Pin Me

Is Narcissism Hindering Your Project? Maybe and Maybe Not!

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 8/21/2011

Narcissism is indeed a personality trait and it’s not the same as having high self-esteem (although some have both traits). Do project leaders who are more narcissistic tend to be great leaders or do they fail miserably? Actually, it might depend on the level of narcissism and how it’s displayed.

  • slide 1 of 4

    I Love Me! defines narcissism as an “inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love, vanity" and as it pertains to Psychology, “erotic gratification derived from admirations of one’s own physical or mental attributes." To differentiate, to me, Adolph Hitler would fall in the psychological definition and my friend “Shaw" in the plain old narcissistic category. We all know about the evil of Hitler but here, when it comes to project leaders, I want to focus more on the “Shaw" types out there—the person with narcissistic traits.

    My friend Shaw is a 59 year old Harley guy. He’s only been married once (his ex-wife hates him) and he’s got one child in college. Shaw loves how he looks and will only date women under 30 years of age. Why? “I’m the real deal, chicks dig me." If you invite Shaw to dinner, he’s always late. “I don’t need a watch, I’m on my time." If you ask Shaw for help, he’s too busy. If a group of people are all out with Shaw, they do what Shaw wants to do. However, if Shaw asks you to do something, he expects your attendance immediately.

    Years back I told Shaw he was a narcissist and he said, “What’s that mean?" I gave him a dictionary where he promptly became lost in the translation. “You’re saying I’m crazy!" Nope, no way, wrong dude.

    Shaw does indeed love himself and is fascinated by how young women everywhere follow him. What Shaw doesn’t know is young women don’t follow him because they “dig him," but because Shaw has loads of family money and these chickies are looking for a free ride—all on Shaw. Because I am his friend, I laugh at his self-love and actually really hope he doesn’t read this, but that would require him leaving his Harley and turning on a computer so I don’t really fear this. Just FYI, Shaw came up with his own name—his name is actually Phillip—but Shaw sounds “way cool."

    Many project leaders do lean toward the narcissistic when it comes to leading their teams. Is this a good project leader trait or does it hinder projects?

  • slide 2 of 4

    The Narcissistic Leader

    In a 2008 story on Live Science, Narcissists Tend to Be Become Leaders, some interesting facts were discovered. The Live Science piece refers to a Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin white paper, Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissist Leader by Amy B. Brunell et al (a link to the white paper is offered in the references section below).

    Basically various groups were tested—students and business management individuals. Most tests used groups of four and with set scenarios. For example, one scenario had groups consider they were on an uninhabited island and could only choose 15 items to bring. Another test had groups attempting to make a decision on a large donation to a fictitious company. Students had to determine who to elect as their student government leader, and so on.

    Participants were defined via a designed survey as having low or high narcissistic traits and then there were those discovered to have simple high self-esteem. The results showed where the narcissistic group scored high and where in some scenarios, it really made no difference.

    For example, in the pick a new government leader group, those with narcissistic traits did emerge as leaders and when asked, were assured they would either be chosen or were chosen. However, if the uninhabited island scenario where 15 must-have items were to be the choice of the group, those who possessed narcissistic traits didn’t choose items any better than others (the items chose were reviewed by a military survival expert).

    Translation? Those of us who possess the narcissistic trait on a high level tend to stand up and lead. However, in group decision making, the leader doesn’t always make the best or most desired decision when compared to others in the group or project team. So, maybe some of your team members do have some great ideas you should listen to.

  • slide 3 of 4

    How Do You Lead? Take the Test!

    First off, I agree with the post in Live Science—those with narcissistic tendencies will want to lead and are most often in the political arena or are present in highly important financial arenas such as on Wall Street. Celebrity trial lawyers would also fall into this category and perhaps even those of celebrity status no matter what area—actors, directors, producers, studio heads, etc. However, if it’s only high self-esteem guiding you, most likely, you are more of a team player, not an autocratic leader.

    Psych Central offers a test on how you rate on the narcissistic scale—you can find it here. I took the quick 40 question test and I’d show you my results but actually they sort of surprised me. Right there, you can tell I don’t rate high on the narcissistic scale or I’d have a HUGE screenshot here offering up my results—look at me! Instead, the screenshot to the left only shows some of the questions the test asks. If you score high, I expect I’ll be hearing from you.

    The test says those who score 20 or higher fall in the narcissistic category and most average folks fall in the 10 to 15 range. If you take the test and score 20 or above, does it reflect how you lead and do you need to change?

  • slide 4 of 4

    Leading Narcissistically

    In my opinion highly successful project leaders do lean a little toward the narcissistic side and perhaps also have extreme high self-esteem—you can have both. The only downside I can see to a narcissistic project leader is the lack of empathy for others on the team. They probably aren’t good at coaching the introverts or bringing a highly skilled team member out of their shell.

    What they can do, however, is get things done. I know the Brunell study shows many politicians are narcissistic but I hate comparing project leaders to politicians in any way. You can’t really because project leaders and politicians do very different things—politicians campaign and promise while project leaders actually deliver on a goal.

    To lead properly and effectively, if you take the narcissistic test and find you really love yourself above all—you do have some changing to do. Is it possible to change your views, how you think about assigning tasks, teams and setting goals? It is if you want to involve not just your team, but also yourself in brainstorming sessions, focus groups and status meetings instead of waiting for results you probably will disagree with anyway.

    Leaders do emerge based on the characteristics they possess. If you’ve ever worked on a project team, you most likely worked for a narcissistic leader and hated that leader or at least didn’t have much respect for the person.

    Still, on the other side of this narcissistic coin, can a team wander around aimlessly waiting for guidance? It’s sort of a catch 22 situation to me. You must be strong to lead but you also must take the feelings and opinions of others into consideration. If you’re way narcissistic, you may need to do some adjusting.

    Could my friend Shaw run a team? Nope. He’d be too busy looking in the mirror telling himself how wonderful he is—but that is an extreme. How strong do you lead? Is it via high self-esteem and knowing you can get the job done or is it all you and only you? Think of some of your mentors. Were they caring or did you adapt their strong style because you find you are both really alike in a narcissistic way?

    Finally, whether you’re a team leader or a team member, how do you feel about the importance or non-importance of narcissism in leadership? I’d love to hear comments from every side, although Shaw can skip the comments area below. Sorry dude, but in reality, there's really no way for you to offer up your photo here in the comments section anyway.


privacy policy