My boss, the narcissist: Why the wrong people often have success in our system

© Malchev -
© Malchev -

Are you a narcissist? Congratulations, you have excellent career prospects! The beautiful Narcissus from Greek mythology loved his own reflection so much that it eventually cost him his life. His successors today employ not only psychologists and philosophers, but also organizational and management researchers: the narcissist is no stranger in modern working life

According to scientists, the characteristics of a narcissistic personality include, for example, the inability to maintain healthy relationships over the long term, unethical behaviour or aggression. At the same time, narcissism often manifests itself in increased self-confidence, emotional stability and an increased probability of distinguishing oneself as a leader.

If these characteristics are taken together, it is hardly surprising that narcissists can get ahead in many companies. Colleagues suffer from this – particularly female colleagues, according to a new study by the University of Buffalo. I, the superhero: there are many narcissists in professional life, but only a few of them are female.

The study evaluated the narcissism research of the last 31 years with a total of more than 475,000 participants on underlying trends. Their result: men consistently achieve higher scores on the narcissism scale than women, regardless of age. With regard to the characteristics of leadership and authority, for example, male subjects scored significantly higher than female subjects, leaving women even further behind when it came to entitlement thinking. The results were balanced only for the exhibition feature.

The study sheds an interesting light on the current debate about unequal career opportunities for men and women. The authors suspect a connection between the lack of women in managerial positions and the fact that the narcissistic characteristics that are conducive to career advancement are often nipped in the bud in girls and young women. Stereotypical role models could be to blame for this.

Narcissistic traits: Suppress or live out?
“Individuals observe and learn gender roles at a young age – and are punished if they do not follow social expectations,” says Emily Grijalva, author of the study on narcissism. “For example, women often harvest harsh criticism for aggressive or authoritarian behaviour, which puts them under greater pressure to suppress their narcissistic tendencies.”

What does this mean for those who want to achieve more justice in the world of work? It is, as so often, complicated. One obvious conclusion is that we as a society must work harder to overcome old role models and educate girls to self-confidence and leadership rather than to polite restraint. Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg does nothing else with her “ban bossy campaign”.

Something is going wrong!
The boss as narcissist: Should narcissistic qualities be so relevant to success in the working world at all? But this approach is only one side of the coin. It may help to achieve more gender justice within the system, but it does not change the underlying mechanism that promotes the professional success of narcissists.
“We should seriously think about how we want to work in the future.”
In other words: if we don’t want to run the risk of having more narcissists, of whatever gender, ascending on the backs of their colleagues in the future, we should also give serious thought to how we want to work in the future.

What does performance mean and what role does internal competition play? How is it rewarded, who is having success? As long as it is the person who yells “I” the loudest, thereby pushing their colleagues out of the picture, the unjust situation will not change. And under a narcissistic boss, whether woman or man, the entire company ultimately suffers.

by Lea Weitekamp –

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