Last year I looked at a study that explored whether a bit of narcissism is required to be a 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.”
The narcissism epidemic
Of course, another important aspect of good leadership is the ability to accept your flaws and admit to your weaknesses.
Alas, a recent study suggests that narcissists seldom do this. It explores the connection between our levels of narcissism and our propensity to take advice on board.
The study particularly explored this relationship at the state levels, which are when context influences our behavior, and trait levels, which is when our behaviors remain stable over time.
The study found that narcissists were particularly prone to ignore advice in particular contexts, especially when they were extroverted characters.
“We also tested two mechanisms and found that confidence did not explain the relationship—disregard for others did,” the authors say.
As with my previous post today into the collaboration habits of extroverts, it emerged that when narcissists were held to account by their peers, they became more humble and therefore more likely to heed advice.
“Taken together, these results suggest that narcissists eschew advice not because of greater confidence, but because they think others are incompetent and because they fail to reduce their self-enhancement when expecting to be assessed,” the authors say.
Previous studies have shown that narcissists are typically those who obtain leadership positions, and the authors believe that their findings should cause organizations to look again at their recruitment practices.
“The paradox is that people who are highly narcissistic are more likely to be promoted. They tend to be extroverted and do well at selling themselves,” the authors say.
They suggest that evidence of narcissism seems to be spreading as younger employees want things to happen extremely quickly. It manifests itself in caring more about themselves than their organization.
This can be especially problematic when you have more than one narcissist in a team. A study from Cornell 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.
Finding the right role model
A small ray of hope however comes in the finding that a humble leader can play a major role in inspiring the behavior of their team. When employees were working under a humble leader, they were found to have significantly lower levels of narcissism than those working under a narcissistic boss.
“We think that’s good news and bad news,” the team conclude. “It shows that anyone can be narcissistic, but the good news is that we can train people to think and behave differently.”