Home' HR Monthly : July 2019 Contents July 2019 HRM magazine 29
BE A LEADER
There is no one way to be a succesful leader,
but there are skills every leader needs.
Get essential leadership and management
small details and focus on the big picture. A nd
they’re willing to make tough decisions. They
won’t hold back sacking 200 or 30 0 people if
it’s going to improve the organisation.”
Celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs show how
successful highly functional narcissists can be,
says Associate Professor Martin Fitzgerald,
Hunt’s colleague at the Newcastle Business
School. “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind
that they do it for themselves – but there’s no
law in leadership that you have to be altruistic.”
On the other hand, psychologist and author
Tomas Chamorro -Premuzic argues narcissism
shouldn’t be valued by others, even if it’s useful
for individual success. Recently, in articles,
talks and a new book, he links narcissism
with the u nder-representation of women in
leadership. “People tend to associate leadership
with hyper-masculine features: kick-ass
drive, megalomaniac vision, and fearless – if
not reckless – risk-taking. Although there is
no evidence that such an ex treme profile is
generally beneficial for leadership, there is no
doubt that it helps men advance to the top of the
corporate ladder,” he told Business Insider.
Narcissism often has a dark side that makes
people very poor leaders. Those who score
highly on narcissistic traits can be poor
listeners, lack emotional competency and
have an inflated sense of self-importance
that leads to delusions of grandeur.
Importantly, their sense of
grandiosity and self-belief causes
them to sometimes over-reach.
They need to be liked yet are
hypersensitive to criticism,
which they frequently disregard. “That shuts
off the chance for them to improve or recognise
that they might have some blind spots,”
Effect of narcissistic leaders
In the right setting – in a crisis, for instance,
where it’s vital to inspire others and make tough
decisions – a productive narcissist can help.
Even the antagonistic traits of narcissism can
be an asset in certain situations, argues Ramzi
Fatfouta in a 2018 article published in Human
Resources Management Review. For example,
the narcissist’s desire for supremacy may help
drive performance during high-pressure periods
such as “aggressive business expansion, or the
introduction of disruptive technologies.”
But, more often than not, he notes, “striving
for supremacy, dominance, and power can...
entail disastrous consequences.” Spectacular
gains are all too often followed by extreme
losses. Rodney Adler, the disgraced former H IH
Insurance director, served two years in jail for
his role in the company’s 2001 collapse, which
left $5.3 billion in debts.
A 2013 analysis of 42 US presidents found
grandiose narcissism was “a double-edged
sword” associated with both effective crisis
management and a propensity for unethical
behaviour, including the abuse of power.
Narcissistic leaders’ willingness to exploit
others and lack of empathy can wreak havoc
in teams. A 2018 study found that narcissistic
leaders create “malicious envy” among
recruitment process, Fatfouta advises using a
combination of assessment tools. Narcissists
typically shine in interviews, it’s the perfect
setting for them to switch on the charisma.
A “trimodal approach” – judicious use of
psychometric testing and other key performance
indicators alongside interviews – can provide
a more complete picture of a candidate’s true
Talk to previous colleagues and look for
observable behaviours of narcissism, suggests
Fitzgerald. “It’s about triangulating evidence –
don’t rely on one test.”
Fitzgerald says self-awareness is key around
narcissists. “B eware of the negative emotional
toll of working with a narcissist. They’ll berate
you, put you down, and dismiss your ideas.
In the face of this type of harmful behaviour,
remember it’s not about you – it’s about them.
The people who I see fall over with narcissistic
leaders are those who take it personally. You’ve
got to have strong resilience.”
Managing a narcissist, although difficult,
is possible. “They feel themselves as special,
and the rules don’t apply,” Fitzgerald says.
One strategy is the use of group dynamics
to influence behaviou r. It has to be the
right group – made up of peers, not
subordinates – that has the support of
the CEO, he says. “The narcissist
slowly realises, ‘ If I want the power,
I’m going to have to conform.’”
Fatfouta points to evidence
that mindfulness can help
narcissistic leaders identify
and regulate their
negative emotions, which can then improve
their relationships with others.
At the end of the day, recruiting a narcissist is
a gamble. The challenge for organisations, says
Fitzgerald, is to determine whether a narcissist’s
potential destructive traits is a fair trade for
their talent. “Who can imagine Microsoft
without Bill Gates or Apple without Steve Jobs?
But I’m sure investors would love to see HIH
without Rodney Adler.” •••
followers, which leads to “counterproductive
work behaviour”, where employees intentionally
acted against the interests of an organisation.
The researchers’ findings support theories that
argue “narcissistic leaders’ self-centredness,
grandiose belief systems as well as feelings of
entitlement severely harm interactions with
others in organisations.”
Managing a narcissist
The first step to managing narcissism is learning
how to identify it. There is a lack of this ability
in modern workplaces, says Fitzgerald.
Because functional narcissists display many
of the traits we expect of leaders, instead of
identifying the tell-tale signs of narcissism in a
candidate, often we see someone who is driven,
charismatic and able to make tough decisions.
The result is that narcissists tend to go
undetected, which means they can’t be managed
effectively. To better reveal narcissists in the
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