The Difference Between Dominating and Decision-making

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The Type A personality is supposed to be ambitious, rigidly organized, proactive, and good with time management, all traits that should rocket a person into positions of authority. Of course, it's also a prime recipe for bullying, micromanaging, and just plain bulldozing your way through the workplace, if you're not careful. A lot of ink has been spilled about what leadership should look like on the job, but it's possible we shouldn't be looking at social psychology for answers.


Instead, a better metaphor might come from biology — specifically, fish behavior. A multinational group of researchers from Germany and the United States have just released a study about the toxicity of power, particularly as revealed by a species of tropical fish called cichlids. "The same traits that make you powerful in one context can actively reduce your influence in others, especially contexts in which individuals are free to choose who to follow," said senior author Alex Jordan. In short, being overbearing might win a battle but lose the war.

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Instead, the researchers found that the individual cichlids that created the most lasting change in their social groups were those that could most effectively influence others, rather than boss them around. "Our results illustrate that although domineering individuals most often ascend to positions of power, they can in fact create the least effective influence structures at the same time," Jordan said.


In a world in which women are routinely overlooked because of their "feminine" leadership qualities, these results (however fishy) should give everyone pause, and the impetus to look again.