This post originally appeared in 2010 as “Five evidence-based outcome of both the bright-side and the dark-side of a leader’s personality” on David Burkus‘ website Leader Lab. I wrote a very brief summary of it in 2010 on this site as well. I’m updating and reposting it again because the findings are important and it’s a little hard to find on David’s new site.
I want to share the results of one very well done study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “The Bright-Side and the Dark-Side of CEO Personality: Examining Core Self-Evaluations, Narcissism, Transformational Leadership, and Strategic Influence.” This study of 75 CEOs of Major League Baseball organizations over a 100 year period examined how positive and negative personality characteristics affected the individual’s leadership style and ultimately important outcomes for the organization.
Terms like confident, determined, optimistic, stable, persistent, and positive were associated with the bright-side of leadership, while terms like arrogant, boastful, conceited, egotistical, self-centered, show-off and temperamental were associated with the narcissistic dark-side of leadership. The authors of the study suggest the following five things based on their findings (pp. 1373-1374):
The Bright-side of personality
1. Leaders who have an overall positive self-concept are better able to articulate a vision in a manner that builds commitment to the organization’s goals.
2. Positive leaders may role model the efforts needed for the organization to be successful and are comfortable empowering others because they have a realistic sense of their own and their organization’s capabilities
3. Positive leaders are more comfortable with the focus being on the good of the organization rather than on their individual success.
The Dark-side of personality
4. Narcissistic leaders are unlikely to be concerned about developing equitable exchange relationships with members of their organization. When followers meet objectives, narcissistic leaders do a poor job of allocating recognition and rewards to reinforce desired behavior.
5. Narcissistic leaders are very unlikely to offer a compelling vision for the organization and inspire others to higher levels of morale and motivation.
Narcissistic leadership in this study eventually lead to more manager turnover, while positive leadership lead to higher attendance, a better winning percentage, and greater external influence in the industry (Major League Baseball). Just like the advice to avoid hiring narcissistic employees, you should likewise avoid hiring and promoting narcissistic individuals into positions of management and leadership.
It’s impossible for narcissists to see the best in others when they are so laser-focused on spotlighting the best they see in themselves. They won’t treat people fairly because it simply is not a concern for them, and their vision of individual greatness is unlikely to inspire others and may even expose the organization to competitive peril.
There is no guarantee that simply hiring and promoting positive people is a recipe for organizational success. But I think the research is pretty clear that narcissistic individuals, especially in positions of power and influence, are more likely to do harm than to do lasting good.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.