The Problem With Narcissistic Leaders

Narcissistic leaders reduce information sharing in groups, leading to poor task performance.

Narcissistic leaders reduce information sharing in groups, leading to poor task performance.

Narcissistic leaders are everywhere. Just think of Steve Jobs, Nicolas Sarkozy or Bill Clinton.

Normally we don’t share narcissists’ self-inflated opinions of themselves, but for leadership it’s different. Narcissists know how to radiate all the qualities of a good leader: they have high self-esteem, they are confident and they display authority. Research has shown they seem to automatically take over leaderless groups (Brunell et al., 2008).

But how does a narcissistic leader affect group performance? That’s the question Nevicka et al. (2011) ask in a new study published in Psychological Science.

One job of a leader is to help the members of a group communicate with each other. If information is flowing between group members, then better decisions can be made. So, what do narcissists do to information flow amongst group members?

What Nevicka et al.’s study found was that narcissistic leaders actually reduced information sharing among groups, which led to worse group performance.

Crucially, though, this wasn’t the perception of the group. The groups thought the narcissists were doing a good job, when actually they weren’t (as measured by task performance). This perception is probably dynamic:

“It is possible that over time, group members’ positive impressions of narcissistic leaders decrease. Indeed, previous research has shown that although people’s impressions of narcissists are positive at first, they decline over time (Paulhus, 1998).”

But by then we’re stuck with them.

Image credit: Marquette LaForest


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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.