When narcissists get assigned to leadership roles, they impress their charges with authority and confidence. But they also underperform, a new study finds.
One hundred fifty students were divided into 50 three-person groups, with one person in each group randomly assigned to be leader. Each group was supposed to choose, among three candidates, who would be best for a specific assignment, after considering several dozen personality traits and talents. (The assignment: “secret agent”!) Researchers shared some candidate traits with all members of the team, while other traits were provided to individuals. The only way to choose the best candidate was to share information, a task the leader facilitated.
Leaders took a personality test designed to gauge self-absorption, responding to such questions as “I am going to be a great person.”
Workers assigned to narcissistic leaders tended to report that they were authoritative and effective. But, in fact, narcissist-led groups shared information less effectively than the others and picked the wrong candidate more often.
The study offers a cautionary tale to businesses, the authors said: Narcissists are equipped to ace job interviews, but might not to live up to expectations.
“Reality at Odds With Perceptions: Narcissistic Leaders and Group Performance,” Barbora Nevicka, Femke Ten Velden, Annebel De Hoogh, and Annelies Van Vianen, Psychological Science (forthcoming)