Unshowy competence brings drawbacks as well as benefits

Dullness and its discontents

THE CHARISMATIC corporate climber is a common target for resentment in office life. He—and research suggests men are particularly given to such narcissism—hogs the spotlight in meetings, is adept at grabbing undeserved glory, and is a pro at self-promotion. More often than not, he is the boss’s pet. But he rises on the back of another, unsung, corporate archetype: the competent, diligent but unexciting achiever.

Studies find that plenty of confident egomaniacs, unsuited to the subtleties of management, get a leg-up for being, well, confident egomaniacs. Companies disproportionately promote narcissists. Perhaps a fifth of chief executives fit the description, researchers have found, a far higher proportion than within the wider population. Self-absorbed CEOs can sap morale and, evidence suggests, produce poor financial results.

A strong case for the dull striver was made by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist at University College London, in an article for the Harvard Business Review in 2015 entitled…