A Matter of Ego: How Narcissism Affects Leadership

If you consider your boss a narcissist, that's (probably) not a bad thing. A new study finds that some narcissism in a leader is good, but too much or too little makes one ineffective.

If you consider your boss a narcissist, that’s (probably) not a bad thing. A new study finds that some ego in a leader is good, but too much or too little makes one ineffective.

Bosses who like to have their egos stroked aren’t necessarily bad bosses. They might even be good leaders—to a point.

So says a new meta-analysis on leadership traits to be featured in an upcoming issue of Personnel Psychology. The paper, which analyzes a number of recent studies on the subject, suggests that there could be a relationship between a leader’s strength and his or her level of narcissism. More details:

A sign of extroversion: The researchers say that having a sense of self-awareness is good for encouraging the kind of extroversion that leads to emergent leadership, but only to a point. “Narcissists tend to be extroverted, and that is leading to the positive relationship between narcissism and leader emergence,” study leader Emily Grijalva of the University of Illinois said. “But you have to keep in mind that although narcissists are likely to emerge as the group leader, over time, the more negative aspects of narcissism tend to emerge.”

No narcissism bad, some narcissism good: In the report, the researchers suggest that the relationship between effective leadership and narcissism “takes the form of a non-monotonic, inverted U-shape,” meaning that those who lack any sense of narcissism make poor leaders, but so do those who display a lot of it. “It may seem counterintuitive that a lack of narcissism would result in poor leadership, but we assert here that narcissism is a potentially positive trait, when expressed in moderation,” the study states [PDF].

Warning signs: So where can things go wrong if your boss is a narcissist? According to Grijalva, watch out for leaders who show tendencies of “being exploitative, arrogant, and even tyrannical.” While they can have some early success in their leadership roles, they can become more and more difficult to deal with over time. “More broadly, interpersonal deficiencies have been found to be a leading predictor of managerial derailment,” the study states. In an email to Pacific Standard, Grijalva said that the point of no return for leadership effectiveness comes “right after surpassing the average American’s level of narcissism.”

How do you keep your own ego in check? Let us know your take in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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