A new study has revealed that some of the negative personality traits may be advantageous for being a good leader.
Researchers of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Business Administration studied the development of leaders over a three-year period.
Prior research had established that clearly positive personality qualities - such as extraversion, emotional stability and conscientiousness - had helpful effects on both the performance and the development of leaders.
"Mae West told us that when she's good, she's good. But when she's bad, she's even better. We chose to investigate so-called subclinical or 'dark side' traits because we really didn't know much about how and to what degree they affected performance or development," said Peter Harms, lead author of the study.
"Was it possible that they might be beneficial in some contexts?
For some of them, it turns out that the answer was yes," he said.
The study tracked more than 900 officer cadets in their second, third and fourth years at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
It used the Hogan Development Survey, a comprehensive measure of subclinical traits, to predict changes in a variety of leadership areas that were regularly assessed in developmental reviews at the Academy.
Several of the 12 'dark side' traits - such as those associated with narcissism, being overly dramatic, being critical of others and being extremely focused on complying with rules - actually had a positive effect on a number of facets of the cadets' leadership development over time.
"By themselves, these subclinical traits had fairly small effects, but when aggregated, they played a substantial role in determining which cadets developed leadership skills.
"Assumptions about how these traits affected performance and development were mistaken ... it appears that even negative characteristics can be adaptive in particular settings or job roles," said Harms.
That's not to say that large doses of these traits will make someone a great leader.
The authors, however, cautioned that the study's results might be unique to the military context for which the cadets were training.
But the findings do prove that it isn't necessarily bad to be 'bad,' and that more research is needed to fully understand the role of subclinical traits in the workplace.