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Narcissistic CEOs Weaken Collaboration and Integrity

Some may be bold leaders, but they create a dangerous corporate culture

Source | | Katia Savchuk

Plenty of venerated CEOs, from Oracle’s Larry Ellison to Tesla’s Elon Musk to the late Steve Jobs at Apple, have been described as narcissists. Success for such leaders is often attributed to their bold vision, extreme self-confidence, and determination to win at all costs. Less palatable qualities of the narcissistic personality type — including entitlement, hostility when challenged, and a willingness to manipulate — are seen as part of the package.

But ignoring the harm that narcissistic leaders can cause is perilous, argues Charles A. O’Reilly III, the Frank E. Buck Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We see the 10% of narcissists that succeeded and call them visionaries,” he says. “We’re not looking at the 90% who flamed out and caused irreparable damage. By talking about narcissism as though it might be positive, we’re not paying attention to how dangerous these people can be.”

In a new paper called “When ‘Me’ Trumps ‘We,’” O’Reilly and two researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, Jennifer Chatman and Bernadette Doerr, examine the kind of company culture that narcissists inspire. Through a series of field tests and surveys, they show that narcissistic managers tend to prefer and create organizational cultures with less collaboration and lower integrity, and that their subordinates are more likely to act accordingly. Past research has shown that narcissists are more likely to seek out leadership positions in the first place — and that they are more likely to lie, cheat, and steal.

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