Narcissists successful in business, but a little humility helps

New York:The chances of succeeding in business are higher if you are a self-promoting narcissist, but an occasional show of humility can do no harm, a new study says.

The study, by researchers at the Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management, holds up Apple’s Steve Jobs as an example of a successful narcissist business leader – who counter-balanced it with some humility.

“Just by practicing and displaying elements of humility, one can he lp disarm, counter-balance, or buffer the more toxic aspects of narcissism,” says Bradley Owens, assistant professor of business ethics at BYU and lead author on the study.

“The outcome is that narcissism can possibly be a net positive.”

Speaking of Jobs, he says: “Although Jobs was still seen as narcissistic, his narcissism appeared to be counter-balanced or tempered with a measure of humility, and it was this tempered narcissist who led Apple to be the most valuable company in the world.”

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, supports the softer portrayal of Jobs that appears in the new biography, ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’.

Specifically, the research finds that when leaders self-regulate their narcissism with humility, employees are more engaged, perform better and perceive their boss to be more effective.

According to the study, narcissistic leaders are self-centered, self-confident and believe their ideas are superior to others. Bold visions and grand plans mark their persona.

Owens says these people do not value marginal or incremental changes but want to be involved with paradigm-shifting, industry-shaping, disruptive-technology-types of changes.

“However, the very traits that enable a leader to successfully launch a startup or enable a leader to emerge, can be the very traits — if not tempered — that cause a leader to derail,” notes Owens.

How do narcissists show a little humility? The study says they do so by admitting mistakes and limitations, and by highlighting the contributions of others. This allows the less toxic and potentially beneficial aspects of leader narcissism to yield positive outcomes.

The study surveyed 876 employees at a large Fortune 100 health insurance company. Employees rated 138 leaders in the organisation on their humility and effectiveness, and then answered questions about their own engagement.

Study results show leaders with high narcissism and high humility were perceived as more effective leaders with more engaged followers.