Narcissism, a personality dimension characterised by a grandiose sense of self-importance (Judge, LePine, & Rich, 2006), is often linked to leadership (for reviews see Campbell, Hoffman, Campbell, & Marchisio, 2011; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Narcissists are dominant and arrogant and have high self-esteem. Many of the world's (business) leaders are ascribed such narcissistic characteristics and narcissism has also been linked to leader emergence (Brunell, Gentry, Campbell, Hoffman, Kuhnert, & DeMarree, 2008; Maccoby, 2000; Nevicka, De Hoogh, Van Vianen, Beersma, & McIlwain, 2011a; Paunonen, Lonnqvist, Verkasalo, Leikas, & Nissinen, 2006).
However, narcissism may be a mixed blessing for leaders (Hochwarter & Thompson, 2012; Paulhus, 1998) and research findings on the relationship of narcissism with leader effectiveness have been inconsistent. On the positive side, narcissists possess traits such as authority, confidence, dominance, and high self-esteem which are the ingredients people tend to look for in a leader (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002; Smith & Foti, 1998). In line with this, some studies show that narcissists are rated favorably as leaders (Judge et al., 2006; Nevicka, Ten Velden, De Hoogh, & Van Vianen, 2011b). However, on the negative or “dark” side, narcissists are also seen as arrogant, egocentric, ruthless, and even hostile (Paulhus, 1998). Furthermore, narcissists' self-centered attitude can lead them to pursue their own goals at the long-term cost to others (Campbell, Bush, Brunell, & Shelton, 2005) and bully their subordinates (Padilla, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2007). In line with this, there are several studies that have shown narcissistic leaders to be rated as ineffective leaders (Judge et al., 2006; Resick, Whitman, Weingarden, & Hiller, 2009). This begs the question as to when this negative side of narcissists is perceived to overshadow the positive side and hinders leaders' effectiveness.
Researchers may have overlooked an important source of inconsistencies in evaluations of narcissistic leaders, namely gender differences. Research has long shown that the same characteristics are evaluated differently when displayed by men and women depending on what is socially expected and accepted sex role behavior (Bowen, Swim, & Jacobs, 2000; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992). Evidence indicates that leaders who show undesirable qualities associated with the other gender are evaluated most negatively (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Research also suggests that men are more punitive of violations of gender stereotypes than women (Costrich, Feinstein, Kidder, Marecek, & Pascale, 1975; Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). Thus, we suggest that leader and subordinate gender are critical factors in determining whether narcissistic leaders are perceived by their followers as effective leaders or not.
We propose that (the negative side of) narcissism which includes agentic traits such as arrogance, egocentrism, ruthlessness, and hostility is tolerated for male leaders, but perceived as gender inappropriate, undesirable, and threatening to the traditionally higher status of males when displayed by female leaders (Carli, Lafleur, & Loeber, 1995). In other words, highly narcissistic female leaders violate the gender stereotype by displaying undesirable qualities associated with the other gender and we expect that this will be reflected in negative evaluations of their leadership, especially by male subordinates. Male narcissistic leaders, who are not in violation of their gender stereotype, are likely to be seen as more effective than female narcissistic leaders. Using a sample of 145 leader–subordinate dyads, we examine the joint effects of leader narcissism and leader and subordinate gender on perceived leader effectiveness. In addition, because gender-stereotypic sex differences are typically found to be less pronounced for women in leadership roles (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Eagly & Johnson, 1990), we test whether the finding that in the general population men are more narcissistic than women also holds in a leadership context.
