Narcissistic tendencies in leaders can be productive as well as non-productive. A new study shows that non-productive narcissistic tendencies have an impact on turnover intention and job satisfaction, although this impact can vary depending on gender and position in the company.
Research has identified as non-productive the narcissistic tendencies of a leader, such as a grandiose sense of self-importance and need for constant admiration, that have a negative impact on the organization. In contrast, productive narcissistic tendencies, such as charm and the drive to push through adversity, can have a positive impact.
A new study examines the impact of productive and non-productive narcissistic tendencies in leaders — as perceived by their employees — on employee work attitudes.
The study was based on a questionnaire of 16 items sent to 420 participants, who included executives, managers and frontline employees. The 16 items represented narcissistic tendencies (e.g. fantasizes about unlimited success; has a sense of entitlement; believes that others envy him/her). Using a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), the participants rated both their immediate supervisor and the firm’s top leader on each of the items. The respondents were also questioned on their turnover intentions (whether or not they were considering leaving the organization they worked for) and job satisfaction.
A statistical analysis of the results confirmed, as expected, that the 16 narcissistic tendencies captured in the questionnaire coalesced into two distinct categories: productive and non-productive.
Further analysis revealed the impact of supervisors’ and top leaders’ productive and non-productive narcissistic tendencies on employees, based on gender and position within the organization, as follows:
For top leaders
For immediate supervisors
The study thus revealed that non-productive narcissistic tendencies of top leaders negatively impacted employee turnover intentions and job satisfaction differently based on the employee position in the organization (as executives, managers, or front-line employees) and gender. The study also showed that non-productive narcissistic tendencies of immediate supervisors negatively impacted the turnover intentions of all categories of employees. In contrast, productive narcissistic tendencies of immediate supervisors had no impact on either the turnover intentions or the job satisfaction of any category of employee.
This study offers some insights on how the narcissistic tendencies of top leaders and immediate supervisors — as perceived by their employees — can impact turnover intentions and job satisfaction in the organization.
Organizations and companies concerned about lack of employee commitment, engagement or job satisfaction may want to take a closer look at any narcissistic tendencies of top leaders and supervisors — and determine if there is a relationship between narcissistic leaders and negative employee work attitudes. Action may need to be taken to stop any further deterioration of employee attitudes.
In conducting such an evaluation, organisations should pay attention to the gender and position in the organization of employees, which influence, as shown in the study, employee reaction to leadership narcissism.
Narcissistic Leaders and Their Effect on Employee Work Attitudes. Scott Boswell, Kevin Sansberry & Steven Stout. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Engaged Management Scholarship (September 2019).
The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. Michael Maccoby (2003).
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