There’s a good chance you’ve worked for a narcissist at one time or another. Perhaps you had a boss who fired anyone at the first hint of dissension. Or maybe you’ve worked alongside someone whose main goal was to gain admiration from others.
Whether it’s a politician or a CEO, it’s common to see narcissists in leadership positions. But just because they get elected or promoted doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best people for the job.
Why Narcissists Are More Likely To Become Leaders
Studies consistently show narcissists are more likely to step into positions of power. They often exaggerate their skills and sound as though they can handle anything. Their arrogance tends to come across as confidence, which can lead to faster promotions.
They also tend to be charming and charismatic. So at first, they come across as likable and well-qualified, which explains why many of them good promoted.
In addition to being promoted to higher ranking positions, narcissists may also earn more money. Researchers discovered that narcissistic CEOs are convinced of their own vision—and quite often, they attract quite a following.
Consequently, people assume a popular leader is a good leader. And a narcissist’s pay is likely to reflect that belief.
Do Narcissists Make Good Leaders?
Over the past decade, many studies have examined narcissists in leadership positions. The results have varied, depending on how the research was conducted.
A 2014 study published in Personnel Psychology reviewed all the existing literature to help establish a more definitive answer. Ultimately, researchers discovered there was no direct relationship between narcissism and a leader’s success.
Of course, narcissists rate themselves as excellent leaders. But, their subordinates, peers, and supervisors are less likely to agree with their glowing reviews.
But the study also highlights the fact that people aren’t either complete narcissists or total non-narcissists. There’s a bit of a continuum about how much narcissism a person embodies.
And researchers discovered that bosses with extremely low levels of narcissism were poor leaders too—just like those with high levels of narcissism. Bosses with too little narcissism were viewed as insecure. But those with too much narcissism were aggressive and tyrannical. The best bosses displayed moderate levels of narcissism.
Narcissistic Leaders May Shine During Times Of Chaos
When an organization is in a crisis, a narcissistic leader may thrive. Narcissists take bold moves, sound very sure of themselves, and can be very persuasive. This can be reassuring to the rest of the organization that the leader has things handled.
But, when things are stable, a narcissist’s tactics will be less effective. Employees are likely to recognize a leader’s arrogance. And when there isn’t a need to take bold risks, a narcissist’s leadership style may rub people the wrong way.
What Hiring Managers Should Know
Don’t confuse confidence and narcissism. Just because someone says she knows how to lead—and she sounds self-assured when she says it—doesn’t mean she has the skills to do it.
Hiring managers and anyone in charge of promotions should remember that narcissists are likable at first. But over time, they’ll wear out their welcome and are likely to do more harm than good.