Leader Narcissism, Leader Gender, and Perceived Leader Effectiveness
Narcissism as a personality dimension is described as an affective and cognitive preoccupation with oneself and an excessive and defensive assertion of status and superiority (Locke, 2009; Westen, 1990). This trait is derived from the clinical criteria for narcissistic personality disorder based on the classic psychodynamic work of Freud (1914), but is applied to a normal population (for reviews see Campbell et al., 2011; Emmons, 1987). Narcissists have an inflated view of the self and an insatiable need for having this self-view reinforced (Campbell, Goodie, & Foster, 2004; Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002; Chatterjee & Hambrick, 2007). They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, believe they are special and unique, require excessive admiration, have a sense of entitlement, and are interpersonally exploitative and arrogant and haughty (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Prior research on narcissism in the general population has linked narcissism with high self-esteem (Emmons, 1984; for a meta-analytic investigation see Rosenthal, Montoya, Ridings, Rieck, & Hooley, 2011), overconfidence in one's abilities (Campbell et al., 2004; Robins & Beer, 2001), disagreeableness and anger (Holtzman, Vazire, & Mehl, 2010; Rosenthal et al., 2011; Twenge & Campbell, 2003), egocentrism (Westen, 1990), dominance and power (Carroll, 1987; Emmons, 1989), authority (Nevicka et al., 2011b), approach motivation (Foster & Trimm, 2008), competitiveness (Raskin & Terry, 1988), sensitivity to and frequency of downward social comparisons (Bogart, Benotsch, & Pavlovic, 2004; Krizan & Bushman, 2011), and extraversion (Foster, Misra, & Reidy, 2009; Holtzman et al., 2010; Lee & Ashton, 2005).
Prior research has also linked narcissism to leader emergence (Brunell et al., 2008; Nevicka et al., 2011a; Paunonen et al., 2006), presumably because several narcissistic characteristics overlap with work group members' implicit expectations for how leaders should behave or in other words the typical leadership prototype. For example, both narcissism and the typical leadership prototype include confidence, dominance, and extraversion, self-esteem, and self-efficacy (Judge et al., 2002, Paunonen et al., 2006; Smith & Foti, 1998). In addition, narcissists are perceived as more intelligent by others (Paulhus, 1998), and intelligence is also an important leadership trait. If an individual matches the prototypical attributes that people implicitly associate with a leader he or she is more likely to be viewed as a leader and to be perceived as effective (Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Lord, Foti, & De Vader, 1984; Lord & Maher, 1991).
However, findings on the link between leader narcissism and leader effectiveness evaluations have been inconsistent. On the one hand, narcissists may incorporate prototypical leader characteristics such as confidence. Their (over)confidence may mean that they radiate an image of authority and persuade others to accept this image of authority and to perceive them as effective leaders. In line with this, research shows that narcissistic leaders were perceived by others as effective in a group decision task and they were rated positively as leaders in the context of a management course (Judge et al., 2006; Nevicka et al., 2011b). Also, agentic self-enhancement, one of the key characteristics of narcissism, has been shown to positively predict leadership effectiveness among military officers (Lönnqvist, Paunonen, Nissinen, Ortju, & Verkasalo, 2011).
On the other hand, narcissists are also arrogant, egocentric, ruthless, and even hostile (Paulhus, 1998). They are suggested to be motivated by their own need for power and admiration (Kets de Vries & Miller, 1985) and tend to be exploitative and manipulative (Babiak, 1995; Campbell et al., 2005; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Narcissistic leaders' sense of entitlement and egoism may cause them to be unethical (Maccoby, 2000; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006) and pursue their own goals at long-term costs to others, as was shown in a study on tragedy of the commons (Campbell et al., 2005). Research also shows that narcissism is linked to Machiavellianism and psychopathy (Paulhus & Williams, 2002) and narcissistic leaders have been referred to in the literature as representing the dark side of leadership (Lönnqvist et al., 2011; Resick et al., 2009). Accordingly, narcissism was negatively related to perceptions of leadership capabilities for leaders of Major League Baseball organisations and beach patrols (Judge et al., 2006; Resick et al., 2009). Thus, existing research shows that narcissism can relate both positively and negatively to perceived leader effectiveness.
We argue that leader's and follower's gender influence these effectiveness perceptions. Research has long provided evidence that valued interpersonal behavior varies by gender depending on what is socially expected and accepted sex role behavior. Drawing on social role theory (Eagly, 1987), women are expected to be communal (e.g. helpful, nurturing, gentle, nice) while men are expected to be agentic (e.g. assertive, controlling, confident, individualistic) and when a person does not behave consistently with these expectations, this person is evaluated more negatively (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972; Eagly, 1987; Eagly et al., 1992; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000; Heilman, 2001). Moreover, people showing undesirable qualities associated with the other gender are evaluated most harshly (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 1999).
