Leadership, Narcissism, And Parental Income

March 5, 2017

An exceptional new study on the link between narcissism and leadership was recently published in one of our top academic journals. The study of 229 recent graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, all lieutenants and captains at the time of the study, showed a strong negative relationship between narcissism, leadership behaviors, and subsequent follower effectiveness. The twist is the study also showed that increased narcissism was associated with higher parental income. If you click on the photo at the bottom of this article, you can view an enlarged citation for the study.

In other words, the study suggests that if you grew up rich, you are likely to be a less effective leader because you are also probably a bigger narcissist. If you click on the picture below, you will can view the enlarged figure 1 of findings from the study.

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 3.23.02 PMI think the link between parental income and narcissism is interesting, but it has very little practical implications. We aren’t going to ask people how much money their parents made before we consider either hiring them or assigning them to positions of leadership.

We do need to be increasingly aware of the strong narcissists in our organizations, and the damage they can do if we give them authority and power over others. The authors remind us of the following tendencies of narcissistic leaders:

  • Derogate others in order to exploit their weaknesses and rate themselves more favorably
  • Arrogant and aggressive, they tend to show little concern for their followers
  • Favor behaviors that provide temporary gratification of their desires for recognition
  • Impulsivity may cause them to deviate from established plans and protocols, causing confusion among followers
  • Aggressive communication style encourages less innovative thinking and sharing of perspectives among followers
  • Resistant to and defensive about feedback on need for improvement

The authors of the study offer the following conclusion about their study:

“Increasing income disparity can influence organizational life by altering the traits and behaviors of those entering the workplace. As economic inequality rises, we may expect to see an increasing number of leaders who had wealthy parents, are more narcissistic, and do not rely on classic leadership behaviors to lead. We may also come to see less narcissistic leaders from lower-income backgrounds in a different light, recognizing that their leadership behaviors and style, if given the opportunity, may be well suited to some contexts” p. 2172

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 3.22.39 PMThis study provides interesting food for thought. I think we are going to see a lot more high quality empirical research on narcissistic leadership in the next decade. There will be some mixed results, but I think we should expect to see a growing body of high quality evidence showing the negative effects of narcissistic leadership. Narcissism has been exposed, but what will we do with this knowledge?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Related Posts:

Narcissistic Leadership: A Review Of The Most Recent Evidence

CEO Servant Leadership, Narcissism, And Company Financial Performance

Is A Narcissistic Leader Good For Your Organization? 

About the Author:

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Kandas Myer says:

    Wow. A very thought provoking piece. I have often wondered how certain personalities just don’t seem to communicate in an equitable manner in leadership positions. The correlation between parental income and narcissistic behavior is fascinating and its translation into difficult leadership behavior makes some sense. In my field, real estate, I have found many clients who are the offspring of wealthy parents tend toward the narcissistic in their responses, negotiation and behavior in a transaction. I have noticed this, even when the offspring is quite advanced in age. Thank you for this illuminating material, Bret.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Kandas. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. It would be interesting to quantify spending habits of higher income parents. My parents made huge sacrifices to send my sister and I through the private school system. Some of my peers had high income parents who would lavishly spend on them, for example, a student crashed his car and immediately his parents bought him a new one. Another peer of high income parents walked to school everyday because his parents did not think he had earned a car yet. Their difference in character was noticeable. At least in the “higher income” category, one component of this correlation should include how/why that money is spent on children. Of course, that also makes it much more difficult to measure!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Lexi! I did not go into it but the authors make a similar argument to explain why income should affect narcissism. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Wow. This is a very interesting piece. While I can agree with much of these findings, how much money do the parents have to make before this becomes true. I grew up in a very fortunate household but I think my parents did a good job of keeping me grounded. I think that your leadership style comes from how you are raised not how much your parents make. My parents never gave me too much so I never learned entitlement. I think there is more of a correlation between the entitlement characteristic than parental income.