Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, July 4, 2022

The narcissistic appeal of leadership theories

Steffens, N. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2022). 
American Psychologist, 77(2), 234–248.

Leadership is one of the most researched topics in psychological and other social and behavioral sciences. It is routinely seen as vital to the success and vitality of various forms of collaborative activity not only in organizations but in society at large. This has provided the stimulus for a massive amount of theoretical and applied research and also supports a huge industry. But to whom does this body of work appeal? More specifically, does it appeal to people with a broad interest in advancing groups and society or to people who are primarily interested in promoting themselves? To answer this question, we explore the extent to which individuals’ narcissism predicts their endorsement of leadership theories. Results provide empirical evidence that the more narcissistic people are, the more they find leadership theories appealing and the more interest they have in learning about the ideas behind particular theories. The predictive power of narcissism also holds when accounting for other variables (including demographic, Big Five traits, and ideological and motivational variables). We conclude that psychological theorizing about leadership can be a double-edged sword in so far as the lionization of leaders(hip) appeals to, and legitimizes, the tastes of a narcissistic audience.

Impact Statement

This research shows that people are more likely to endorse scientific theories of leadership, and to want to know more about them, the more narcissistic they are. This remains true when accounting for a variety of factors including demographic variables, leadership experience, Big Five personality traits, and ideological and motivational variables. These results suggest that people’s engagement with leadership research is motivated more by a personal concern for the self than by a social concern for the greater good.

From the Conclusion

Consistent with this proposition, the present results show that the more narcissistic individuals are, the more they endorse various theories of leadership and the more they want to learn about them. This in turn suggests that what motivates people to engage with leadership theory is more a personal concern for the self than a social concern for the greater good.