Because many of the narcissistic characteristics overlap with socially undesirable agentic traits (e.g. arrogant, insensitive, ruthless; Campbell et al., 2002; Paulhus & John, 1998; Prentice & Carranza, 2002) rather than communal ones, the expectations for how women should behave are in stark contrast with the behavior of narcissistic leaders. Women are expected to engage in social behaviors such as being modest, tender, compassionate, warm, sympathetic, sensitive, and understanding (Martin, 1987). Thus, they are seen to violate stereotypical gender role expectations when they openly display narcissistic characteristics such as an inflated sense of self-importance, dominance, entitlement, and lack of empathy.
Narcissistic females are likely to be viewed as particularly negative as they not only lack the desired qualities expected of their own gender (e.g. being nice), but also demonstrate undesirable qualities associated with the other gender (e.g. arrogance, insensitivity, ruthlessness; see Prentice & Carranza, 2002, for an overview of prescriptive gender stereotypes). Subordinates reporting to narcissistic female leaders may be influenced by a negative halo effect (“horns” effect; Bligh, Kohles, Pearce, Justin, & Stovall, 2007) in which an overall negative appraisal is made based on a few undesirable qualities that may prevent subordinates from noticing the more positive aspects of their narcissistic leader (e.g. authority, confidence, dominance). Related research supports this idea. For example, Rudman's (1998) and Rudman and Glick's (1999) demonstrations of backlash against women involve targets who not only violate feminine niceness prescriptions, but also show signs of arrogance.
In line with this, research shows that women in leadership positions are evaluated negatively if they violate gender role expectancies by being autocratic and directive (Eagly et al., 1992). Narcissism for female leaders should thus be seen as ineffective. In addition, in men being arrogant is more tolerated, and to some degree they are even expected to show dominance and to behave assertively for their own self-interests (Martin, 1987; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). Thus, for male leaders, narcissism is less incongruent with the expected sex role behavior. We thus expect female narcissistic leaders to be perceived as less effective than male narcissistic leaders.
- Hypothesis 1: Leader gender moderates the relationship between leader narcissism and perceived leader effectiveness, such that female narcissistic leaders are perceived as less effective than male narcissistic leaders.
Leader–Subordinate Gender and Perceived Effectiveness of Narcissistic Leaders
Gender role expectations regarding leadership have been found to differ depending on the rater's gender. Generally, men tend to hold more negative attitudes toward women in management than do women (Eagly & Mladinic, 1994; McGlashan, Wright, & McCormick, 1995; Tomkiewicz, Frankel, Adeyemi-Bello, & Sagan, 2004). This is presumably because men are less likely than women to have experience with female managers (Stainback & Tomaskovic-Devey, 2009) and men's group interest favors retaining these roles for men (Koenig, Eagly, Mitchell, & Ristikari, 2011). In other words, female leadership upsets traditional relations and may represent a threat to men. Men have more to lose than women by approving female leadership because the status of males compared to the traditionally lower status of females would decline (Eagly et al., 1992). This reasoning is referred to as the gender hierarchy argument.
We propose that female narcissistic leaders in particular, with their display of agentic traits such as dominance, entitlement, and competitiveness, as well as inimical traits such as arrogance, ruthlessness, and insensitivity, would be especially disruptive to the traditional patterns of deference between women and men (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). According to the gender hierarchy argument, not only is leadership a male prerogative, the display by females of status cues such as dominance and superiority to male subordinates involves another violation of gender norms, as traditionally women have a lower status then men. In line with this, previous research has found dominant women and women who use more assertive speech to be less influential with men than less dominant and assertive women (Carli, 1990; Wiley & Eskilson, 1985). Moreover, the display of narcissistic traits such as haughtiness, arrogance, ruthlessness, and insensitivity conflicts with the prescription of feminine niceness (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Research suggests that in order to influence men, women must appear to be sociable, likeable people. Such a style would be less threatening to men as it would implicitly communicate that these females have no desire to usurp male status (Carli et al., 1995).
