We raised a nation of narcissists, and now they’re getting ready to take over the workforce.
That’s according to psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. Their book, Living in the Age of Entitlement, presents findings from a survey of more than 37,000 college students showing that narcissistic personality traits rose as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.
Just the thought of an influx of arrogant, self-promoting members of generations Y (Millennials) and Z (Digital Natives) keeps many managers and HR practitioners up at night. But guess what? Narcissism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What is behind narcissistic behavior?
The driving force behind narcissistic behavior is an individual’s belief that he or she is unique or exceptional in some way. People with a strong proclivity toward narcissistic behavior are most likely to be:
- Aggressively ambitious and fearless when facing difficult tasks, regardless of actual past performance.
- Impulsive and resistant to negative feedback.
- Unrealistic in evaluating their abilities and competencies, and willing to make decisions without seeking input from others.
- Feeling entitled to leadership positions and special consideration.
- Intimidating and insensitive in dealing with peers and subordinates, blaming them for all performance issues.
Sounds terrible, right? However, recent research by Dr. Jeff Foster, director of the Hogan Research Department, indicates that narcissism, in limited amounts, along with self-awareness and coaching, can positively impact an individual’s career.
Foster compared personality data and performance ratings for nearly 1,000 individuals, and found that narcissistic people are more likely to be seen as knowledgeable about their industry, excellent at taking initiative, managing their performance, and achieving results than their more humble counterparts.
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Of course, this raises the question of whether these individuals are actually more effective at work, or if they are simply better at self-promotion and advancing their own agenda. However, for the purposes of rising through the corporate ranks, both are equally useful.
5 ways to help your narcissistic workers
Narcissism in controlled doses can be useful, but, as recent news headlines have demonstrated, left unchecked, narcissism can be extremely detrimental to one’s performance. So, how can you, as a manager, HR practitioner, etc., help keep people’s self-promotion from crossing into derailment? By providing them with strategic self-awareness and coaching.
Narcissistic individuals believe in their own superior talent and typically resist developmental feedback. If personal development is presented as a strategy for advancing their personal agenda, however, narcissistic individuals can be persuaded to:
- Lower their expectations for special treatment, and try to accept responsibility for their occasional mistakes.
- Recognize that they ignore negative feedback, and seek feedback from family, and friends who are not competitors and whose feedback is usually well-meaning.
- Stop regarding team interactions as opportunities for competition in which only one person can win; remember that they real competition is outside the organization, not within it.
- Realize that subordinates are most likely to be productive when they feel respected; learn how to offer positive feedback to others when they contribute
- Use their confidence, energy, and determination to motivate rather than intimidate others
It all comes down to self-awareness. If you provide your employees with a realistic understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and behavioral tendencies, they can harness the positive outcomes associated with narcissism and avoid taking it overboard.