The double-edged sword of grandiose narcissism: Implications for successful and unsuccessful leadership among US Presidents. (2013)

Grandiose narcissism is associated with superior overall greatness and several positive measures of performance – but also with negative outcomes, including congressional impeachment resolutions and unethical behaviors.

Ashley L. Watts (1), Scott O. Lilienfeld (1), Sarah Francis Smith (1), Joshua D. Miller (2), W. Keith Campbell (2), Irwin D. Waldman (1), Steven J. Rubenzer (3), and Thomas J. Faschingbauer (4)

1 Department of Psychology, Emory University; 2 Department of Psychology, University of Georgia; 3 Concord, New Hampshire; 4 Foundation for the Study of Personality in History, Houston, Texas

Psychological Science24(12), 2379-2389

From the abstract:

Recent research and theorizing suggest that narcissism may predict both positive and negative leadership behaviors.

We tested this hypothesis with data on the 42 US presidents up to and including George W. Bush, using expert-derived narcissism estimates, independent historical surveys of presidential performance, and largely or entirely objective indicators of presidential performance.

Grandiose, but not vulnerable, narcissism was associated with superior overall greatness in an aggregate poll; it was also positively associated with public persuasiveness, crisis management, agenda setting, and allied behaviors, and with several objective indicators of performance, such as winning the popular vote and initiating legislation.

Nevertheless, grandiose narcissism was also associated with several negative outcomes, including congressional impeachment resolutions and unethical behaviors.

We found that presidents exhibit elevated levels of grandiose narcissism compared with the general population, and that presidents’ grandiose narcissism has been rising over time. Our findings suggest that grandiose narcissism may be a double-edged sword in the leadership domain.

From the research paper:

Our results suggest that, contrary to some earlier findings, narcissism – especially its grandiose sub dimension – is related to objective indicators of superior leadership. Contrary to our prediction, vulnerable narcissism was not negatively associated with presidential performance.

Our findings also underscore the differences between grandiose narcissism and allied constructs. For example, fearless dominance, which may be an important component of psychopathy appears to be linked exclusively to adaptive features of presidential performance

… our results illuminate the bright and dark sides of narcissism in a sample of enormous historical and scientific importance. They are consistent with the hypothesis that grandiose narcissism is a basic tendency that can be channeled into either adaptive or maladaptive characteristics (or both), depending on unknown moderating variables

Access the full paper here: The double-edged sword of grandiose narcissism

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