Computer company CEOs lead the world in narcissism

Penn State study looks at the me, myself and I CEO

If you have a hard time getting your CEO’s head through the office door, you should prepare your self and your company for a business rollercoaster ride from hell.

That’s the conclusion of a Pennsylvania State study that measured the level of narcissism exhibited by 111 CEOs of computer software and hardware companies and compared it to the subsequent strategies and performance of those companies.  Narcissism involves a lack of feeling for others, attitudes of entitlement and belief in one's superiority, researchers say.  

These characteristics make it difficult for a person to work with others and maintain relationships.The Penn State researchers used five indicators to measure CEO narcissism: the prominence of the CEO's photograph in the company's annual report, the frequency of the CEO's name appearing in company news releases, the use of first person singular pronouns (I, me, mine, my and myself) by the CEO in interviews, and the CEO's cash and non-cash pay compared to the company's second-highest executive.

The study showed that narcissistic CEOs tend to lead companies through more changes in strategic resource allocation and their companies experience higher highs and lower lows in organizational performance."Highly narcissistic CEOs -- defined as those who have very inflated self-views, and who are preoccupied with having those self-views continuously reinforced -- can be expected to engage in behaviors and make decisions that have major consequences not only for the individuals who interact directly with them, but also for broader sets of stakeholders," said Donald Hambrick, chair of management at Penn State's Smeal College of Business.

Hambrick and professor Jean Twenge, wrote the study. Twenge noted that people high in narcissism lack empathy for others, are aggressive when insulted, seek public glory and favor self-enhancement over helping others look good. Narcissists are also more likely to be materialistic and to seek attention and fame. "While less narcissistic CEOs may be inclined to pursue incrementalist strategies that entail refining and elaborating on the status quo, more narcissistic CEOs gravitate to bold and highly visible choices," they wrote.  The Penn State research indicates no relation between executive narcissism and how well a company performs.

 "Although narcissists tend to generate more extreme and irregular performance than non-narcissists, they do not generate systematically a better or worse performance," they found. And the scary thing is, more narcissistic leaders may be on the way:  Narcissism and entitlement among college students are at an all-time high, according to a recent study conducted by a San Diego State University researcher. The analysis examined the responses of 16,000 college students across the United States who filled out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. 

 “Today’s college students are more likely to have a feeling of self-importance, to be entitled and, in general, to be more narcissistic,” said Professor Jean Twenge, lead author of the study. “About two-thirds of current college students score above-average on narcissism, and that’s 30% more than in 1982.”

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory scale asks for responses regarding several statements, including:

• "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place." 

• "I think I am a special person."

• "I can live my life any way I want to."

• "I like to be the center of attention."

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)