Cutting-Edge Leadership

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What is Grandiose Narcissism? Why Does it Matter?

Does Narcissism aid or harm performance?

Grandiose Narcissism is a flamboyant, assertive, and interpersonally dominant style. Like all narcissists, grandiose narcissists are more likely to attain leadership positions, they have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.

A recent study examined the impact of grandiose narcissism on the performance of US presidents. What they found was that presidents rated higher in grandiose narcissism scored higher on ratings of “presidential greatness” and they were more likely to win the popular vote and initiate important legislation.

On the “dark side,” presidents with grandiose narcissism were more likely to engage in unethical behaviors and more likely to be impeached. So, for US presidents, grandiose narcissism is a double-edged sword—leading to presidential greatness, but also toward tendencies to misbehave.

Which presidents were highest on grandiose narcissism? Lyndon Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Andrew Jackson, Kennedy, Nixon, and Clinton top the list. As you might expect, presidents are higher on grandiose narcissism than the general population.

Narcissism, like many personality traits, has a curvilinear relationship with performance. A moderate amount of narcissism is a positive for leaders—they are confident, outgoing, and persuasive. Too much narcissism, however, can be problematic, particularly when it comes to abuse of power and unethical behavior.

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The research on US presidents will be published soon in the journal, Psychological Science.

Watts, A.L., Lilienfeld, S.O., et al (in press). The double-edged sword of grandiose narcissism: Implications for successful and unsuccessful leadership among U.S. presidents. Psychological Science.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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