Is humble narcissism key to good leadership?

arrogant-bossA recent analysis of pay data from Glassdoor revealed the highest paid executives in America.  Or should I say, the highest paid executives relative to the average pay of employees in their company.

It revealed the average CEO salary was 216 times that of the average employee, albeit some coming in significantly higher than that.  The top spot was held by David Zaslav from Discovery Communications, who was paid a shameful 2,282 times the average salary of workers in his company.

With executive salaries 20 times higher (relative to employees) than they were in the 1950s, it might be imagined that humility is not a trait that is all that common in boardrooms across the land.  A recent study suggests that it’s a trait we should be looking out for more often in our leaders.

The importance of humility in a leader

The study examined leaders who managed to combine humility with narcissism.  Whilst it seems counter-intuitive to believe someone could carry both traits, the authors not only found it was possible, but the humility proved a strong counter-balance to the negative aspects of narcissism.  All of this tended to make the leaders more effective at their job.

Of course, that’s not to say that narcissism doesn’t have its advantages, with it often being essential to construct the bold and brave visions organizations often need.

Indeed, a study from last year found it to be a crucial element of successful leadership.  The paper, 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.”

Striking that balance is the key so that leaders are open to new ideas and fresh insights.

Boardroom as echo chamber

This is often compounded by the struggles leaders, especially male leaders, have in asking for help.  I wrote earlier this year about a study whereby people who asked for help were rated as less competent than their peers.

It emerged that when the male leaders asked for help from their team, they were subsequently rated as less competent than their peers who survived without asking for assistance.  For women, whether they asked for help had no bearing on their subsequent ratings as a boss.

Sadly, the more powerful one becomes, the more challenging this often becomes, especially as those around you are more likely to curry favor and agree with everything you say.

All of which makes it so very important for organizations to be built in such a way as to promote humility as opposed to rampant narcissism.  In the long-term, you’ll be thankful for having done it.


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