Are Narcissists Good for Their Acolytes?HOW NARCISSISTIC LEADERS INFLUENCE THEIR FOLLOWERS IN A STUDY BY TATIANA BALUSHKINA
From Elon Musk to Donald Trump, narcissistic leaders abound in business, entertainment, education, and politics. Even though research has discussed their behavior, the psychological mechanisms and even the distribution of narcissistic leaders throughout different generations, evidence on how they affect the individual performance of their followers is still lacking.
“We already know what happens at the organizational and group levels. Now, we are trying to investigate what happens at the individual level”, says Tatiana Balushkina, PhD student at the Department of Management and Technology. “Narcissistic individuals emphasize their own achievements, they have good social skills, they are highly visibile, and, therefore, can be perceived as role models. Our hypothesis is that, the level of leaders’ narcissism has positive effect on the individual performance of their followers. However, we propose that this effect exists only in the short term, as the worst characteristics of narcissists, such as aggression and the inability to establish long term relationships, ultimately appear and harm the followers’ performance in the long run”.
Balushkina tested the hypothesis in the domain of losing weight, using data from seventeen seasons of The Biggest Loser, an American reality tv show where contestants are tutored by a trainer and compete to lose weight. The level of the trainers’ narcissism was measured by examining their Instagram profiles.
“We found two results. First, contestants working with a highly narcissistic leader are more likely to lose more weight at weekly weigh-ins (short term effect), but not to win the show or to be among the finalists (long term effect). Second, narcissism has many dimensions, such as authority and exhibitionism. We conducted a robustness check in order to confirm that the effect comes from narcissism in general rather than from one of its dimensions”. Tatiana Balushkina is currently working on validating the measure of narcissism and analyzing The Biggest Loser data from other countries like England, Australia, Russia, and Portugal in order to transform this study into a cross-country research.
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by Claudio Todesco