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Small Business Digest


Perhaps Narcissism Isn’t A Bad Thing For An Employee To Have

Just the thought of an influx of arrogant, self-promoting members of generations Y and Z keeps many managers and HR practitioners up at night. But what if narcissism wasn’t a bad thing?

Apparently, some experts think the country is fast becoming a nation of narcissists.

In their book Living in the Age of Entitlement, Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell present findings from a survey of more than 37,000 college students showing that narcissistic personality traits rose as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.

Narcissism is typically associated with negative outcomes; however, research conducted by Dr. Jeff Foster, director of the Hogan Research Department, and Dara Pickering, Hogan research consultant, shows that in controlled doses, narcissism can be a valuable tool for advancing one’s career.

Foster and Pickering examined the relationship between nearly 1,000 participants’ job performance data and their scores on the Bold scale of the Hogan Development Survey (HDS).

 The Hogan Development Survey measures dark-side personality – interpersonal tendencies that may be strengths under normal circumstances, but which, under stress or pressure, can become overused and damage an individual’s ability to form and maintain relationships with others.

The Bold scale aligns with the narcissistic personality disorder described in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“On the one hand,” said Foster, “at the low end of the scale, individuals are unlikely to engage in self-promoting behaviors, and are therefore seen as dependable team players. Unfortunately for them, although team players are often liked by their colleagues and managers, they aren’t as likely to be considered for promotion.

People on the high end of the scale, on the other hand, are more likely to be seen as knowledgeable about their industry, excellent at taking initiative, managing their performance, and achieving results. The question is whether these individuals are actually more effective at work, or if they are simply better at self-promotion and advancing their own agenda.”

Narcissistic behavior can be beneficial in limited doses, but under increased stress or pressure, it can become detrimental to an individual’s performance. People that show a proclivity toward narcissistic behavior are likely to be:

  • Aggressively ambitious and fearless when facing difficult tasks, regardless of actual past performance
  • Impulsive and resistant to negative feedback
  • Unrealistic in evaluating their abilities and competencies, and willing to make decisions without seeking input from others
  • Feeling entitled to leadership positions and special consideration
  • Intimidating and insensitive in dealing with peers and subordinates, blaming them for all performance issues

“When people are under an increased amount of stress or pressure, they tend to overuse their strengths to compensate,” Foster said. “So, what you see with narcissistic people is self-confidence in its extreme form. They overestimate their abilities, make decisions without consulting others, and scapegoat when they get it wrong.”

So how do you deal with your narcissistic employee?

“It comes down to self-awareness,” Foster said. “If you provide your employees with a realistic understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and behavioral tendencies, they can harness the positive outcomes associated with narcissism and avoid taking it overboard.”

Narcissistic individuals believe in their own superior talent and typically resist developmental feedback. If personal development is presented as a strategy for advancing their personal agenda, however, narcissistic individuals can be persuaded to lower their expectations for special treatment, and try to accept responsibility for their occasional mistakes.


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