Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Can Jerks Lead Effectively? Leadership Qualities of Charismatic Leaders and Narcissists

A study conducted by professors at IMD business school, Penn State, and Erlangen-Nuremberg University concluded that bosses that display narcissistic qualities perform better than average executives.  CEO narcissism was displayed by the number of times CEOs’ photo appeared in annual reports, press releases, and their overall compensation relative to their second in command (Greene, 2011). Green’s article further stated that, "Narcissists see the potential for acclaim where others see excessive risk, but it's by no means always the case that in the end they get to hear the applause they crave," says Professor Enders of IMD.

Narcissists and charismatic leaders often are so commonly link, one cannot determine where one personality trait ends and the other begins. While all narcissists are not charismatic, it is believed that all charismatic leaders have some form of narcissism greater than the average individual. The hard-wiring of narcissists is highly Machiavellian in that they have “changeable” or mutable consciences. Instead of being tied to a specific method of getting things accomplished, narcissists change their minds and paradigm according to the needs of the situation. Consequently, narcissists are difficult to pigeon hole, because they adapt to a situation for the sole purpose of winning.  As Vidal Gore once stated, “It’s not enough to win, the other guy has to lose.” This need to achieve is believed to stem from early childhood experiences of degradation that positioned the narcissist to excel at all cost. Lubit (2002) asserted that narcissists are inclined to leave projects unfinished once they become bored. Conversely, Fleming (N.D.) expressed that charismatic leaders become tied to a project. So much so that the challenge is motivating the charismatic leader to leave or delegate power rather than remain, once the mission has been accomplished.

Charismatic narcissists are often more persistent than the average individual based on the need to achieve. This drive is a benefit for organizations in that the charismatic will stay the course until the task is accomplished or deem the challenges unwinnable. The downside is the unwillingness for charismatics to leave or create a succession plan once a goal has been achieved. Evidence also suggests that charismatic narcissists will abdicate the mission or forego alliances if continuing on acts contrary to their self-interest.
All in all, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial in creating an innovative, fast paced and groundbreaking environment for employees. Their “Big Picture” sentiments allow for individuals to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. For charismatic narcissists, accomplishing a grandiose mission becomes the driving force of their existence.

As demonstrated by musician Prince, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the mission is so critical for vainglorious and self-aggrandizing measures, anyone who poses either a threat or ceases to be valuable is eliminated. Charismatic narcissists are persistent in their endeavors and will unload any baggage at will. In their minds, they are indispensable where everyone else is expendable.
For organizations wrestling with charismatic narcissists, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of this type of leadership. For organizations that are receding, irrelevant and complacent, charismatic narcissists can be valuable for jump starting the organization. The cautionary note is to have parameters, boundaries and oversight to the actions of charismatic narcissists. Not to have some measure of control is fodder for charismatic narcissists to wreak havoc on the long term aspirations of the mission. Like fire, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial for building an organization or they can obliterate everyone and everything around them if left unchecked.


Fleming,G.(N.D.). Student leadership styles: Charismatic leadership. About.com guide. Retrieved from
: http://homeworktips.about.com/od/studymethods/ss/leadership_4.htmFf
Greene, N. (2011 Nov. 19). Researchers say: Narcissistic jerk-wads make the best leaders, study says. The Village Voice Blogs. Retrieved from: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/11/narcissistic_je.php

Lubit, R. (2002), ‘The Long-Term Organizational Impact of Destructively Narcissistic Managers’, Academy of Management Executive, Volume 16, Number 1, pp. 127–138.

For more information, visit: Charisma

1 comment:

Major Allen Espy said...

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