To learn more about our approach to dealing with people’s dark side, check out our whitepaper How your Greatest Strength can Become your Greatest Weakness.
We heard it all before: leaders behaving one way in public, then very differently behind closed doors.
Right now in the UK, ex Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling is spilling the beans over the leadership style of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Seemingly placid, timid and shy on the surface, rumours of an explosive, temperamental and potentially bullying Brown gradually started emerging from Number 10 in the final months of his presidency. These allegations were quickly dismissed by government officials and no further action was taken. Mr Darling is now telling the world about the “hellish” behaviour he experienced and the “brutal regime” he suffered at the hands of Mr Brown. And while, admittedly, we have only heard one side of the story (Brown has yet to comment), Darling painfully refers to this period as "hellish... very personal. It left a scar on me... you just can't get over it." Once again, a leader’s personality is on the front cover of all newspapers.
It is not hard to see why Brown’s personality captured the attention of the media. Reports of Brown’s behaviour away from the public eye appeared like two inexplicable sides of the same coin – and the difficulty in the reconciliation of the two once again highlighted our inner challenges with ambiguity and conflicts.
This is not surprising; human beings do not like to consider themselves conflicted and it is known that most of us find inconsistencies in behaviour unsettling. In the history of personality research, these conflicts were once considered discrepancies and thus wrongly attributed to assessment and measurement errors. Today, consultants specialising in the assessment of the bright and dark side of personality are aware that conflicting behaviours can be exhibited in different circumstances or even days (e.g. emotionally composed and mature one day, volatile and abusive the next). In fact, we often encounter these conflicts when interpreting psychometric reports and delivering feedback to organisational leaders. Addressing intrapersonal conflicts is a complex task that requires careful analysis, introspection and a desire to change.
Years of research conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership and Hogan Assessment Systems, as well as an increasing number of publications (see Dotlich and Cairo’s Why CEOs Fail), demonstrate that leadership derailment can be attributed to recurrent, measurable and most importantly, manageable themes (or derailing tendencies).
Darling’s testimony is a stark reminder that these derailers do not only represent barriers to leadership effectiveness and well-being at work, but also constitute significant barriers to individual, team and organisational performance (in this instance coming in the way of something as important as tackling the country’s financial crisis). These destructive tendencies affect the ability of leaders to gain trust from subordinates and form coalitions at work, which in turn negatively affect a range of executive functions, such as decision-making, the objective analysis of crucial facts and figures, and the ability to build and maintain a high performing team.
Brown’s example of leadership style characterised by an excessive focus on managing relationships publicly with external customers and stakeholders, while ignoring the quality of the interactions with internal ones: colleagues, peers and subordinates. Leaders adopting this style have a tendency to release their frustration upon team members, disregarding the consequences of their behaviour, either because they think that the behaviour is acceptable (it’s between us) or simply because they can get away with it (no one will know).
We never fully know what goes on behind the closed doors of an organisation. But leaders who keep smiling in public, only to behave carelessly towards their team members, have an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson from this story.
After all, reputations are powerful and enduring things; they can be buried, but they never fully go away.
Andrea Facchini, MSc.
Business Psychologist and Guest Blogger
The future of the US (and world) economy depends on the activity of entrepreneurs, who create businesses, jobs, and wealth. Although, as Adam Smith noted, they do this for perfectly self-centered reasons and the fact that others profit from their activities is of no interest to them. Adam Smith was speaking from personal experience, and if he were alive today, he would still need to speak from experience, because applied psychology knows little about the psychology of entrepreneurship in an empirical way—although interest in the subject has begun to emerge. What happens when they are in charge? The bottom line is that they make disastrous managers.
Writers from Drucker to Christensen note that the essence of entrepreneurship is “creative disruption” – tearing up the old to make way for the new. In addition, these writers suggest that the characteristics of entrepreneurs closely resemble the characteristics of creative people in general; these involve: making statistically unusual associations; challenging conventional wisdom; observing standard practices closely; networking; and constant experimentation. This suggests that the literature on creativity will hold some insights regarding the characteristics of entrepreneurs.
Barron provides an old but hard-to-improve-upon summary of the empirical literature on the personality characteristics of highly creative people (writers, mathematicians, architects, etc.). Making an early version of the distinction between the bright side and the dark side of personality, Barron notes that highly creative people score high on measures of normal personality. In terms of the FFM, creative people are above average on Adjustment, Sociability, and Openness, and somewhat below average on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness – so they make a strong first impression. But, as Barron stated: “The evidence is convergent from a number of sources: creative individuals are very much concerned about their personal adequacy, and one of their strongest motivations is to prove themselves.” And this statement is the key to the dark side of these people who, as a group, receive high scores on the MMPI and on the Hogan Development Survey. They are driven, edgy, impatient, volatile, and unconcerned with their impact on subordinates.
This profile has several implications for thinking about entrepreneurial managers. First, because they make a strong first impression, they will do well in front of various audiences, including search committees, but also customers. As leaders, they make a good visible face of the organization, and this is often quite important. Second, the essence of leadership involves building a team. Because these people tend to bully and intimidate their subordinates, they are, by definition, poor leaders. Third, as managers rise in organizations, their duties change. Entry level managers need good team building skills, while middle managers need good bridge building and implementation skills. But CEOs and top level leaders need good judgment, because their decisions set the direction for their business. Entrepreneurs are most needed, and probably function best, at the top of organizations. We refer to this as “the Apple Paradox”: Steve Jobs is a very difficult person with minimal leadership skills, but he is a marvelously successful CEO—because of his astute decision making.
The bottom line of this discussion is that entrepreneurs are hard to live with but successful businesses can’t live without them. The quandary is somewhat resolved by the fact that entrepreneurs dislike working for other people and, although they tend to make poor organizational citizens, they tend to avoid becoming organizational citizens.