Seth A. Rosenthal ⁎, Todd L. Pittinsky
Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 J.F.K. Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02155, United States
Narcissism—a personality trait encompassing grandiosity, arrogance, self-absorption, entitlement, fragile self-esteem, and hostility—is an attribute of many powerful leaders. Narcissistic leaders have grandiose belief systems and leadership styles, and are generally motivated by their needs for power and admiration rather than empathetic concern for the constituents and institutions they lead. However, narcissists also possess the charisma and grand vision that are vital to effective leadership. We review and critically assess the theoretical and research literature on narcissistic leaders in order to understand the potential positive and negative consequences of their leadership, the trajectories of their leadership, and the relationship of narcissism to established models of leadership. We conclude that the study of narcissistic leaders is inherently limited in scope, and propose a new definition of narcissistic leadership in order to reframe the discussion and better incorporate the topic of narcissism into the field of leadership studies.
© 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Narcissism; Narcissistic leaders; Narcissistic leadership; Literature review
“It is probably not an exaggeration to state that if individuals with significant narcissistic characteristics were stripped from the ranks of public figures, the ranks would be perilously thinned.” Jerrold M. Post (1993, p. 99). “The big danger is one of hubris. There's a tendency…to think you're invulnerable. You're not just king of the mountain, you've mastered the mountain. That can often lead to mistakes of excessive pride.” David R. Gergen (Bumiller, 2004).
“I'm an egomaniacal leader of men.” Jon Bon Jovi (Morrison, 2006). 1. Introduction
It is clear that a significant number of world leaders have grandiose belief systems and leadership styles. Often, the “psychohistories” of these leaders connect both the leaders' assent to power and their ultimate (and seemingly inevitable) downfall to their narcissistic grandiosity. Although not every author employs the term “narcissistic” to describe the leader in question, they consistently depict individuals whose aspirations, judgments, and decisions, both good and bad, are driven by unyielding arrogance and self-absorption. The pantheon of purportedly narcissistic leaders ⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 617 496 6309; fax: +1 617 496 3337. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (S.A. Rosenthal). 1048-9843/$ - see front matter © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2006.10.005
S.A. Rosenthal, T.L. Pittinsky / The Leadership Quarterly 17 (2006) 617–633
ranges from the great tyrants of recent history, including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein (Glad, 2002), to lesser-known malevolent leaders such as the founder of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell (Miliora, 1995) and cult leader Jim Jones (Zee, 1980); great historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton (Chernow, 2004); a diverse group of business leaders, including Steve Jobs (Robins & Paulhus, 2001), Michael Eisner (Sankowsky, 1995), David Geffen (Kramer, 2003), and Kenneth Lay (Kramer, 2003); and an eclectic and sometimes surprising list of current political leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu (Kimhi, 2001), John McCain (Renshon, 2001), George W. Bush (Krugman, 2005; Suskind, 2004), and both Jimmy Carter and his mother Lillian (Glad & Whitmore, 1991). Even though many of these leaders share a history of ignominious downfalls, the jury is still out on the ultimate success or failure of a number of them. Instead, what truly ties them together is that their leadership is driven by...