Why we need a Dark Triad of Personality at Work (and for work)

Back View of the Thoughtful Businessman wearing a Suit Standing in His Office, Hands in Pockets and Contemplating Next Big Business Deal, Looking out of the Window. Big City Business District View

You may have already seen some of the headlines these past couple of months:

  • Sinister personality test reveals your darkest traits
  • The danger of dark triad leaders
  • 3 personality types that will most likely ghost you
  • Why Bitcoiners are psychopaths (followed quickly by: Why Bitcoiners are not psychopaths)
  • Research shows some women go on dates for free food (!).

These headlines, while arguably varied in their importance to the collective knowledge, all have the same thing in common: they have all used dark triad measures to explore personality, leadership, dating and yes—even cryptocurrency.

And while these may be fun topics to explore (certainly money and free food make for great headlines) when it comes to the workplace – including examining toxic personality traits for both hiring and development – many dark side measures have not been designed for use in occupational settings. Indeed, some may be completely inappropriate for the workplace; for instance, when a measure includes questions related to sexual behaviour.

Amongst those designed to look specifically at leaders in the workplace, most measures of leadership derailment tend to cover a wide range of traits at a broad level. These can yield a great deal of useful information – however, in high-risk situations, it is the dark triad traits which really matter to individual, team and organisational performance and wellbeing.

Examining the bright side and the dark side

Most employers would agree that the increased unpredictability of the workplace since the start of the pandemic has significantly intensified the need for effective leadership, and the importance of being able to identify effective leaders. For industry professionals, this means being able to pinpoint not only an employee’s ‘bright side’ and ability to lead in a complex and uncertain work environment, but also potential ‘dark side’ derailers that can compromise individual performance and, at worst, lead to serious implications for organisations.

Research connects dark triad behaviours with increased fraud, workplace bullying, lower integrity, low morale, poorer organisational culture and reduced individual and team performance. According to the research, those with dark triad traits often emerge as leaders, but – importantly – show no better (and usually, worse) leadership performance. The overwhelming scientific evidence proves that dark triad traits are highly effective predictors of job performance and are therefore the most critical derailers to measure, especially in times of crisis.

The three factors of the TOP

Based on breakthrough research by Psychology professors Dr Dominik Schwarzinger and Professor Heinz Schuler, it is possible to now identify and measure the dark triad in a valid and reliable way in an occupational context, with the Dark Triad of Personality at Work (TOP). The TOP offers insights that can be useful in the selection and development process by measuring three factors:

  • Self-centred work approach: an exaggeration of self-worth with respect to one’s own significance, leadership skills and impact at work, as well as the pleasure in exercising authority over colleagues.
  • Enforcement-focused work attitude: emotional toughness and distrustful attitude towards colleagues, due to confidence in one’s own strength and ability to achieve in the workplace.
  • Uncommitted-impulsive work style: unstructured work style related to irresponsible or abrupt actions, with a readiness to break rules or use deceit to reach professional goals. 

Each of these personality characteristics are highly relevant to job performance and help identify effective leadership. It is only when these traits are elevated that problematic behaviour and actions are more likely.

It is important to acknowledge that TOP does not measure all of the dark triad traits, but only those that are very specifically relevant to work. This makes the TOP applicable for use in organisations and in particular for selection processes.

In the future, if you see a Buzzfeed quiz asking what the dark triad says about your holiday preference, rest assured we will be first in line to find out for ourselves – but if the question has anything to do with such incredibly sensitive and important topics as selection and development, we will continue to use a valid, reliable measure like the TOP to guide our decisions and development plans – and we urge you to do the same.

To talk to us about how you can use the Dark triad of Personality at Work (TOP) with your organisation – including how to fit it in with the measures you’re already using – please contact us