Thus, female narcissistic leaders are expected to be particularly devalued by male subordinates, because for these subordinates they not only violate gender role expectations, but also gender status rules, and this combination may be perceived as especially threatening. By approving narcissistic female leadership, the status of male subordinates would (further) decline. Thus, we expect that male subordinates perceive narcissism for female leaders as ineffective. In addition, we expect male subordinates to perceive female leaders who are high in narcissism as being less effective than male leaders who are high in narcissism because female narcissistic leaders are in violation of their sex and status roles, while male narcissistic leaders are not. On the other hand, a situation where a narcissist female is leading female followers might not be deemed as unconventional as where a narcissist female leader is leading male followers. In addition, females in general tend to hold less negative attitudes toward women in management than men do (Eagly & Mladinic, 1994; McGlashan et al., 1995; Tomkiewicz et al., 2004). As noted, females are also less punitive of violations of gender stereotypes than males are (Costrich et al., 1975; Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). Therefore, we expect female subordinates to perceive female leaders high in narcissism as more effective compared to the perceptions of male subordinates.
- Hypothesis 2: The effect of a female leader's narcissism on perceived leader effectiveness will be moderated by the subordinate's gender such that male subordinates compared to female subordinates will perceive female narcissist leaders to be less effective.
Leader Narcissism and Leader Gender
People's gender role expectations not only guide our perceptions of leadership and effectiveness, they also guide how we act ourselves (Heilman, 2001; Rudman & Glick, 2001). People may internalise cultural expectations about their sex and consequently be intrinsically motivated to act in a manner consistent with their gender roles (Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995). As narcissists are inherently more agentic than communal (Campbell, Brunell, & Finkel, 2006; Helgeson, 1994) and traditional gender norms prescribe men to be agentic and women to be communal and nice, this may contribute to higher levels of narcissism in men while discouraging narcissism in women (Abele & Wojciszke, 2007; Bradlee & Emmons, 1992; Campbell et al., 2002; Gabriel, Critelli, & Ee, 1994; Keiller, 2010). The development of narcissism has also been argued to be intertwined with male psychodynamic development (for an account see Philipson, 1985). In line with this, previous research has generally found men to be more narcissistic than women (Farwell & Wohlwend Lloyd, 1998; Gabriel et al., 1994; Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Tschanz, Morf, & Turner, 1998). The potential link between narcissism and gender in the leadership domain is, however, not yet fully clear.
Because male and female managers are selected by similar criteria and subjected to organisational socialisation forces that tend to equalise the sexes, gender-stereotypic sex differences are less common in leadership studies (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Moreover, it has been suggested that female leaders need to be high on agentic characteristics to be able to make it at the top of organisations (Fagenson, 1990; Powell & Butterfield, 1989; Powell, Posner, & Schmidt, 1984; Steinberg & Shapiro, 1982), and that this works well as long as these traits do not conflict with the prescription for females of being nice (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Indeed, research has found that women in the upper level of the organisational hierarchy report possessing more agentic characteristics than women at lower levels (Fagenson, 1990).
However, many of the narcissistic traits, such as being haughty, ruthless, and arrogant, are agentic but also undesirable traits that typically clash with females' prescription of being nice, and, consequently are likely to be unacceptable for female leaders while allowed for male leaders (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Rudman, 1998; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Indeed, several researchers have noted that narcissism in relation to leadership is often seen as an inherently masculine construct (Pullen & Rhodes, 2008; Jørstad, 1996). Thus, we expect that the suggested equalisation of sexes on agentic attributes in a leadership context (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Eagly & Johnson, 1990) does not hold for leaders' narcissism. Following previous research in the general population, we expect male leaders to be more narcissistic than female leaders.
- Hypothesis 3: Male leaders score higher on narcissism than female leaders.