Friday, January 21, 2011

Fool vs. Jerk: Whom Would You Hire? (Harvard Business Review)

These two criteria — competence and likability — combine to produce four archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with; the lovable fool, who doesn't know much but is a delight to have around; the lovable star, who's both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who...well, that's self-explanatory. ...

Our research showed (not surprisingly) that, no matter what kind of organization we studied, everybody wanted to work with the lovable star, and nobody wanted to work with the incompetent jerk. Things got a lot more interesting, though, when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools.

Ask managers about this choice — and we've asked many of them, both as part of our research and in executive education programs we teach — and you'll often hear them say that when it comes to getting a job done, of course competence trumps likability....

But despite what such people might say about their preferences, the reverse turned out to be true in practice in the organizations we analyzed. Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships—not friendships at work but job-oriented relationships—than is commonly acknowledged. They were even more important than evaluations of competence. In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it's almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won't want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn't exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board.
The above is taken from a fascinating Harvard Business Review article entitled "Competent Jerks, Loveable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks." I think it should be required reading for all of us - and if a copy happens to find its way into a boss's inbox here or there, I don't think anyone would blame you.

Read an excerpt from the paper here.
Click through to a PDF of the full paper here.

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