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Narcissistic leaders: the appearance of success

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posted on 2022-03-28, 13:57 authored by Barbara Nevicky
Many of the world's leaders have been said to possess narcissistic characteristics, for example Steve Jobs of Apple Computers or President Nicolas Sarkozy. It should be noted that the focus of this dissertation is on the grandiose form of sub-clinical narcissism found in general populations rather than the pathological form of narcissism as is defined in clinical psychology. At first glance, this does not seem surprising, as the narcissistic personality profile encompasses many prototypical leadership characteristics, such as confidence, perceived intelligence, extraversion, self-esteem and dominance. Implicit leadership theory states that we all have an implicit idea of what constitutes an effective leader (Lord et al., 1984; Offermann et al., 1994). But what if in addition to the above characteristics a person also lacks empathy, is exploitative and arrogant, and has sense of entitlement, as narcissists do? When and why would such a person be considered an effective leader? This is one of the questions I addressed in my dissertation. Furthermore, I investigated whether the perceptions of narcissists as leaders are actually aligned with reality, in terms of their impact on the performance of those they lead. In terms of methodology, Chapter 2 utilized an experimental paradigm with four-person groups which completed an interactive task. Chapter 3 employed two experimental studies, a scenario paradigm and a simulated interaction paradigm in which the participants believed they were interacting with other participants even though this interaction was simulated via a computer. Chapter 4 utilized two field studies, using different samples, in which responses were obtained from leaders within organizations as well as their followers. Finally, Chapter 5 used an experimental paradigm with three-person groups which engaged in an interactive group decision making task, namely a hidden profile task. The results of the studies presented in my dissertation show that narcissists indeed emerge as leaders in group settings, and that there are certain conditions under which they individually perform better (highly interactive settings), are especially preferred as leaders (during crises), and are perceived to exhibit innovative behavior (dynamic environments). This dissertation also taps into a potential 'dark' side of narcissistic leaders and shows that people tend to make incorrect judgments when it comes to narcissistic leaders' capabilities. Because narcissistic leaders are characteristically self-absorbed and egocentric they actually inhibit the exchange of relevant information which is essential to high quality decision making and thereby diminish group performance.


Table of Contents

1 The narcissistic leader: an introduction -- 2. All I need is a stage to shine: narcissists' leader emergence and performance -- 3. Crisis enhances the emergence of narcissistic leaders -- 4 Striving to be different: innovative behavior of narcissistic leaders in dynamic contexts -- 5. Reality at odds with perceptions: narcissistic leaders and group performance -- 6 General discussion -- References.


"Research carried out at the Department of Work and Organisational Psychology, University of Amsterdam". "22/08/12". Bibliography: pages 171-190

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Doris McIlwain


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Barbara Nevicky 2012.




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