A new study arrives at the obvious conclusion that narcissists are likely to step in as leaders. Here’s why they do, and why they’re so hard to deal with.


I hate to appear jaded here, but when I heard about two new studies that indicate narcissists like to be leaders, my first reaction was, “Uh, yeah, so what’s your point?” The “groundbreaking” conclusion of the research is that overconfident people are most likely to step in as leaders, whether that’s in the form of politicians or power brokers. Again, what’s your point?

Maybe I’m being too flip with the findings of these recent studies (which will be detailed in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin), but did we really need a study to come up with this conclusion? It stands to reason that if you think you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, you wouldn’t be satisfied with last-man-on-the-totem pole status.

The problem with this tendency is that narcissistic people often have an inflated and erroneous vision of themselves, so they strive to be in positions where they really aren’t effective. In fact, if a person’s sole goal is to expose others to his personal grandeur, then that person will make a terrible boss.

I’ve met a couple of narcissistic bosses in my day. I worked with one from his hire date until he became a unit manager. All of his work before that point had felt like an exercise in busy work, like he was just biding his time until he could be in the place where he “belonged.” And that was in front of a captive audience (his team) who had to listen to him opine on end about any number of issues he actually knew very little about. He was the only manager in the company who referred to his team members as “subordinates.” (I know that term is acceptable in the military, but I find its Random House definition — “of less importance” — to be insulting and elitist.)

The frustrating thing about a narcissist is that you can’t penetrate his exterior with any kind of constructive criticism. And that makes for a terrible boss and a terrible employee. So please share — have you had any experience with a narcissist?