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Do Leaders Need Good Manners?

There are many factors that determine the effectiveness of a leader. One of the most important is assertiveness.

Leaders who aren’t assertive enough are ineffective. Leaders who are too assertive are disliked. The most effective leaders are somewhere in between.

A chart showing likeability vs. effectiveness to answer if leaders need good manners

That’s overall leadership style. But when it comes to making specific decisions, fairness is often what matters the most.

What makes some leaders make more fair decisions? It might have something to do with emotional intelligence. It might have something to do with greed. But a recent series of studies suggest that it might be something else entirely. Good leaders have good manners.

The Dictator Game

What’s an easy way to see if someone will make fair decisions? Just test it. Researchers often do this with the “Dictator Game.”

The idea is simple: Give a person some money, and tell them to split it with another person. For example, imagine that you get $100. How much do you keep for yourself, and how much do you give to the other person you’re supposed to split the money with?

Most people agree that the “fair” thing to do would be to keep $50 for yourself and give the other person $50. But of course, when you test this in practice, not everyone is “fair.” Very few people are greedy enough to keep all $100 for themselves, but a substantial number of people will keep more than half for themselves.

What it is about some people that leads them to make the “fair” decision?

The results are a bit surprising. It has nothing to do with empathy, nothing to do with compassion. Most personality traits don’t seem to matter at all.

What makes the difference? Having good manners.

Leaders who are polite, friendly, humble, and honest are the ones that make the “fair” decisions. When fair decisions matter, good manners might be exactly what you’re looking for in a leader.