Narcissistic Leaders: How To Avoid When Hiring

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Narcissistic Leaders: How To Avoid When Hiring

Choosing the right leaders – leaders who can help their teams and organizations to achieve their goals – is one of the biggest HR challenges. Studies have consistently shown that poor leadership is the main reason people lack motivation. Yet, the right leader can stimulate well-being and performance. 

So, the decision to hire or promote a new leader is essential. Luckily science knows what to look for in potential leaders. It all comes down to ability and personality.

Let’s look at what differentiates strong leaders, what narcissistic leaders look like, and how HR can help select the right leaders for their organization.

The 5 personality traits
Narcissistic personality trait
How can HR select the right leaders? 

The 5 personality traits

The right leadership personality comes down to how a potential leader scores on five major personality traits—often called the “Big Five”: extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness to experience, and agreeableness. 

  1. Extraversion indicates how outgoing and assertive a person is. Extraverted leaders excel at social connections and advocating for their ideas and visions.
  2. Conscientiousness is the degree to which one is responsible and achievement-oriented. Conscientious leaders are organized, proactive, and persistent.
  3. Openness to experience refers to a sense of curiosity and open-mindedness. Forward-thinking and being visionary are key to leadership effectiveness; thus, being high on openness to experience is a must.
  4. Emotional stability is a measure of a person’s self-confidence and ability to cope with stress. Leaders also need to be resilient and have the confidence to inspire and motivate. Thus, emotional stability is a necessity.
  5. Agreeableness indicates how friendly, cooperative and kind a person is. Agreeable leaders are likelier to motivate and build high-quality relationships with their employees.

Leaders with the above traits are cut out to lead; they have what it takes to build high-performing teams and inspire followers to work towards a collective goal.

Narcissistic personality trait

The one personality trait that leads to most leader downfalls is narcissism. Narcissists’ self-involvement and search for personal glory make them bad leaders. They are poor listeners, impede information sharing, and tend to take credit for other people’s work. They also have an overall disdain for criticism and stir conflict. Additionally, narcissistic leaders tend to be abusive and affect those around them with their brash and arrogant behavior and are more likely to be involved in lawsuits, ethical breaches, and foul play.

There is a tendency to recruit leaders based on their level of confidence and charisma. The more employees show authority, self-assuredness, and flair, the more we perceive them to be intelligent and display leadership abilities. Because of their confidence, sociability, dominance, and charm, we tend to think that narcissists make great leaders. 

Narcissists are masters in self-promotion and know how to shine in job interviews. They are promoted more quickly and make their way to the top faster. What’s more, uncertainty increases our preference for narcissists as leaders. When the pressure is high, it is comforting to have a leader who appears to know all the answers. This is how we often have – and regret having- the wrong leaders, especially in uncertain times like those shaping the current global business landscape. 

How can HR select the right leaders? 

The data-driven selection process can help in two ways: it enables you to select the right leaders and avoid selecting the wrong ones. However, the selection process needs to be as objective as possible instead of a subjective approach, which could lead to a narcissistic personality style winning over the interviewer. 

Here are 5 tips to help HR select the right leaders:

How HR Can Select The Right Leaders

1. Define clear and objective decision criteria

The decision criteria for leader selection should be clear and objective. This will reduce subjective interpretation of skills. Research shows that narcissists score lower on essential criteria, like experience when being hired. Clearer objectives and criteria will help pinpoint these areas much quicker in the screening process. 

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For example, HR can prepare interview scorecards with pre-determined selection criteria like the levels of soft and hard skills required for the role. Each interviewer then fills in the scorecard for each candidate. This helps standardize the leadership candidate evaluation and keep it consistent and fair.

2. Use personality assessments

Use personality assessments in leader selection. Consider using a survey based on the Big Five leader traits. Candidates with high scores on extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness to experience, and agreeableness have the potential to be a good leader. 

Another trait to include in a personality test is narcissism. This includes questions such as: “I know that I am good because everyone keeps telling me so.”  And “I like to be the center of attention”. Narcissists generally will admit they are narcissistic. They are proud of putting themselves first. So, personality tests can help spot narcissism. 

3. Use cognitive ability tests

Use cognitive ability tests in the selection process. Higher cognitive ability helps to be a good leader. It is also generally considered a valid predictor of job performance.

4. Conduct 360-degree evaluations for internal candidates

You may be promoting candidates from within the organization. Using 360-degree evaluations can help recognize good leaders and identify self-absorbed leaders. Good leaders collaborate, provide support, and help create a psychologically safe environment. 

Narcissists, on the other hand, are likely to have poor interpersonal performance and integrity track records. They tend to discourage relationships across their team and expect to be the hub everyone revolves around. Also, the teams they work in would score low on social support and psychological safety. 

To help identify the right leaders, you can include questions about social support, psychological safety, integrity, collaboration, helping, and conflicts in the 360-degree feedback. High scores on support, psychological safety, collaboration, and helping, and low scores on conflicts indicate good leadership (potential). Low scores may indicate bad leadership (potential). 

5. Track performance and potential leadership qualities over time

Collect as much data as possible about employees and potential leaders over time. You can collect the first data already during the selection process. After hiring, tracking employee performance and behaviors using 360-degree feedback helps monitor their development over time.

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HR plays an active role in identifying high-potential employees and developing their leadership skills through customized leadership development programs. Tracking performance and behaviors over time will provide a clear insight into who develops into a good leader and will also help surface bad (potential) leaders.

To sum up

Narcissistic leaders can have a detrimental effect on their team’s performance and engagement. That’s why it’s vital for HR practitioners to develop a data-driven selection process to hire the right leaders from within or outside of the organization. That way, they’re ensuring that their organizational leaders are capable of building high-performing teams and helping their business achieve its goals.

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