There may actually be some merit to the phrase, “Nice guys (and women) finish last” when it comes to business leadership styles. Although we would like to think that the respectful leader will always prevail, it doesn’t seem to be the case. And this proclamation goes against many academic studies that have supported the nice guy as the effective leader.
An article for the Harvard Business Review touts a study that tested the effect of a manager’s personality on their employees. In the lab, students observed two scenarios, one where a manager rudely gave an employee a decision and another where a manager respectfully gave an employee a decision. Observers saw the rude manager as more powerful, despite the fact that they conveyed the same decision to employees.
The HBR gives a real-life example from 1990s Pfizer as proof of the study’s truth. At Pfizer, there were two front runners for the job of CFO and the rude replacement won out over the respectful one. His rude tenure did not last too long at the company, and those who were loyal to the respectful candidate left the company. It seems that the respectful decision would have proven more fruitful for the company — and this is something that CEOs very much need to take into consideration when promoting employees.
So, it seems that respect may not be a prerequisite for obtaining leadership positions (and creating an authoritarian persona), but it is more likely a prerequisite to keeping leadership positions.