We think narcissists rise to the top because their qualities – confidence, dominance, authority, and self-esteem make them good leaders. But is this true? “Our research shows that the opposite seems to be true,” says Barbora Nevicka, a PhD candidate in organizational psychology, describing a new study.
It turns out that the narcissists' preoccupation with their own brilliance “inhibits a crucial element of successful group decision-making and performance: the free and creative exchange of information and ideas.”
Narcissism can sometimes be useful in a leader, says Nevicka. In a crisis, for instance, people feel that a strong, dominant person will take control and do the right thing, “and that may reduce uncertainty and diminish stress.”
But in the everyday life of an organization, “communication—sharing of information, perspectives, and knowledge—is essential to making good decisions. In brainstorming groups, project teams, government committees, each person brings something new. That’s the benefit of teams. That’s what creates a good outcome.” Good leaders facilitate communication by asking questions and summarizing the conversation—something narcissists are too self-involved to do.
“Narcissists are very convincing. They do tend to be picked as leaders. There’s the danger: that people can be so wrong based on how others project themselves. You have to ask: Are the competencies they project valid, or are they merely in the eyes of the beholder?”
Although narcissistic individuals are generally perceived as arrogant and overly dominant, they are particularly skilled at radiating an image of a prototypically effective leader. As a result, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was previously unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the performance of the people they lead. In this study, we used a hidden-profile paradigm to investigate this question and found evidence for discordance between the positive image of narcissists as leaders and the reality of group performance. We hypothesized and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective because of their displays of authority, a leader’s narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance. Our findings thus indicate that perceptions and reality can be at odds and have important practical and theoretical implications.
Want to learn more? Read The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.