A little narcissism isn't necessarily bad for business leaders, new research suggests.
A recent study revealed that despite narcissists' exaggerated sense of their own self-importance, an inflated need for others' admiration and a lack of empathy, when it comes to leadership, a moderate amount of narcissism can go a long way.
Study co-author Peter Harms, a professor of management at the University of Nebraska's College of Business Administration, said people with moderate levels of narcissism have achieved "a nice balance between having sufficient levels of self-confidence, but do not manifest the negative, antisocial aspects of narcissism that involve putting others down to feel good about themselves."
Although narcissists are more likely to emerge as group leaders, after a certain point, too much narcissism is likely to undermine a person's effectiveness as a leader, according to the study, published in the journal Personnel Psychology.
"Narcissists tend to be extraverted, and that is leading to the positive relationship between narcissism and leader emergence," said study leader Emily Grijalva, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois. "But you have to keep in mind that although narcissists are likely to emerge as the group leader, over time, the more negative aspects of narcissism tend to emerge."
Grijalva said the negative characteristics include being exploitative, arrogant and even tyrannical, which aren't really prototypical of effective leadership.
Researchers believe their new findings could have interesting applications for the business world. Grijalva said that, in the future, personality tests that measure narcissism should be interpreted differently for leadership selection or development.
"These results could really shift the focus of the discussion, because instead of asking whether or not narcissists make good leaders, we are asking how much narcissism it takes to be the ideal leader," Grijalva said. "We confirmed that narcissism is neither fully beneficial nor harmful, but it's really best in moderation."
Grijalva plans to continue her research on narcissism by breaking the complicated trait down even further to focus on its positive and negative subcategories, while looking at particular leader-employee interpersonal relationships.
"It would be interesting to try to determine what kinds of employees can work well with a narcissistic leader, because some employees seem to be able to maintain their levels of satisfaction even when they are working with someone who is difficult," Grijalva said. "There might be a trade-off between narcissistic leaders' needing a subordinate who is confident enough to earn the leader's respect, but also deferential enough to show the leader unwavering admiration."