Five Evidence-Based Outcomes Of Both The Bright-Side And The Dark-Side Of A Leader’s Personality

Last week I wrote an article entitled “Seven Things To Expect From Your Narcissistic Employee” that looked at how to deal with employees that are overly self-absorbed, arrogant, manipulative, and believe they are entitled to lead others. But that article did not address what to expect from a leader with a narcissistic personality.

Once again, there are very few articles on narcissism in the top Management and I-O Psychology research publications. But I do want to share the results of one very well done study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “The Bright-Side and the Dark-Side of CEO Personality: Examining Core Self-Evaluations, Narcissism, Transformational Leadership, and Strategic Influence.” This study of 75 CEOs of Major League Baseball organizations over a 100 year period examined how positive and negative personality characteristics affected the individual’s leadership style and ultimately important outcomes for the organization.

Terms like confident, determined, optimistic, stable, persistent, and positive were associated with the bright-side of leadership, while terms like arrogant, boastful, conceited, egotistical, self-centered, show-off and temperamental were associated with the narcissistic dark-side of leadership. The authors of the study suggest the following five things based on their findings (pp. 1373-1374):

The Bright-side of personality

1. Leaders who have an overall positive self-concept are better able to articulate a vision in a manner that builds commitment to the organization’s goals.

2. Positive leaders may role model the efforts needed for the organization to be successful and are comfortable empowering others because they have a realistic sense of their own and their organization’s capabilities

3. Positive leaders are more comfortable with the focus being on the good of the organization rather than on their individual success.

The Dark-side of personality

4. Narcissistic leaders are unlikely to be concerned about developing equitable exchange relationships with members of their organization. When followers meet objectives, narcissistic leaders do a poor job of allocating recognition and rewards to reinforce desired behavior.

5. Narcissistic leaders are very unlikely to offer a compelling vision for the organization and inspire others to higher levels of morale and motivation.

Narcissistic leadership in this study eventually lead to more manager turnover, while positive leadership lead to higher attendance, a better winning percentage, and greater external influence in the industry (Major League Baseball).

Just like the advice to avoid hiring narcissistic employees, you should likewise avoid hiring and promoting narcissistic individuals into positions of management and leadership. It’s impossible for narcissists to see the best in others when they are so laser-focused on spotlighting the best they see in themselves. They won’t treat people fairly because it simply is not a concern for them, and their vision of individual greatness is unlikely to inspire others and may even expose the organization to competitive peril.

There is no guarantee that simply hiring and promoting positive people is a recipe for organizational success. But I think the research is pretty clear that narcissistic individuals, especially in positions of power and influence, are more likely to do harm than to do lasting good.

Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

8 thoughts on “Five Evidence-Based Outcomes Of Both The Bright-Side And The Dark-Side Of A Leader’s Personality”

    1. Welcome, Mark. I don’t think too many would argue with you that it is the career folks in government that make or break the organization. Thanks! Bret

  1. Narcissts do not communicate well and the little they do is full of contradictions; I found them impossible to follow. I resign my commission after 4 months with one of them. He is now Director General having been promoted after 3 years of laziness and sanctimonious preachings. Significantly he was alone at the helm when promoted and his old division which counted 20 people at the onset of his mandate had only 3 left when he was promoted. Still he was promoted. You would like the Government for a career they say.

    1. They don’t communicate well, partially because they don’t see the gap in their style and if they do, they don’t really care. How you get what you need is not their concern. Thanks! Bret

    1. Right on Chip. Leaders have a responsibility to influence followers but also to nurture them, to make sure that they actually make it to the end goal. Treating them fairly is a requirement to ensure your whole team reaches that end goals. Thanks for the comment.

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