Workplace Doctor: Do stubborn kids have more career success?

Research may say that stubborn children are more likely to get ahead in their careers, but that does not always ring true in the workplace.

A recent study has found that stubborn children are more likely to have career success and higher incomes as adults. As someone who believes in compromise – particularly in a team environment – does this research really ring true? And why is stubbornness a good thing? YT, Abu Dhabi

There are certainly plenty of stubborn people walking around in senior positions in the workplaces of the UAE, as well as across the globe. So there is likely to be some truth behind this research and these people probably also got their own way as kids.

Personality characteristics that are present in childhood, such as stubbornness, compassion and creativity tend to reflect behaviour in adult life. ­Often the research rule of thumb is that the traits that define an individual throughout his or her life can be clearly identified when he or she is as young as seven. So when you see a bossy child order­ing other kids around, it may have some indication of their orientation for power and responsibility in the future. Successful entrepreneurs would need to display the same fixed resolve to deal with challenges and failures that many businesses face today.

As someone who believes in compromise, especially when working in teams, I am fascinated by questions like this when I am trying to understand other people’s behaviour, whether for myself or when coaching others. And my default answer is typically that “it depends” …

Stubbornness is probably one personality characteristic that over the years has gained a bad reputation and is typically perceived as being self-centred, unwilling to be wrong and being overly competitive. However, there are certainly situations where stubbornness, drive and determination are extremely productive behaviours at work.

There are plenty of stories about people working their way up through organisations surrounded by people who didn’t believe in them, but they displayed the tenacity to believe in themselves. Stubborn people tend to know what they want and what they don’t and aren’t easily swayed by the opinions of others, and therefore can be extremely decisive. Sometimes I wish that I was a little more decisive when working with clients or making decisions about my own work and life. In reality, stubbornness can have some positive attributes but also some very negative ones, and its effectiveness as an approach at work depends on the situation that is being faced at the time.

Equally, your preferred approach of compromise and reaching agreement will be important when you need to bring others along to your way of thinking and will support an open, fair team environment, where everyone’s voices are heard and views are acknowledged. But too much compromise can mean decisions are not made conclusively and if it comes from someone in a senior position, subordinates may start questioning your confidence in your abilities. Again, in certain situations, being fair and agreeable is important, yet in others it may mean things just don’t get done.

When thinking about your behaviour and that of those you work with, I encourage people to embrace their natural style. As someone who likes to keep the peace, in work and at home, I empathise with you. However, since moving to the UAE two years ago I have realised that I need to stand by my decisions and that you cannot always please everyone.

A team environment should be fair and friendly but also productive and driven by results. As a leader you are balancing different behaviours at different times, and having to borrow behaviours that may feel un­comfortable or unfamiliar to you. It is almost like you are a handyperson with a belt full of tools and you feel most comfortable and most used to using the screwdriver, but some situations require a hammer. The less you use it, the more uncomfortable it becomes when you have to.

Doctor’s prescription:

Stubbornness or determination is certainly an important leadership tool and may be linked to career success and income in adults. However, fairness and compromise may be other equally important tools and linked to better working relationships and a stronger peer networks. Each tool has its benefits and its drawbacks and successful leaders adapt, using what is necessary to get the job done effectively.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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