Arijit Chatterjee & Donald C. Hambrick Disscuss Their Research Regarding CEOs with Narcissistic Tendencies

Fast Moving Front Commentary, July 2011

Arijit Chatterjee & Donald C. Hambrick

Article: It's all about me: Narcissistic chief executive officers and their effects on company strategy and performance

Authors: Chatterjee, A;Hambrick, DC
Journal: ADMIN SCI QUART, 52 (3): 351-386, SEP 2007
Addresses: Penn State Univ, University Pk, PA 16802 USA.
Penn State Univ, University Pk, PA 16802 USA.

Arijit Chatterjee & Donald C. Hambrick talk with and answer a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of Economics & Business.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

Apart from qualitative descriptions, organizational researchers had not systematically examined self-absorbed CEOs, perhaps thinking that executive narcissism is not of much theoretical or practical significance. Our study shows that narcissism in the executive suite can have major consequences for organizations.

Moreover, our study clearly supports the idea that leadership matters. CEOs are humanly finite, capable of delivering either good or bad results. Narcissism tends to bring about more extreme outcomes, a fairly provocative finding.

Arijit Chatterjee
Coauthor Donald C. Hambrick.

Also, we believe researchers now see the study of executive narcissism—and CEO personality more generally—as a fruitful domain of inquiry. The concept of narcissism opens the way for an array of new insights about executive behavior, strategic decision-making, top-management team dynamics, organization design, executive compensation, and executive celebrity.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

Our study did not provide a new discovery as such. Ever since narcissism has been viewed as a personality dimension, instead of only as an abnormality, psychologists have conducted numerous studies on the nature and consequences of narcissism. However, most of these studies have been in controlled settings.

Field studies on executive narcissism have been anecdotal and descriptive. Top executives are reluctant to respond to surveys. Moreover, trying to understand CEO personality by administering a survey questionnaire—especially one on narcissism—can generate socially desirable answers.

Our paper was a first attempt to use unobtrusive indicators of executive narcissism to draw some general conclusions about this personality trait in a large sample of CEOs.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Narcissism is defined as the degree to which an individual has an inflated sense of self and is preoccupied with having that self-view continually reinforced. Narcissists believe they have superior qualities, and they have an intense need to have their superiority reaffirmed.

We found that CEOs who have narcissistic tendencies tend to favor bold actions that attract attention, resulting in big wins and big losses, as well as wide swings between these extreme outcomes. Although narcissists tend to generate more extreme and irregular performance than non-narcissists, they do not generate systematically better or worse performance.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

"One might extend our theory to other non-business contexts to explore the consequences of narcissistic leaders."

In contrast to the idea that strategic decisions are arrived at by cold rational calculations, we were interested in the human element of strategy, focusing on the strategists themselves. In the past 20 years, researchers in strategic management and organizational theory have found that top executives inject a great deal of themselves—their experiences, preferences, and dispositions—into their decisions and leadership behaviors. Our research was in that direction.

In our paper, a particularly difficult challenge was the measurement of narcissism—a complex, multidimensional personality construct—from a distance. We devoted a great deal of effort to experimenting with various possible unobtrusive indicators of narcissism. Ours is no doubt an imperfect measure which needs further refinement.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

An abundant array of research questions on executive narcissism awaits organizational scholars. We are particularly interested in how narcissists respond to feedback. Do they give more importance to social praise (or scorn) compared to objective performance? Are narcissistic CEOs relatively unresponsive to objective indicators of their performance and highly emboldened by social praise? How do CEOs with narcissistic tendencies behave with their subordinates? Do they hoard all the glory after good performance and deflect the blame on others after bad performance?

Finally, narcissism is just one of a growing body of constructs that deal with positive self-regard—e.g., locus of control, dispositional optimism, hubris, and personalized charisma. We think there needs to be clearer theoretical distinction between narcissism and these other concepts of self-regard.

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Our research built upon the existing literature on the upper echelons of organizations, based on the premise that organizations become reflections of their top managers. We were both amused and disheartened to hear from a journalist in an African country that our description of the narcissistic personality matched the persona of some of the political leaders in his country. One might extend our theory to other non-business contexts to explore the consequences of narcissistic leaders.End

Arijit Chatterjee
Assistant Professor of Management
École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (ESSEC)
Cergy-Pontoise, France and Singapore

Donald C. Hambrick
Evan Pugh Professor and Smeal Chaired Professor of Management
Smeal College of Business
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA, USA



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