Cultivating the Right Kind of Go-Getter Attitude

Persuasion in too high a dose can tip into manipulation. Ambition not tempered by team cohesion can skirt the line of antisocial behavior. Leadership coaching can help you address how to encourage a go-getter attitude in both yourself and your team members while making sure that these traits aren’t taken too far.

In a meta-analysis of more than 140 studies published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, researchers focused on mild dark personality traits: narcissism, antisocial personality and manipulative influencer. For each, they found that cultivating the right level of this trait – and reining in its overgrowth – could boost the employee’s performance and ascension up the career ladder. The correct kind of go-getter attitude is key.

Influence and manipulation

“Manipulative behavior in and of itself isn’t bad,” Gary Zeune, founder of The Pros & Cons, a speakers bureau that enlists white-collar criminals to talk about preventing fraud, told The Wall Street Journal. After all, business leaders manipulate their teams in order to work together toward a common goal.

“With manipulators, there’s no gentle give and take.”

So you say tomato, I say tomato – you say influence, I say manipulation? Not quite. Influencers are adept at using persuasion, negotiating and political alliances to move the team toward their own end goal. Manipulators, on the other hand, know how to push everyone’s buttons to get exactly what they need, the study’s lead author told Inc. magazine. In other words, there’s no gentle give and take: just crafty, subtle take.

As a business leader, you can and should praise a team member’s finesse with persuading a reticent client, closing a prickly round of contract negotiations or pulling together a disparate team to get a job done. But if you see the darker sides of this personality trait at play – such as using deception to win no matter what – it’s time to confront and correct the behavior. Stress to your entire team that you won’t allow corners to be cut when it comes to business ethics.

Drive and narcissism

Someone with drive demonstrates unbridled enthusiasm and can be very interested in putting his or her best foot forward during first impressions and formal evaluation processes. That burst of energy and purpose can buoy a team who’s facing an onslaught of pitch meetings or who travels extensively for sales shows.

But the dark underpinning of this personality trait are actually narcissism. “Narcissists are great at presenting themselves and their ideas, and they’re incredibly enthusiastic about stuff that’s important to them. People come away from their pitches thinking ‘This is so exciting! It sounds like a great opportunity,'” the study author explained.

Your job as a business leader is to be on the lookout for telltale signs that drive has tipped to full-fledged narcissism: If a team member is more interested in prestige or status than on successfully completing projects, if he or she tends to brush over others’ contributions for team work. Because people with this personality trait can be especially charming, it’s important to step back occasionally and look at the metrics of which team members are contributing what. If your most charming hire is actually pulling a light load, it might be time to recalibrate the portfolio.

“Innovation and creativity are hard skills to teach.”

Creative and antisocial tendencies

Innovation and creativity can be a hard skill to teach. That’s because it requires a willingness to disregard the rules and think well beyond the box. It turns out, people with antisocial personalities have just that ability.

In its lightest shades, this trait allows team members to push boundaries, take risks and bounce back quickly from failures. On the flip side, if this is taken to extremes, a team member might stop can stop caring about his or her coworkers or might start flouting internal processes.

Managing this type of ambitious personality requires channeling it into acceptable avenues. Encourage team members to go wild in brainstorms and idea jams. Host regular team meetings where they can make offbeat suggestions for everything from process flow to office hours. Then be crystal clear about which internal processes and guidelines are non-negotiable. And when your team hits a setback, don’t be afraid to channel your own inner antisocial streak. As the study author says, “Everyone can benefit from learning to say, ‘I made a mistake,’ accept it, and move on.”


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