Dissertation: Narcissistic superior can be a good leader

Uutisen oletuskuva
Hanna Peltokangas studies in her dissertation the association between leaders' personality, job performance and burnout. The results were rather surprising. For example the narcissistic leaders seemed to get good assessments from their subordinates. However, when the topic was studied more thoroughly, it was noticed that the more narcissistic features the leader had the less time he/she had been in the position.
Väitöstutkimuksen mukaan narsistisia piirteitä omaavat esimiehet eivät näytä kokevan minkäänlaisia jaksamisongelmia työssään. Kuva: Flickr CC

The dissertation takes a psychological perspective on leadership because also leaders may behave irrationally, have personality problems or neuroses, and many unnoticed forces may affect their behavior. Peltokangas points out that it is a different thing to explain a behavior than just describe it.

– Therefore the underlying mental activity, anxieties, personality, and defenses should be evaluated and not just focus on traits that are very easy to observe even in a stranger, she says.

Work performance can be predicted

The leader’s work performance can be predicted if the assessment process is made with good assessment methods. According to Peltokangas, the organizations would have less problems if they would stress the assessment process more.

However, it should be noticed that the leader’s performance and personality should always fit to the environment. It should be taken into consideration that there are different demands and challenges in different organizations and positions.

Data was collected with the psychological personality assessment methods.

Peltokangas has collected the data with different personality tests. The main assessment methods were Work Personality Inventory, WOPI and Rorschach inkpot test and it’s contemporary analysis method Comprehensive System (RCS).

There were totally 96 leaders and 203 subordinates in this study.

Do narcissism and leadership go hand in hand?

The media gives the impression that almost all the leaders have narcissistic features. According to this study, there are more narcissistic persons among leaders than in other occupations but it is exaggeration to say that narcissism and leadership would go hand in hand.

Surprisingly, the results supported the view that the more narcissism-like features the leader possessed, the better the performance. Because of this unexpected result, the topic was investigated more deeply and it was found that the more reflection answers the leaders recorded, the less time they had served in their current position.

– Based on this study it seems that narcissistic leaders’ performances might be good only because they had been in their positions for very short periods and had made good first impressions, Peltokangas says.

From the burnout perspective it was interesting to notice that the narcissistic leaders don’t seem to suffer from burnout symptoms. On the other hand very creative leaders may experience more burnout symptoms than the other leaders.

The results of this study offer some practical implications that should be taken into consideration for example in the recruitment and coaching processes. However, as Peltokangas points out, it is important to remember the recommendation about using multi-method tools, so no method should be used alone but as part of the method toolkit.

Public defense

The public examination of M.Sc. Hanna Peltokangas’ doctoral dissertation Leadership, Personality and Performance will be held on Friday 1 July at 12 o’clock in auditorium Kurten. The field of Peltokangas’ dissertation is Management.

Professor Emeritus Asko Miettinen (Tampere University of Technology) will act as opponent and Associate Professor, Docent Tiina Brandt as custos.


Further information

Hanna Peltokangas, tel +358 40 571 9115, E-mail: hanna.peltokangas(at)anvianet.fi

Peltokangas, Hanna (2016) Leadership, Personality and Performance. Acta Wasaensia 351.

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