Narcissistic Leadership: For And Against

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Positivity of narcissistic leadership

Although the idea that narcissistic leaders may sound quite controversial since leaders who are “principally motivated by their own egomaniacal needs and beliefs” (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006, p. 629) cannot perform well, many scientists point out to the evidence that such leaders possess essential skills including perceptions of charisma, vision, and performance (Judge et al., 2009).

There are quite a few arguments in favour of narcissistic leadership. It is true that these individuals come across as assertive, competent, and likeable at short-term acquaintance (Back et al., 2013) hence they tend to stand out as leaders in leaderless groups (Brunell et al., 2008; Nevicka, De Hoogh, Van Vianen, Beersma, & McIlwain, 2011). Also, narcissistic individuals manage to convince others of their ideas better since they tend to be perceived as more enthusiastic (Goncalo, Flynn, & Kim, 2010).

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How do they do that? Evidently, narcissists' use of self-promotional tactics (e.g., self-enhancement and self-praise) gives them some leverage to impress others (see Paulhus, Westlake, Calvez, & Harms, 2013, for the case of job interviews). For instance, a recent research demonstrates that presidential narcissism was well linked to such markers of success, such as superior overall greatness, public persuasiveness, and crisis management (Watts et al., 2013). Another study conducted on 200 military cadets showed that ratings of emergent leadership were correlated in a good way with the bright side of narcissism, in particular high levels of self-confidence and self-esteem (Paunonen, Lönnqvist, Verkasalo, Leikas, & Nissinen, 2006). Overall, we can see that due the ability of narcissists present themselves as charismatic, energetic, and engaging, they seem to handle fairly easily such things as taking bold actions (Chatterjee & Hambrick, 2007), attracting followers (R. Hogan & Hogan, 2001), and pursuing celebrity in the media (Chatterjee & Pollock, 2017).

In 2004 Maccoby defined the ideas of productive narcissism. Productive narcissists are “not only risk takers willing to get the job done but also charmers who can convert the masses with their rhetoric” (Maccoby, 2004, p. 2). There are two parts that need mentioning. One of them is called great vision when leaders can see so called ‘big picture’ and the other one is defined by a number of followers. In other words, the ability to mobilise their supporters towards a goal. Interestingly, the research established a curvilinear relationship emerged according to which ‘leaders with a

midrange level of narcissism exhibited greater effectiveness than those with low or high levels of narcissism’ (Grijalva, Harms, Newman, Gaddis, & Fraley, 2015). This is a particularly good piece of evidence towards the idea of narcissism positivity, however, at the same time supporting a well-known saying ‘everything is good in moderation’. This evidence also suggests that too much of this trait do not necessarily contribute to leadership effectiveness (Grijalva et al., 2015). Last but not least, there is an important question to ask: What determines how followers evaluate their leader's effectiveness? In order to answer this question, more recent study by Nevicka and colleagues indicated that leader visibility constitutes an important moderator, affecting the strength of the relationship between narcissism and leader effectiveness (Nevicka, Van Vianen, De Hoogh, & Voorn, 2018). It is very well observed when followers had fewer opportunities to see their leaders (e.g., due to increased hierarchical distance from them), narcissism was a positive predictor of perceived leadership effectiveness. On the other hand, when followers had more opportunities to observe their leaders (e.g., due to reduced hierarchical distance from them), the positive relationship no longer continued.

Negativity of narcissistic leadership

It is important to say that regardless all the possible benefits of narcissistic leadership described above, we must look deeper and research all potential threats. Recent

research conducted in Germany examined narcissism's maladaptive value in the workplace (Germain, 2018). It suggests that leaders who take over the interests and needs of their followers are likely to pose a threat to the organization they lead (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). According to the literature research there are plenty of examples that suggest that although narcissistic individuals can create favourable impressions in the short run, but in the long run their aggressive, arrogant, and combative characteristics come into play (Küfner, Nestler, & Back, 2013; Leckelt, Küfner, Nestler, & Back, 2015). Besides the fact that narcissistic leaders make quite dangerous decisions including high-risk investment initiatives, abusive supervision, follower job dissatisfaction (for a recent review, see Braun, 2017), such individuals lose their attractiveness as a leader quite quickly (Ong, Roberts, Arthur, Woodman, & Akehurst, 2016). Some researchers call this brief period of charismatic and visionary perception as “honeymoon period” of leadership (Ong et al., 2016, p. 237). Having said that, some narcissists actually manage to maintain their leadership appeal, but they still negatively influence their team's performance. A good example would be preventing teams from proper exchange of information (Nevicka, Velden, De Hoogh, & Van Vianen, 2011).

Speaking of day-to-day operations, narcissism has been shown to predict counterproductive work behaviour (CWB; for a meta-analysis see, O'Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, & McDaniel, 2012), defined as behavior that voluntarily harms (or, intends to harm) organisations and/or its members, such as coworkers, customers, and clients (Spector et al., 2006). In 2015 other researchers Grijalvaand Newman also found that narcissism is the dominant predictor of CWB. Another study has shown that followers exposed to leader narcissism feel prone to exhibit supervisor-targeted CWB because they experience envious feelings and, thus, seek to harm their leaders (Braun, Aydin, Frey, & Peus, 2016). To sum up, these results illustrate that leader narcissism may play a substantial role in influencing the quality of the relationships with followers.

According to Grijalva & Harms narcissistic leadership can have negative effects on the organization's health, performance, and efficiency (Grijalva & Harms, 2014). In particular, narcissistic leaders demonstrated such behaviour as organizational risk-taking (Buyl, Boone, & Wade, 2017), corporate tax sheltering (Olsen & Stekelberg, 2016), financial misreporting (Chen, 2011), and leaders' (excessive) compensation (O'Reilly, Doerr, Caldwell, & Chatman, 2014). What is more, there is significant evidence suggesting that firms led by such individuals performed quite poorly. For instance, a study on 604 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) documented that CEO narcissism was positively associated with various indicators of firm overinvestment, such as excessive research and development and mergers and acquisitions expenditures (Ham, Seybert, & Wang, 2013).

Overall, while some researchers believe narcissistic leaders with their characteristic egocentrism may bring progress, others would argue that such leaders might do more harm than good (Anninos, 2018). Or, as pointed out by Rubinstein (2017, p. 175), the narcissistic leader can be characterized as an “attention-seeking child” who is not well equipped with inter-personal skills to make collaboration work.

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Narcissistic Leadership: For And Against. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
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