Do Narcissistic People Make Effective Leaders?

Topic(s): leadership, personality
Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: Visionary communication qualities as mediators of the relationship between narcissism and attributes of leader charisma
Authors: B.M. Galvin, D.A. Waldman, P. Balthazrd
Reviewed by: Lauren Wood

The relationship between leadership and narcissism has received much attention in the academic literature recently. Because narcissists share a variety of characteristics with charismatic leaders, some researchers question whether narcissistic leadership is really all that bad. Charismatic leaders are seen by followers as confident, energizing, and determined. And, apart from their self-centered perspective, narcissists are also regarded as confident, inspirational, and driven. So are narcissistic traits necessarily detrimental to leaders?


The current study addresses this question by assessing two important aspects of leader communication. The first aspect is visionary focus. Does the leader take a personalized approach (it’s all about me) or a socialized approach (it’s all about us)? The second aspect is degree of boldness in each vision statement. The results reveal that leaders who communicate socialized (group-oriented) and bold visionary statements were more likely to be viewed by followers as effective and charismatic. Narcissistic leaders, although more personalized (self-oriented) in their focus – a quality that is negativity linked to effectiveness – tend to also display bold visionary statements, leading to increased perceived effectiveness by followers.

The results suggest that narcissism may hinder as well as help follower perceptions of leader charisma and effectiveness. Specifically, although narcissistic leaders display some negative leadership attributes (personalized focus), other narcissistic characteristics (boldness) may contribute to follower effectiveness ratings.


Because the most effective leaders displayed both boldness and a socialized focus, the authors suggest that organizations provide training for narcissistic leaders on socialized communication skills to help these leaders broaden their focus to include others. Additionally, when selecting leaders, organizations should seek candidates who communicate boldly in order to increase follower perceptions of leader effectiveness and charisma.  


Galvin, B. M., Waldman, D. A., & Balthazard, P. (2010). Visionary communication qualities as mediators of the relationship between narcissism and attributes of leader charisma. Personnel Psychology, 63, 509-537.