Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.
Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure’s research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale’.
She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.
“Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said. On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or “dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.
Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth.
“Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.
Schnure said leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.
And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic“, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The Times “It’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.
“The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”
So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:
- Seeing the bigger picture
- Understanding that talk is work
- Giving time and space to others
- Going through performance
- Putting “we” before “me”
Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010
And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader 10Ways2bALeader
First published 8 April 2010