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Self-Enhancement in Military Leaders: Its Relevance to Officer Selection and Performance


  • This research was supported by an Emil Aaltonen Foundation Grant to J.-E. Lönnqvist, by a Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada Research Grant 410-2010-2586 to S.V. Paunonen, and by the Finnish Academy Grant 127641.

Jan-Erik Lönnqvist, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, P.O. BOX 9, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. Email:


We report on two studies in which we measured army cadets' tendencies to engage in two types of self-enhancement: communal self-enhancement (a moralistic bias in self-presentation) and agentic self-enhancement (an egotistic bias in self-presentation). These self-presentation styles were then related to their selection and performance as military leaders. In Study 1, scores on self-enhancement questionnaires were used to predict selection decisions for 206 applicants to an army officer training program. We found that applicants who were higher in either communal or agentic self-enhancement were more likely to be accepted for leadership training. In Study 2, we evaluated peer and superior ratings of 94 military cadets' leadership, reflecting leadership emergence and leadership effectiveness, respectively. We found that communal self-enhancement negatively predicted leadership emergence, with those ratings becoming more negative over a 3-year time-span, whereas agentic self-enhancement positively predicted leadership effectiveness. Our results imply that, at least in the present military context, people making selection decisions should be particularly aware of the relations between (a) applicant self-enhancement tendencies and those decisions, and (b) high communal self-enhancement in officer trainees and negative evaluations by their cadet peers.