Are Narcissistic Leaders More Effective?

Study Suggests Moderate Narcissism Linked to Successful Leadership

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What qualities make a person a great leader? If you ask people to list some of the traits they associate with leadership you're likely to hear things such as honesty, passion, excitement, creativity, and strong people skills. According to the results of one study, a little bit of narcissism can also help make people strong and effective leaders.

It makes sense, though. Many of the qualities associated with great leadership (such as confidence, extroversion, and assertiveness) are also common in people high in narcissism.

But as the results of this study suggest, it's all about striking the right balance. People who are too narcissistic run the risk of being seen as self-obsessed tyrants, while those low in narcissism might never have the confidence to step into leadership roles in the first place.

Could Moderate Narcissism Be the Key to Great Leadership?

While narcissism is generally viewed as an undesirable trait, researchers have found that a moderate amount of narcissism can actually make people more effective at leading. The study, published in the journal Personnel Psychology, found that people with a medium level of narcissistic traits have a good balance between being self-confident without many of the negative characteristics that are often associated with narcissism.

According to researchers from the University of Illinois, narcissists tend to have an increased need for admiration from other people and an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

While this tends to make them more likely to step up into leadership roles, people who are high in this trait also tend to be poor at maintaining solid interpersonal relationships. People with too much narcissism also tend to engage in undesirable social behaviors such as putting others down in order to elevate themselves, which undermines their relationships with others as well as their ability to lead successfully.

"Narcissists tend to be extraverted, and that is leading to the positive relationship between narcissism and leader emergence," explained Emily Grijalva, one of the study's authors. "But you have to keep in mind that although narcissists are likely to emerge as the group leader, over time, the more negative aspects of narcissism tend to emerge."

The study suggests that having some narcissism gives people the extraversion, self-confidence, and assertiveness to take on leadership positions and do well. Since these individuals are not excessively self-obsessed, however, they avoid the more negative traits typically linked to narcissism such as being arrogant, exploitative, and dictatorial.

What Are the Practical Applications of Such Findings?

So what are the implications of these findings in business settings? According to the researchers, looking at how narcissism influences employee/manager relationships could be an important next step."It would be interesting to try to determine what kinds of employees can work well with a narcissistic leader, because some employees seem to be able to maintain their levels of satisfaction even when they are working with someone who is difficult," Grijalva said.

"There might be a trade-off between narcissistic leaders' needing a subordinate who is confident enough to earn the leader's respect, but also deferential enough to show the leader unwavering admiration."

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Coombs, C. B. (2014, Jan. 15). Narcissism - to a point - can make a more effective leader, researchers find. University of Illinois News Bureau. Retrieved from

Grijalva, E., Harms, P. D., Newman, D. A., Gaddis, B. H., & Fraley, R. C. (2013). Narcissism and Leadership: A Meta-analytic Review of Linear and Nonlinear Relationships Personnel Psychology, DOI: 10.1111/peps.12072