Pat Wright: Narcissistic CEO’s: Good News/Bad News


Patrick M. Wright
Center for Executive Succession
University of South Carolina

In my last blog I reported on how the HR@Moore Survey of CHROs asked 126 CHROs report the extent to which their CEOs displayed narcissistic and humble behavior. I noted that according to our data only about 5% of CEOs scored as clearly narcissist. However, on the survey we also asked about the team dynamics among the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), how the ELT viewed the CEO, how the CEO viewed the board, and both the CEO’s and the board’s commitment to CEO succession. Our results regarding how narcissism impacts these outcomes are a bit disconcerting.

In terms of ELT dynamics, narcissism was unrelated to the extent to which the team agreed with the firm’s strategy and goals. However, it was strongly negatively correlated with the ELT dimensions of camaraderie and trust. Thus, narcissistic CEOs harm their teams by creating environments and dynamics where ELT members fail to cooperate with each other, hold grudges, fail to respect each other’s competence, and do not display integrity with one another.

In general, we found that according to CHROs, members of the ELT tend to have positive views of the CEO. However, this is not the case for narcissistic ones. The negative correlation indicated that ELTs with narcissistic CEOs feel less confidence in the CEO’s expertise, strategy, leadership style, and effectiveness. Interestingly this somewhat mirrors how CEOs view the board, with narcissistic CEOs having less respect for the board as a resource, feeling they have less confidence from the board, and evaluating the board as less effective.

Finally, CHROs described both the CEO and board’s involvement in the CEO succession process. While on average, both CEOs and boards seemed to score high, indicating that they are both actively involved in trying to implement good objective processes. However, not so for narcissistic CEOs. The negative correlation suggested narcissistic CEOs put less emphasis on CEO succession and are less focused on objectivity and equal opportunity in the process. Since boards, not CEOs, ultimately bear the responsibility and authority for choosing the next CEO, this may not seem problematic. However, these effects bleed over into the board’s involvement. The analyses showed that narcissistic CEOs seemingly discourage boards from taking ownership of the process, placing high priority on it, and maintaining objectivity and equal opportunity.

So, chances are you don’t have a narcissistic CEO, but if you do, it may be time to move on, because chances are, bad things are coming down the road.