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Do You Have To Be Narcissistic To Be An Elected Official?

Don Hambrick Professor of Management at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State has studied how damaging Narcissistic CEOs can be to their companies. Hambrick

defines a narcissist as someone showing the following four personality characteristics:

(1) Exploitativeness/Entitlement –> I insist upon getting the respect that is due to me;

(2) Leadership/Authority –> I like to be the center of attention;

(3) Superiority/Arrogance –> I am better than others; and

(4) Self-absorption/Self-admiration –> I am preoccupied with how extraordinary and special I am.

Good God the above definition applies to many of the elected officials I have met!

Hambrick studied 111 CEOs in the computer and software industries between 1992 and 2004 using a 4 measure index of CEO narcissism which were:

  • The prominence (size) of the CEO’s photo in the annual report
  • CEO prominence (number of mentions) in company press releases
  • CEO’s use of first person singular pronouns in transcripts of public comments to shareholders
  • The gap between the CEO pay (salary, bonus, deferred income, stock grants, and stock options) and the pay of the 2nd highest paid executive

The last item does not fit for elected officials as they are typically not the highest paid person on the public payroll. The other three items on the index however can be used to measure the narcissism of an elected official.

According to Hambrick more narcissistic CEOs impacted the companies they were in charge of in a negative way. Jim Collins in his widely-noted book Good To Great, concluded that one of the distinguishing characteristics of good-to-great companies, or those that showed sustained performance improvements over a 15-year period, was that they were headed predominantly by “humble CEOs.” Collins stated “those who worked with or wrote about the good-to-great leaders continually used words like quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated, did not believe his own clippings, and so on” .

Some have criticized Hambrick’s study by saying that those in a leadership position cannot be “shrinking violets”. Eric Jackson of Forbes Magazine responds to this criticism by stating:

Optimism is healthy. Arrogance is not.

Self-confidence is healthy. Megalomania is not.

Believing that you can do a great job as CEO is healthy. Thinking that you know better than others is not.

You need confidence and conviction to succeed as a CEO or in life, but what these studies clearly show is that – taken to extremes – narcissism kills companies and kills CEO careers.

Some also point to Steve Jobs as a successful narcissistic leader but Eric Jackson points out the following about Jobs in his article:

Steve always liked to do the big product announcements, but he didn’t insist on being in every press release.

Although Jobs had strong opinions and was never shy about sharing them, he didn’t use a lot of “I”s when talking in public. There were vastly more “we”s when referring to Apple.

Jobs also was able to be persuaded to a view that was totally opposed to his after thinking about it. Most narcissists wouldn’t.

Jobs hired the brightest people he could to surround himself with. Most narcissists feel threatened by having people around them that are smarter than them (probably for fear they are going to be “discovered” for what they are).

From what I see it appears that many elected officials are narcissistic, do you agree? Do you have to be narcissistic to be an elected official?

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

I don’t think that you have to be narcissistic to be a good leader or an elected official; though I could buy that narcissistic people tend to be elected more often. I think you can see this by Romney being the frontrunner and also being the most recognizable and according to your definitions, likely a narcissist.

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