At a superficial level, people who are narcissistic seem like they will be good leaders. They’re confident, outgoing and unafraid of putting themselves forward. But once in charge, their appeal rapidly wanes. In this way, say the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Personality, they are rather like chocolate cake:
“The first bite of chocolate cake is usually rich in flavor and texture, and extremely gratifying. After a while, however, the richness of this flavor makes one feel increasingly nauseous. Being led by a narcissist could be a similar experience.”
Supporting their chocolate cake model, the researchers recruited 142 unacquainted students to take part in weekly group tasks. Through the course of the study, the students rated each others’ leadership skills. High scorers in narcissism attracted positive leadership ratings from their peers early on, but this positive impression faded. The deteriorating perception of narcissists over time was partly explained by their lack of so-called “transformational leadership skills” becoming apparent – that is, their inability to motivate and inspire others. A second study was similar but involved students who already knew each other. In this case, the narcissists did not receive positive leadership ratings from the outset – there was no honeymoon period for them – and as the study went on, they received more negative ratings from their peers.
“Taken together, the findings of the two studies are consistent with the chocolate cake model and demonstrate that initial positive peer perceptions of narcissistic leadership fade over time, and eventually become negative,” the researchers said.
Our free fortnightly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!