Narcissist CEOs are more likely to hire narcissists to top roles

Narcissist CEOs are more likely to hire narcissists to top roles

It’s well known that narcissists are attracted to positions of power. A new study finds that when they reach the highest tiers of management in the business world, they also tend to attract each other — at least at first.

An estimated 18% of chief executive officers (CEOs) score moderately or highly in narcissistic traits, compared to just 5% of the general population. These traits include a grandiose sense of self-importance, sensitivity to criticism, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.

You might think that this constellation of characteristics would lead CEOs to shun others who also ruthlessly seek the limelight. But surprisingly, a team of German researchers primarily based out of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg found the opposite to be true.

Upper-level narcissism

Assessing 12,791 executives from 1,582 firms in the S&P 1500 across a five-year time frame, they found that a CEO’s level of narcissism was linked to greater narcissism within the company’s top management team. The top management team includes high-powered executive titles like the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and chief marketing officer. CEOs customarily have significant sway over who is hired to fill these positions. According to the study, it appears they prefer bringing on executives with similar personalities to their own.

“Since narcissists are often aware of their own narcissistic tendencies and they recognize these tendencies in others, this makes them evaluate other narcissists favorably,” the authors commented. “In fact, this relationship is particularly pronounced for those who like themselves, as narcissists do.”

But this proclivity can produce a volatile situation. Indeed, the mix of narcissistic individuals appears to lead to conflict over time. The researchers discovered a small but statistically significant link between top management team narcissism and executive turnover.

“After a while, narcissistic CEOs likely realize that the people they hired don’t give them the admiration they need, and narcissistic executives realize that they do not actually want to work under a narcissistic and dominant CEO, and with other dominant narcissistic executives in the team,” Dr. Lorenz Graf-Vlachy, a Professor of Strategic Management and Leadership at TU Dortmund University and corresponding author on the study, told Big Think. “So whether voluntarily or not, executives leave the top management team.”

For the study, Graf-Vlachy and his colleagues measured narcissism by looking at executives’ LinkedIn profiles. Executives with profiles that appeared more self-aggrandizing were gauged as being more narcissistic. The indicators the researchers used were the number of pictures of the executive, the “About” section’s total word count, the number of listed professional experiences, the number of listed skills, and the number of listed credentials. Executives without profiles were given a narcissism score of zero.

This unique methodology is obviously limited and cannot assess narcissism with the accuracy of a personality inventory. However, the researchers did validate it against other methods of assessing narcissism utilized in previous research.

Taking the findings as they are, what can be gleaned? It seems that grouping narcissistic individuals within upper echelons of business management can lead to a highly competitive environment. It can also result in more clashes between CEOs and executive subordinates. Both of these factors likely contribute to higher turnover rates. While competition can boost performance, it’s also true that discord and turnover among leadership can be disruptive for companies.

High narcissism in upper management can also affect workers. Leaders might be more willing to cut staff to boost financial performance or pursue riskier business strategies. At the same time, prior research found that followers who do executives’ bidding can enjoy greater success in their careers through promotions and raises.

Overall, there can be both benefits and consequences to having lots of narcissistic personalities in the C-suite, Graf-Vlachy said.

“It is important to keep in mind that while narcissistic CEOs and executives can create all kinds of problems and conflict in an organization, they can sometimes also be very helpful. Their tendencies towards making big and bold decisions may, for instance, be helpful in fostering innovation in firms.”

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The post “Narcissist CEOs are more likely to hire narcissists to top roles” by Ross Pomeroy was published on 05/14/2024 by