Narcissus in management selection

Oslo-based organisational psychologist Christian Enger Gimsø has as part of his PhD studies been looking at the tendency for those with narcissistic personality disorders to do well in applications for management level jobs. Such people often excel in interviews, and have an easier time than others proving themselves as dynamic and self-confident.

Narcissists may have strong characters, but this does not make them good leaders. “People with narcissistic personality disorders will be interested in dominance, status, recognition, power and admiration,” says Gimsø. “They may not think twice about using others to achieve their goals. Leaders who score high on narcissistic traits lack the ability to relate to others. They run their own agenda with no thought for the people around them.”

This much is obvious. Narcissists are psychopaths, and psychopaths have a habit of rising to the top of the social pile. But not just because by virtue of their psychological disorder they have a will to power and status. Gimsø’s research seems to show that the selection process employed by organisations looking to fill management positions is inherently biased toward narcissists. The statistical correlations found by Gimsø are not strong, but they show a positive link between candidates’ scores on narcissistic traits in personality tests and interview assessment.

As for how to overcome such selection bias in favour of those with narcissistic personality disorders, Gimsø offers some practical recommendations. References should be checked thoroughly, he says, but these should include statements provided by candidates’ peers and subordinates, not just their supervisors. Colleagues may have quite a different character assessment than work superiors.