The various downsides of leadership are often attributed to narcissistic tendencies. A study back in 2010 found that as the income gap becomes wider between senior managers and the rank and file, so poor behaviour from managers towards their employees increases. All of which made a second study from that year revealing that leaders tended to score higher than the rest of the population on psychotic traits perhaps not all that surprising.
So narcissism is not unknown as a leadership trait. Indeed, one study found that when a group had no leader, it was typically the person with most narcissistic traits that stepped forward to do the job.
A study recently published from the University of Illinois suggests that a little bit of narcissism is required to be a good leader. It found that people with moderate levels of narcissism have achieved “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.”
“These results could really shift the focus of the discussion, because instead of asking whether or not narcissists make good leaders, we are asking how much narcissism it takes to be the ideal leader,” the researchers said. “We confirmed that narcissism is neither fully beneficial nor harmful, but it’s really best in moderation.”
The researchers suggest that more study will be undertaken to learn more about narcissism amongst leaders, with focus for instance on what kind of colleagues work well alongside a narcissistic leader. I wrote last year about a study exploring the affect overbearing leaders can have on collaboration, so it will be nice to see further study in this area. For now though, it seems that they think a little bit of narcissist is generally a good thing.
All of which is fine, just so long as there aren’t more than one narcissist in the team, for a study by Cornell University found that when two or more such individuals exist in a team, the veritable rutting of horns does little for either team harmony or performance.
Just as narcissists are you suspect rather complex themselves, their role and impact upon leadership appears equally so.