Breeding Corruption: Why Leaders with ‘Alpha’ Personalities are Chosen

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By Anne Witter | October 11, 2011 3:33 PM EST

Selfish and aggressive behaviour draws important leadership roles to a person, while generosity and kindness are seen as signs of weakness, a new study has found.

Study co-author Robert Livingston of the Kellogg School said this tendency to associate aggression with leadership shows why nations get caught in corruption.

The study, from the Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, explored the personality types usually associated with leadership.

Researchers analysed participants in groups, as they managed tokens representing money. Some decided on keeping the tokens for themselves, while others contributed them to a group pool.

The results showed that those who were more generous gained popularity in the groups, but they were also considered weak or gullible and therefore unfit for a leadership role.

Participants who chose to keep the tokens just for themselves were seen as 'alpha' personalities.

"As humans we are wired to respond to dominance," Livingston told Today.com.

"Being selfish makes you seem more dominant and being dominant makes you seem more attractive as a leader, especially when there's competition... On a subconscious level this is the conclusion people are coming to: Kindness equals weakness," Livingston said, adding, "People who are more likely to be moral, kind and pro-social are least likely to be elected to these leadership roles."

"That increases the likelihood of corruption and malfeasance because we've got the wrong people in positions of leadership," Livingston further analysed.

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