The idea of narcissistic leaders is sadly not an uncommon one, and with some justification. According to an article from Behavioural Sciences & the Law, “Corporate Psychopathy: Talking the Walk” by Paul Babiak Ph.D., Craig S. Neumann Ph.D., and Robert D. Hare Ph.D., leaders tend to score higher on measures of psychothapy than the general population. The authors conclude that “the very skills that make the psychopath so unpleasant (and sometimes abusive) in society can facilitate a career in business even in the face of negative performance ratings.
Narcissists typically have many of the qualities we associate with those of a strong leader. They have high self-esteem, they’re confident and display authority. Research reveals that narcissists automatically take over the helm of a rudderless group of individuals.
So how does narcissistic behavior influence team behavior?
Various studies seek to shed light on this subject. Research from Cornell University, for instance, reveals that more than one narcissist in a group damages the performance of that group, as the two stags battle it out for top status.
If they performed on their own, however, the research showed that they were perceived to perform better by onlookers, due no doubt to their confidence and self belief. However, when their output was measured objectively, without knowing who had produced it, it was found to be of lesser quality than less narcissistic people in the team.
Further research supports these findings. A study published recently in Psychological Science looked at information flow within a team and the effect of this on decision making. Interestingly, a similar gap between perception and reality exist in regard to communication effectiveness as was observed in the previous study.
In the second study, just as in the first, onlookers believed that more information was shared by the narcissistic leader. Those in the group actually thought that the charismatic leaders were doing a great job. The reality, however, was that they were not. Information sharing was less than in the groups led by non-narcissistic leaders, with the end result being poor decision generated by the narcissist led group.
So the message seems to be that narcissistic leaders are great at pulling the wool over our eyes, but not so great at delivering the results their bravado suggests.
Adi Gaskell is the editor of The Management Blog for the Chartered Management Institute, the leading professional body for managers and leaders in the UK.