A new study confirms that narcissists often rise to the top, as others think their qualities—confidence, dominance, authority, and self-esteem—make them good leaders. But it turns out that in practice, narcissists make poor leaders.
In the study, Barbora Nevicka and colleagues from the University of Amsterdam discovered narcissists’ preoccupation with self-brilliance hinders successful group decision-making. They found narcissists’ behavioral dominance stifles creativity and innovation and results in less functional teamwork and cooperation.
The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
In the research 150 participants were divided into groups of three. One person was randomly assigned to be the group’s leader; all were told they could contribute advice, but that the leader was responsible for making the decision.
Then they undertook a group task: choosing a job candidate. Of 45 items of information about the candidate, some were given to all three, and some to only one of the participants.
During the course of the experiment the group members rated the most narcissistic leaders as most effective – a failed assumption that reflects what often occurs in the real world setting.
In the experiment, the groups led by the greatest egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. Said Nevicka, a doctoral student in organizational psychology, “The narcissistic leaders had a very negative effect on their performance. They inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism.”
Narcissism can sometimes be useful in a leader, said Nevicka. In a crisis, for instance, people feel that a strong, dominant person will take control and do the right thing, “and that may reduce uncertainty and diminish stress.”
But in the everyday life of an organization, “communication—sharing of information, perspectives, and knowledge—is essential to making good decisions. In brainstorming groups, project teams, government committees, each person brings something new. That’s the benefit of teams. That’s what creates a good outcome.”
Good leaders improve communication by asking questions and then summarizing the conversation—something narcissists are too self-involved to do.
Nevicka says the research has implications beyond the workplace—for instance, in politics.
“Narcissists are very convincing. They do tend to be picked as leaders. There’s the danger: that people can be so wrong based on how others project themselves. You have to ask: Are the competencies they project valid, or are they merely in the eyes of the beholder?”