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Study: Narcissists Make Really Bad Bosses

Is your boss a narcissist? Is he or she also a really bad boss?

If you answered "yes" to both questions, then a new University of Amsterdam study won't surprise you at all. It finds narcissists tend to rise to management, but they make terrible leaders once they get there. The ladder-climbing qualities that others saw in them -- supreme confidence in themselves, a type-A nature toward others, and so on -- don't work very well once they attain a leadership role:

The study found that the narcissists' preoccupation with their own brilliance inhibits a crucial element of successful group decision-making and performance: the free and creative exchange of information and ideas.

Again, this isn't surprising if you've ever worked with a narcissistic "I'm tired of talking about me, why don't you talk about me" kind of boss. But the most interesting part of the study explores how our human brains naturally gravitate toward narcissists whenever we have to choose a group leader. They're so confident and poised that they must know what they're doing, right? Then we make them the group leader and quickly find out that no, they don't know what they're doing and they're obnoxious and self-centered to boot. Ugh! Can we have a do-over?

Therein lies the very human problem facing senior managers looking to promote from within. It can be very easy to overlook the more self-effacing, humble worker who has the people skills to be a stellar manager in favor of the overly-confident, overbearing employee who will have the effect of doubling departmental turnover within two years. Employees who were Livin' La Vida Loca can suddenly feel like they're living Viva La Vida once the narcissist is in charge. I used to rule the world, now I sweep the streets I used to own and get to watch to my narcissistic boss self-obsess all day. Oh, joy.

You'll find the study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


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