Petraeus and the Rise of Narcissistic Leaders

HBR Blog Network has published a timely article on something most of us understand as the Achilles heel of many of our leaders.

Research by Stanford colleague Charles O’Reilly and colleagues finds that  narcissistic leaders are characterized by the traits of dominance, self-confidence, a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and low empathy. While narcissism is useful for attaining leadership positions, maintaining power, and even stimulating creativity and innovation, it can prove deleterious in the long run. O’Reilly’s research of Silicon Valley executives shows that narcissistic CEOs earn more, last in their jobs longer, but also have a larger gap between their pay and the pay of their senior team:

And while narcissism and the associated behaviors may indeed help people ascend into leadership roles, as recent experience suggests, narcissistic individuals also contain the seeds of their own (self)-destruction. And leaders’ downfalls are costly — Lockheed now has to find another person to assume the CEO role, and President Obama must find someone to take over the CIA. So while indeed there are productive narcissists, narcissistic behavior can be very unproductive for both the work organizations and the people who experience it.

Surveys of college students shows narcissism on the rise over time. Could that help to explain the gridlock in Washington and self serving agendas of business leaders today?