Narcissistic Leaders Impress but Actually Suck

In an artificial situation where everyone’s input was valuable, narcissists were seen as more impressive leaders but failed to drive a good decision - probably not bothering to encourage information sharing.

Perhaps narcissists value social dominance more than they value group effectiveness (and are more talented at exerting it). Perhaps everyone would value it more if they thought they could claim it, but likely narcissists have acquired a stronger appetite for dominance. So, the experimenters should have offered a large financial incentive for good performance; an intelligent narcissist would then do nothing but persuade people to share information efficiently, and make sure he got credit for doing it.

Outside the lab, people who succeed in impressing people probably on average are right to value less the input and judgment of less successful people.

Although they are generally perceived as arrogant and overly dominant, narcissistic individuals are particularly skilled at radiating an image of a prototypically effective leader. As a result, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was thus far unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the actual performance of those they lead. In the current paper we used a hidden profile paradigm to provide evidence for a discord between the positive image of narcissists as leaders and the reality in terms of group performance. We proposed and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective due to their displays of authority, leaders’ narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance. Our findings thus indicate that perceptions and reality can be at odds, which has important practical and theoretical implications.

The study is based on the

Hidden Profile paradigm. Researchers recruited 150 people and put them into groups of three. One person was randomly chosen as the group’s leader, and each group was assigned a task: choosing a job candidate. Everyone was told they could contribute advice, but the leader was ultimately responsible for making the decision. Of 45 items of information about the candidate, some were given to all three, and some to only one of the participants.

From the 

Psychological Science press release:

The experiment was designed so that using only the information all three were privy to, the group would opt for a lesser candidate. Sharing all the information, including what each possessed exclusively, would lead to the best choice. Afterwards, the participants completed questionnaires. The leaders’ questions measured narcissism; the others assessed the leaders’ authority and effectiveness. All checked off the items among the 45 that they knew—indicating how much the group had shared—and rated how well they’d exchanged information. Experimenters tallied the number of shared items, noted the objective quality of the decision, and analyzed these data in relation to the leader’s narcissism.
As expected, the group members rated the most narcissistic leaders as most effective. But they were wrong. In fact, the groups led by the greatest egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. Says [lead researcher Barbara] Nevicka, “The narcissistic leaders had a very negative effect on their performance. They inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism.”

This is in a way similar to a study we reported on a few years ago, finding that we prefer confidence over expertise.