Narcissism Great at Making Leaders, Terrible at Making Great Leaders



We’ve all had to deal with a jackass in a position of leadership at some point or another. It could be that your boss is about as competent as Nick Cage’s agent. Or perhaps the CEO of your company is too far removed from reality to remember what life is like as a peon with kids and a commute. But more likely than not, we’ve all run across the person in a leadership position that is a narcissistic asshole.

You know the one. Never listens to anyone else’s ideas because they are clearly inferior than their own. Doesn’t recognize when someone else has a major success. Spends their time looking down their noses at the morons who didn’t attend State University.

How do these people keep getting the reigns in their hand?

Research on the subject is conflicted. About half of the literature says that narcissism is indeed linked to leadership, and in a positive way at that. But then there’s the other half that says narcissistic tendencies make the worst persons of power and privilege. So which is it?

A new study from the University of Illinois seeks to crack the self-indulgent code. Professor and study leader Emily Grijalva led a team that conducted a meta-study by reviewing all of the literature and trying to tease out common threads of insight. Their conclusion: narcissism is great at making leaders, but terrible at making leaders great.

As most anyone who knows what the words mean can tell you, narcissistic people tend to have extroverted interactions with those around them. And nothing forms a leader from a ball of personality putty like someone willing to throw their opinions into the ring early and often. So as one might expect, a certain level of narcissism is great at making leaders in the first place.

It’s once people are in positions of leadership that you start having too much of a good thing. The study found that people who think too highly of themselves eventually make terrible leaders. They’ll tell you that they’re great in their positions, but those around them have different opinions of their effectiveness.

That’s not to say that narcissism is all bad, though. The study concluded that, as with most things, narcissism is great in moderation. A certain healthy amount is needed for leadership to be confident in their decisions and, well, actually lead.

So what’s the perfect amount? I would say Joffrey Lannister might be a bit far to the right on the bell curve, while Sansa Stark is too far to the left. I’d put my bets on Jon Snow – he seems just confident enough in his abilities to pull off something great.

That is, unless, he starts using Nick Cage’s agent. Wait, has anyone seen Pompeii?

God damnit.

The study, “Narcissism and Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Review of Linear and Nonlinear Relationships,” was published in Personnel Psychology by Grijlava, led by advisor Chris Fraley.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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