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Narcissists Make Better Leaders

A touch of narcissism (but not too much) tends to make for better leaders, a new study finds.

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What qualities do we look for in a business leader? Confidence is obviously important, as is the ability to communicate and persuade, so a certain degree of extraversion is generally considered a plus. You clearly need to be driven as steering a business it’s a tough job.

What does that add up to? The prototypical business leader then is brash, bold and ambitious. Funnily enough, so is the prototypical narcissist.

That’s part of the findings of a new study published in the journal Personnel Psychology, which analyzed data from previous research on leadership and narcissism. The new study found that a touch of narcissism can help someone emerge from the pack as a leader.

“Narcissists tend to be extraverted, and that is leading to the positive relationship between narcissism and leader emergence,” University of Illinois psychology professor and lead author of the study Emily. Grijalva said.

But of course being a narcissist isn’t all about being outgoing.

"They can be preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of their enormous success, power, attractiveness and intelligence. They are addicted to others’ admiration," Grijalva notes. Which means, over time, narcissists who emerge as leaders often end up alienating the very people that elevated them with their exploitative behavior and arrogance.  

"In the long term, they’re not very good at maintaining positive, interpersonal relationships with others," says Grijalva.

So what’s the bottom line, is being a narcissist a good or bad thing when it comes to business leadership? As is the case with many things, moderation seems to be key. A touch of narcissism can help you stand out and be recognized as a leader. Too much risks undermining your effectiveness once you’ve taken the helm.

Study co-author and professor of management at the University of Nebraska Peter Ham commented that leaders with just the right level of narcissism strike "a nice balance between having sufficient levels of self-confidence, but do not manifest the negative, antisocial aspects of narcissism that involve putting others down to feel good about themselves."

What’s the takeaway here? For Grijalva the results indicate that those selecting leaders shouldn’t instantly rule out those with a slightly inflated sense of themselves. "Instead of asking whether or not narcissists make good leaders," she said, you should ask "how much narcissism it takes to be the ideal leader."

What is your reaction to these study findings?



IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jan 23, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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