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Narcissistic leaders poison their organizations for decades

A new study suggests companies would do well by screening for narcissistic personality types in hiring and promotion processes.

Narcissistic leaders poison their organizations for decades
[Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash]

If you want a preview of the post-Trump era, you might read Jennifer Chatman’s latest paper out of the Berkeley Haas School of Business. It shows that narcissistic leaders inflict long-lasting damage on their organizations, which continues many years after they depart.

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Le sigh.

Chatman and her coauthors are finishing a timely series of studies on narcissistic leaders. The latest finds that narcissistic leaders “infect” work cultures, resulting in less collaboration and integrity throughout the rank and file.

“It’s about the leader creating a culture that induces people to act less ethically and less collaboratively than they would otherwise,” says Chatman. Interestingly, some of the most harmful, long-lasting impacts come from what they don’t do, such as not implementing policies to curb unethical behavior or pay disparities.

The previous studies found that narcissistic leaders are often initially perceived as charismatic and transformational, and slowly reveal themselves to be exploitative and self-absorbed, as well as overconfident, dishonest, grandiose, credit-stealing, and blame-throwing. Sound familiar?

Among coworkers, they leave a trail of ignored advice, conflict, and abuse, and are known for taking credit for success, which leads to a number of long-term problems. Those include low morale, low worker confidence, unfair pay disparities, and a culture of blame. In corporate settings, these leaders commonly embroil their companies in legal action.

For those not already living in narcissist hellfire, the future avoidance strategy is to screen for narcissistic personality types in hiring and promotion processes. Chatman says this best done by calling a range of peers and coworkers for references.

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