Unit 4 Blog: Narcissistic Leadership

Have you ever wondered why the term Napoleon Complex came to be following the tyranny of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was narcissistic and had overly grandiose beliefs and aggressive behavior. The thinking is that this was the direct result of his internal feelings of inferiority. The phrase Napoleon Complex was panned to describe someone that was self-conscious about themselves and allowed these feelings to fuel their need for power and control just as Napoleon had once done.

“It was precisely that evening in Lodi that I came to believe in myself as an unusual person and became consumed with the ambition to do the great things that until then had been but a fantasy.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, “Thoughts”

The narcissistic leaders portray themselves as false and fictitious sense of self, leading their followers to fear them. Their grasp on reality is loose and their self-perceptions feed on this to exacerbate the narcissism. “The narcissistic leader prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substances, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions (Maccoby, 2007)”.

Using Napoleon as an example, narcissistic leadership is a negative behavior. There is some thought that narcissistic leadership can also be on the positive end of the spectrum. The confidence that narcissistic leaders display often makes followers confident in their leader. Confidence is necessary of a leader to succeed and get done what needs to be done. The key to this is preventing narcissism from taking the leader to the dark side of leadership.

Narcissists tend to lack empathy and their impact on those around them is often lost on them. It would never occur to a narcissistic leader that their behaviors have a completely negative effect on their employees. And therein lies the problem, that the leader is better than others, that they are abrove reproach and can get away with anything.

In contrast, leaders who are charismatic, creative, curious and informed tend to make them good leaders as this method of thinking can allow them to see the big picture and have the best interests of all involved in mind when decisions are made. This openness is quite opposite compared to narcissism in which the self-sided thinking makes the needs of others non-existent.

In summary, the traits that envelop a narcissistic leader are those that are in contrast to those of a charismatic and open leader. Narcissism funnels the leaders views to only focus on themselves and not consider the good of anyone else involved. Such as the case with Napoleon Bonaparte, who went down in history as one of the most infamous narcissistic leaders of all time.

Maccoby, M. (2007). Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails. Harvard Business Review Press.

PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L09 Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l09-overview?module_item_id=25808487

Riggio, R. (2012). Are All Leaders Narcissists? Some leaders are clearly narcissists. Is narcissism good, bad, or neutral? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201212/are-all-leaders-narcissists

One Comment

  1. Ginamarie Spiridigliozzi March 23, 2019 at 4:41 PM #

    Hi Lori,

    Your blog post got me thinking about narcissistic leaders and their impact on the ethics of our society. Narcissism in a capitalist society like the United States probably has a much different face and social reaction than narcissism in a collectivist culture like China. Ronald Reggio’s post in Psychology Today was a good read (thank you for sharing), and it showed the juxtaposition of what we may consider good leaders despite their inherent narcissism. As you mentioned in your post, much of that distinction comes down to confidence. Especially in capitalist societies, independence of voice, thought, and vision can lead to a cycle of praising leaders for their narcissism, thus paving the way for narcissism to become an inherent job requirement of sorts. Riggio discusses Maccoby’s concept of productive narcissists in this same light, “it takes a healthy dose of narcissism for leaders of nations or huge corporations to have great visions and achieve them” (Riggio, 2012). Therefore, we may subconsciously expect some amount of narcissism in our leaders, and we may not fully trust those without narcissism to get the job done because have a more limited dataset of successful non-narcissistic leaders to compare against.

    It seems like narcissism is on a scale, and because of this, Riggio refers to it as being curvilinear: too little or too much is not good (Riggio, 2012). This is probably true of any personality trait. When thinking about the five-factor model of personality, too much openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness etc. could all lead to bad situations, much in the same way that too little of those traits wouldn’t paint any better of a picture. For example, the lesson 9 notes about openness show that this traditionally positive personality trait can actually be negative if there is too much of it. “People who are open to new experiences may be unconventional, and as such they may be willing to break rules to try those new experiences, which may be unethical” (PSU, 2019). This is reminiscent of narcissism in that a little is helpful to build confident and momentum, but too much is disastrous – unethical people with unchecked power can severely inhibit the most vulnerable of our population.

    Narcissistic leaders may not always portray themselves as false, in fact their whole intent is probably to be viewed how they feel about themselves – in a very positive and grandiose light. This is so troubling because not every narcissistic leader is feared, and it may take a lot of reflection to fully understand that the leader is not truly looking out for everyone’s best interests. As you mentioned in your post, narcissistic leadership is typically viewed as negative, but it can also be the case that these leaders are instead viewed as confident and good at what they do. In fact, it may be their very pseudo-charisma that makes people love them so much despite their narcissism. And it is when these leaders cross over into the dark side that the consequences of their narcissism starts to hurt their followers and society as a whole. But by the time followers and advisors realize the situation, it may be too late to rectify, and the unethical decision made by the leader may be too tangled to become undone.


    PSU. (2019). L09 Five Factor Model of Personality. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l09-five-factor-model-of-personality?module_item_id=25808491

    Riggio, R. (2012). Are all leaders narcissists? Some leaders are clearly narcissists. Is narcissism good, bad, or neutral? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201212/are-all-leaders-narcissists


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