Headhunters don't knowingly target the deceitful, but people with that trait may often be the most successful and sought-after workers, according to new research.
Another new study shows that the most ambitious workers may also be the laziest.
A yet unpublished study out of Columbia Business School* shows that people in positions of power are much better at lying than less influential individuals -- results that bring to mind names like Madoff, Spitzer and Tiger.
Dana Carney, a trained social psychologist and the Columbia professor who led the research, said that she was thinking about such high-profile scammers when the idea for the study came to her.
"I was shocked to see how beautiful the results are," she said. "I literally can say with total accuracy that high-powered liars are so good at lying that they look like truth-tellers in every way -- physically, psychologically, emotionally, etc."
Here's how it worked: Carney and her colleagues assigned positions of power to some members of a group of 47 participants. The participants were told that the assignments were based on their resumes, but the selection of who was "powerful" was, in fact, random.
Participants were then told that they found $100 and were instructed to lie about it. Those who lied successfully could keep the cash.
Here's where it gets interesting. The people who were assigned positions of power exhibited hardly any stress when lying.
"That interviewer is up in their grill saying things like 'Did you steal the money?' 'Are you lying to me?' and they were totally unphased," Carney explained. "That blew my mind."
Less powerful individuals, however, were anxious and bashful and pumped out large levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also exhibited classic behavioral ticks associated with lying, such as one-sided shoulder shrugs and rhythmic speech patterns.
"A lot of portfolio managers have this bias that all CEOs are lying all the time," Carney said. "I'm always trying to get rid of that bias, but it's funny because maybe they're right."
Carney said that empowered people "feel really good" and so are buffered from the "bad" feelings associated with lying. Lying doesn't just feel bad ethically, but also feels bad physically, and powerful liars don't get that feeling, so they lie more effectively.
The study implies that powerful people are likely more prolific liars, but the question remains: Are liars more likely to become powerful or are the powerful simply better at lying?
Carney is now trying to push her research ahead to address that question.
Another recent study by professors at Columbia, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, shows that procrastinators may in fact be more driven than those who don't put off tasks.
"The truth is that both me and my co-authors are terrible procrastinators," said Ernesto Reuben, the Columbia professor who led the research.
In the study, which was published in April, 550 participants were given the choice between receiving a sum of money immediately or a slightly larger sum in two weeks. Those who chose the money up front took much longer to actually cash the check.
In other words, those most anxious to succeed, were more likely to be lackadaisical.
The average participant waited 3.7 weeks to cash the check, while 6% never even made it to the bank at all.
"It shows that if you are impatient and you want things now, you're also more likely to procrastinate," Reuben said.
The researchers found that procrastinators come in two varieties: 'sophisticated' – those who know that they have a problem – and 'naïve' – those who don't (and those who deceive themselves into believing that they don't).
The naïve procrastinators waited for the bigger check and waited to cash it.
Reuben said that managers need to realize that procrastination is a problem across the board, not just in the lazy or unconfident; in fact, some of the most productive workers likely struggle with it. He recommends that executives break projects into a series of small deadlines.
Reuben and his colleagues hope to do a study on whether procrastinators are, in fact, better employees. Of course, they are going to put it off for a few years, while the participants make their way in the working world.
If you plan on lying at work or in a job interview, foster a healthy sense of entitlement before you do it. And don't believe everything your boss tells you. And don't feel bad if you have a tendency to put off work; it happens to the best of us. Just remember to set up a series of small deadlines -- it should make things more manageable.
How to Spot a Liar**
-- Tightly pressed lips
-- Shoulder shrugs
-- Accelerated speech
-- Repeated words/sentences
-- Dilated pupils
-- Excessive blinking
*Write to Kyle Stock, who is currently in the Columbia Business School M.B.A. program
**Source: Cues to Deception, Bella M. DePaulo, James J. Lindsay, Brian E. Malone, Laura Muhlenbruck, Kelly Charlton, Harris Cooper
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