Seeking an advisor? Don't prioritize likability at cost of expertise

An interesting finding about mentorship stems from researchers' new analysis of six related studies, including one pertaining to "The Voice," in which they found individuals are more likely to select advisors who express high amounts of positivity toward them. This has its downsides.


In an examination of the reality TV singing competition "The Voice," contestants generally said they would choose a vocal coach based on expertise. However, they tended to choose coaches who acted more positively toward them than the other coaches. Expertise, it seems, played second fiddle.

This outcome was tested outside the context of “The Voice,” but the same pattern held: people claimed to prioritize an advisor’s expertise, but largely based decisions on positivity.

Researchers found that people who relied primarily on cheerleader-like traits in advisors generally underperformed compared to those who were advised by those with more experience and expertise.

The study holds implications not only for advisor relationships, but also for hirings and promotions. Catherine Shea, PhD, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business who focuses on organizational behavior and theory and one of the paper's co-authors, told The Wall Street Journal hiring decisions are too often based on factors such as personality and whether a candidate is likable. Rather than rely on feelings, Dr. Shea urges companies to focus more on a reasoned analysis of a candidate’s expertise and ability.

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