Do narcissistic CEOs make good leaders?

Egotistical people are more likely to reach leadership positions but not necessarily find success, according to a new study published in the journal Personal Psychology.

Researchers set out to determine whether puffed-up CEOs actually make better leaders or hinder an organization's success. They aggregated existing literature and research but could not reach a clear consensus.

So they turned to a human resources consulting firm for data to obtain a definitive answer. Based on six samples that included personality assessments and performance evaluations from 1,710 participants, they determined that leaders were more effective when they had moderate levels of narcissism. Bosses with either extremely high or extremely low levels of narcissism were poorer leaders, the study found.

"Our findings are pretty clear that the answer to the question as to whether narcissism is good or bad is that it is neither. It's best in moderation," lead author Emily Grijalva of the University of Illinois told UNL Today. "With too little, a leader can be viewed as insecure or hesitant, but if you're too high on narcissism, you can be exploitative or tyrannical."

Leaders with moderate levels of narcissism achieve "a nice balance between having sufficient levels of self-confidence, but do not manifest the negative, antisocial aspects of narcissism that involve putting others down to feel good about themselves," co-author Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in the article.

The findings mean organizations should proceed with caution before using hiring and promoting practices that cater to narcissists' strengths. But, Harms said, they shouldn't assume those with very low levels of narcissism are better candidates.

"Narcissists are great in interview situations--if you can reduce a leadership contest down to sound bites, you will give them an advantage," Harms said in the article. "But as time goes on, they become increasingly annoying. At the personal level, they can be jerks. At the strategic level, they can take huge gambles because they're so confident they're right. They're either making a fortune or they're going broke."

Grijalva told the University of Illinois News Bureau that organizations may want to consider personality tests that measure narcissism, but the results "need to be interpreted differently for leadership selection or development."

"These results could really shift the focus of the discussion, because instead of asking whether or not narcissists make good leaders, we are asking how much narcissism it takes to be the ideal leaders," Grijalva said. "We confirmed that narcissism is neither fully beneficial nor harmful, but it's really best in moderation."

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the UNL Today article
- check out the University of Illinois News Bureau piece