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This is what a good leader does not look like

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

Narcissists are often gregarious and social upon first meeting. They make a good initial impression. When I was learning about personality disorders in grad school we used to joke that they are wonderful on first dates, and a nightmare after that. That good first impression wears thin over time and we find ourselves wondering what we ever liked in that person. Unfortunately, leaders are often chosen without close inspection and based on first impressions.

So let’s say you are unlucky enough to have a narcissist as a leader in your organization. How do they perform? Not so well according to new research. Dutch researchers say “narcissist’s preoccupation with their own brilliance inhibits a crucial element of successful decision-making and performance: the free and creative exchange of information and ideas”.

Yet, narcissists are often chosen to lead because of their certainty, confidence and seeming charm. They simply do not encourage open sharing and exchange of ideas since they believe they know best. In the Dutch study, participants reviewed potential job candidates and recommended one of three. In each case, the three members all had certain pieces of information—if they shared freely with each other, they would choose the best candidate. If any of them withheld information, they would choose a less-qualified candidate. Groups led by narcissists consistently chose the less-qualified candidate.

It’s an interesting dilemma particularly when you consider the role of the presiding juror. We wrote about this recently after observing another deliberation gone awry due to a dominant presiding juror. We described a style of communication characterized by low levels of group interaction and high levels of leader/juror communication. This is akin to what these researchers found—cross group sharing is diminished and poorer decisions are made.

Recent research would say this effect would be diminished if there were assertive women jurors and we think this is likely accurate. It leaves us with a question as to whether it would be best to simply attempt to identify and remove the narcissist from the jury. It is certainly a tall order to identify and remove narcissists during voir dire and jury selection but if you have ever seen a mock jury gone awry due to the dominant presiding juror—it’s likely one you would want to attempt.

Nevicka, B., Ten Velden, F., De Hoogh, A., & Van V. (2011). Reality at odds with perceptions: Narcissistic leaders and group performance. Psychological Science

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