“Good Guys or Bad Guys”: Which Employee Gets Ahead?


Most employers value integrity and sincerity – behavior we think of as “good.” If that’s true, why do we perceive that “bad actors” among us get ahead faster and in greater numbers?

Before you simply give up or “join the club” and adopt a Gordon Gecko take-no-prisoners strategy, pause a moment to understand why “bad people” get ahead – at least in the short run.

Bad people don’t have moral qualms about exploiting and manipulating others for their own needs. A “bad seed” may move to the top of an organization, but the cost to that company is organizational ineffectiveness.

Who are these employees “who-must-not-be-named”?

Psychologists recognize psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism as the three sides of a “dark triad.” But people can score low, average or high. Individuals on the higher side of the spectrum enjoy elevated self-esteem and new experiences and are charming, curious, adaptable and competitive – behavior that most would rate “positive.”

Based on the population, psychopaths are more dishonest, egocentric, reckless and cruel. Machiavellians possess superficial charm but they manipulate, lie, and are impulsive and cut-throat. They also network well and are politically astute. Narcissists are egotistical but unstable and insecure. They feel entitled, are self-indulgent and think little of others, but their charisma overpowers objections to their methods.

There’s a significant link to “dark triad” traits and bullying, and counterproductive workplace behavior (sabotage, theft, absenteeism). They “play dirty” to get ahead. Their career success may be stellar, but their work performance is sub par and they are less productive.

Studies show that narcissists get better salaries and Machiavellians are linked to leadership roles. Psychopaths and narcissists move higher up organizations and achieve better financial rewards than the population at large.

But these gains come at the expense of the rest of the organization. They thrive in toxic corporate environments.

These charismatic and extroverted workers can manipulate their bosses and co-workers. But not forever. They may rise through the ranks easily enough but eventually must produce results. Insightful employers see the value of hiring and promoting workers who score low to medium on the dark triad metric. To keep an organization nimble, competitive and productive, companies are smart to limit the incidence of dark triad leaders.

What You Can Do

Dark3 types are often not challenged. They get away with their noxious behavior because no one steps in to challenge them.

Solution: Stand up for yourself and your co-workers.  If you and others take a courageous stand, you diffuse and limit their perceived power. It may appear that bad guys and gals are winning more than they actually do.

Take a test (or three)

Just for fun, find your score on dark3 traits. Remember that everyone will score somewhere on the scale. The lower, the better.


Psychopathy: https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/psychopathy.htm

Machiavellianism: http://personality-testing.info/tests/MACH-IV/

Narcissism: http://personality-testing.info/tests/NPI/







Tamera Shaw is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes fiction and enjoys amateur photography. She happily shares her life with husband Ron, daughter Cate and sage cat, Sophie, who grudgingly shares her home with the newest member of our family – Nieko, our new kitten.


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