Why narcissists love hierarchy

narcissistI’m sure we’ve all encountered people at work who thrive at climbing the greasy pole and advancing their career by hook or by crook.  Such anecdotal evidence sits alongside studies highlighting the high levels of narcissism prevalent in the senior ranks of our organizations.

Whether narcissists thrive in such hierarchical environments is unclear, but a recent study from Dartmouth College and Boston University researchers suggest that such narcissists do tend to support more hierarchical environments.

Climbing the ladder

The study found that narcissistic folks tended to love hierarchies both when they were sat firmly at the top of them, but also when they were confident that they could climb the greasy pole.

Their enthusiasm diminished significantly when they were told that their chances of progression were low, at which point their opinion of hierarchies dropped below that of people with much lower narcissistic tendencies.

In other words, there’s nothing inherent in hierarchical environments that appeal to the narcissist, but they do enjoy the apparent potential for career progression that such environments afford.

“Our research underscores the need for leaders to thoughtfully consider the effects that company structure can have – not only on employees’ performance and satisfaction, but also on the very types of people those employees will be,” the researchers say.

The study also found some slightly more common findings about narcissists at work, such as their tendency to over-estimate their ability and performance levels, all of which quite probably give them an unrealistic confidence in their ability to reach the top of the hierarchy.

I’m not sure any organization would go out of their way to hire narcissistic types, but should you find some within your organization, it may be food for thought with regards to motivating them.


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