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Tough Times Apparently Call for Selfish Leaders

According to a new study by researchers at the Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, leadership during tough times means being selfish and aggressive. Apparently altruism and kindness at work is perceived as "weakness," while selfishness and aggression are signs of strength, especially in a "results-oriented" environment. 

I find this disturbing on a few levels. 

First, I would argue that our current global mess was brought about precisely because we are valuing and rewarding selfishness. An oft-quoted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Continuing to value selfishness seems the height of craziness to me. 

Second, how did being results and action-oriented become synonomous with selfishness and aggression at work? Why is it that we perceive cooperation, empathy and altruism as being antithetical to getting things done? 

The irony, of course, is that we ask for "team players"--those who presumably value cooperation and kindness-- while apparently rewarding those who are not team players by moving them up the corporate ladder. It should come as little surprise, then, if workers begin to get the message that being a team player is a sucker's game. 

What are your thoughts about this? Should nice people finish last? If not, what should we be doing to shift this trend? 


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Once again Michelle you have nailed it. It is the dichotomy of corporate life, at the moment. It is very sad that the concept of "servant leadership" has not been embraced by the corporate/business world (other than lip service). I would guess if you were to directly ask those who are seen as "selfish leaders" they would disagree and say they were only acting in the best interest of shareholders or customers. Seems it twas ever thus.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to try to start a "niceness" revolution?? One where respect and honor were revived to their original definitions? Remembering that in order to truely lead, you must first serve (others, not onesself!)
Thanks for your consistent and continued truth-telling.

Jean, I would LOVE to start a niceness revolution!

I think you raise a good point about lip service. One thing I continue to hear from people is that they are working for companies or organizations where the words just don't match the actions. They are told that learning or teamwork or "customer service" matter, but then the company's actions make it clear that they don't. This, of course, is what goes on in dysfunctional families, causing depression and anger.

I think that the only way that these things are going to change is if we continue to call them out and identify what's really going on. We can't create a new vision if we don't first accept the reality of where things are.

Thanks so much for your comment!

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